According to Sarah Palin, the GOP’s vice presidential candidate in 2008, the United States is “becoming a totalitarian surveillance state.” And Herman Cain, who ran as a GOP presidential candidate in 2012, said, “This train is running full speed down the tracks towards socialism and towards communism. Yes, I said it. Before we stop it and reverse it, we got to slow it down. That’s what we do in 2014.”
Now, we actually know what genuine totalitarian surveillance states and communist nations look like, and America is nothing close to becoming anything like them. Whatever one thinks of the NSA’s data mining and surveillance techniques, they are legal, overseen by a FISA court and Congress, and they are not anything like the Soviet Union under Stalin or North Korea under Kim Jong-un. Nor is America speeding down the tracks toward becoming Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge or Cuba under Castro.
So why use such reckless rhetoric? It’s hard to know the precise reasons. They could range from Obama Derangement Syndrome to efforts to gain attention. Whatever the case, by now I’m familiar with the pushback. Why pay any attention to what Mr. Cain and Ms. Palin say? Isn’t criticizing them merely evidence of wanting to be embraced by the liberal “establishment”–a sign of being unprincipled, ideologically soft and a RINO (Republican In Name Only)? Why not ignore their words in order to focus on the venom of the left and the genuine threat posed to America by the Obama presidency?
To which I would respond in several ways. The first is that some of us do call out the left on their slanders. And not only don’t I have a problem with those offering sharp, pointed critiques of Barack Obama; I do it myself on a fairly regular occasion (most recently on Friday).
But some of us also believe that those who claim to be conservative need to be held to certain standards as well; that to berate only the left for rhetorical overkill is to employ a double standard; and that irresponsible and careless language used by former governors and vice presidential candidates like Sarah Palin and former presidential candidates like Herman Cain helps discredit conservatism and the GOP. It is prima facie evidence of intemperate minds. And it actually helps Mr. Obama when his critics sound apocalyptically detached from reality. The real world case against the president is sufficient.
I’d add one other point: What Cain and Palin are doing damages public debate because it corrupts language and thought. Thinking clearly, George Orwell wrote in his classic essay on the debasement of our language, “is a necessary step toward political regeneration.”
The Republican Party is in need of political regeneration, which will be achieved by offering principled alternatives to Mr. Obama and a fundamentally different governing agenda to Obamaism. Most conservatives get that. But a few on the right can’t resist the temptation to portray the president as the architect of a coming American gulag. They should–for their sake and for the sake of the cause they claim to care about.