When I was a cocky debate jock in the Baltimore Catholic Forensic League in High School, I had a philosophy that was the foundation for every case I ever wrote that virtually insured victory. I stumbled across my secret weapon in the middle of my senior debate season after crafting an unbeatable case for and against affirmative Action. The howitzer in my pocket was summed up in a single phrase scratched in permanent marker across the front of a manila folder in my briefcase and has been central to my world view ever since:
THERE ARE NO VILLAINS!!!
Starting every argument with this bold assertion firmly in mind forced me to do a couple of things. First, it made me to accept the fact that my opponent would be just as convinced of the rightness of his or her own convictions as I was. Second, it drove me to seek to understand the reasons for those convictions without taking the easy (and lazy) shortcut of discarding my opponent’s views as the delusions of an evil human being bent on the destruction of civilization. In short, my secret weapon was to force myself to apply the intellectual rigor required to understand my opponent’s viewpoint so deeply that (absent a few nuances of understanding) any intelligent and rational person with a conscience would agree.
To be sure, my ‘no villains’ standard was a difficult one to apply, which is why so few debaters were able to defeat me in the second half of my senior year. It’s hard to conceive of why someone would oppose or support affirmative action, abortion, the death penalty, or any other ‘controversial’ position when you hold an opposing view. It’s easier for most of us to simply discount opposing viewpoints as wrong by deciding that those who hold them are ‘evil’ than it is to get to the bottom of their views and to dispatch them with reason. In everyday life, few of us need to win every argument so we take the easy way out. In high school debate however, it’s best to win!
As I watch our current President struggle to survive a political world where half the country disagrees with him, I’m taken back to my old high school debate philosophy and it strikes me that the President’s political strategy stems from a world view that more closely parallels that of a Star Wars hero than Lincoln Douglas debater #062B from Widle Lake High School. Barack Obama is convinced that almost everyone in the country is either ‘greedy’ or ‘evil’ and that our views are held out of a sincere desire to do harm to modern civilization. Consider the following:
- President Obama fought to take over the nation’s healthcare system to to save us all form ‘evil’ insurance companies.
- President Obama had the government take over General Motors from ‘evil’ bond-holders, some of which were teacher’s pensions and retirees.
- President Obama fought for greater regulation of Wall Street because ‘evil’ investment bankers who bought tainted mortgage securities from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
- President Obama refuses to endorse a territorial tax system to make the United States competitive with the rest of the world because he doesn’t want to reward ‘evil’ corporations with operations overseas like HP, Apple and government owned General Motors.
- President Obama wants to raise taxes on the ‘evil’ top 1% of income earners, those ‘greedy’ rich people who pay 38.7% of all taxes today.
- President Obama blames the ‘evil’ Republicans in Congress for disagreeing with him on taxes, entitlement reform, and healthcare.
- President Obama blames the current sluggish economy on his ‘evil’ predecessor who he claims spent his entire presidency obsessed with cutting taxes for ‘greedy’ rich people.
Only President Obama and his supporters, the narrative goes, can save the rest of America form the the ‘evil’ forces trying to crush our fragile rebellion against the policies of ‘greed.’ Mitt Romney, we are told, is the equivalent of a dark lord posing as a benevolent Governor from Massachusetts who, if elected, would send America into a new age of unspeakable darkness.
The closest parallel I can come up with for Obama’s world view is my favorite movie trilogy, Star Wars (…yes, I still think of Star Wars as a ‘trilogy’ distinct from it’s unfortunate prequel cousin starring “Jar-Jar Binks”). In the Star Wars universe, everything was black and white – literally! Darth Vader had no redeeming characteristics, no feelings, no empathy, and of course no motive aside from a desire to conquer the galaxy and crush under foot all who stood in his way. It was a comforting escape from reality for us as kids and adults because we didn’t have to wonder if maybe Vader had a point, if the Emperor might actually have a better world view, or if Governor Tarkin might have had a legitimate beef with the residents of Alderaan that made it easy to wipe out their planet as a demonstration of the Death Star’s ‘destructive power.’
The illusion that those who oppose (or stand in the way of) Obama’s policies are either ‘greedy’ or ‘evil’ gives him license to discard reason and to push forward with policies that are unpopular with a plurality of Americans. Unfortunately the target sight on Obama’s moral ray-gun is so wide that most of the nation finds itself in his line of fire at one point or another. The good news for the President is that there are so many citizens in this country that it’s hard for him to tell more than a few million of us that we are ‘evil’ or ‘greedy’ at any one time. The odds are most of us won’t watch enough television to hear the particular speech where the president takes aim at our segment of society- and honestly some of us are so mesmerized by his rhetoric that we don’t realize it when he does.
As you listen to President Obama in the debates and stump speeches ahead, picture for a moment that he’s sitting in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon trying to save the galaxy from the ‘evil’ Empire. If you listen closely enough, you might even hear him plead to the audience as the U.S. Economy sputters in the background and his foreign policy collapses – “IT’S NOT MY FAULT!!!”