Sometimes our political rhetoric ties us up in knots

Reprinted from the Press and Journal

If you were paying attention in philosophy class, you’ll remember Aristotle’s law of non-contradiction. Without this ontological law, Plato’s most famous student thought that we could never know anything about the things we already understand – for instance, the science of mathematics would mean nothing if it couldn’t be differentiated from biology.

Aristotle, smart as he was, would be baffled by today’s political rhetoric. His logical approach to the world does not fit well with our discourse over public affairs.

Too often, politicians choose subterfuge over truth and circumlocution over clear language. This makes the act of governing extremely difficult.

Some examples: In a recent Republican candidate debate, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio defended his call for a bigger Pentagon budget by declaring, “We can’t even have an economy if we’re not safe.”

We can’t? Last I checked, economies are nothing but the sum total of individuals trading goods and services. Even in the most rudimentary societies, barter still existed. And let’s not forget that in order for the military to function, tax dollars must be collected from business to finance its operations.

All that said, Rubio has a point: If we’re dead, we aren’t buying and selling things. So in a sense, you can’t have an economy without a certain degree of safety.

Confusing, right?

Philosophical pretzels are not exclusive to Republicans. The Democrats have their fare share of mind-bending reasoning.

Observe the language of everyone’s favorite democratic socialist from Vermont, Sen. Bernie Sanders. The septuagenarian presidential candidate is lighting up the college speaking circuit with his call for a more robust welfare state that guarantees health care for all citizens. “I want to end the international embarrassment of the United States of America being the only major country on earth that doesn’t guarantee health care to all people as a right and not a privilege,” he declared at a recent debate.

Let’s unpack that, because the “health care is a right” meme is incredibly popular with the American people. Rights mandate obligations. A right to your property means that other people must respect your ownership. But how would a right to health care work? Must doctors be obliged to care for patients? What about payment? Who picks up the tab for a broken femur?

Most Americans consider it theft to forcibly take someone’s money without permission. But hold on a sec – isn’t the right to life guaranteed in the Declaration of Independence? And if you’re in a car accident and rushed to the hospital but lack insurance, doesn’t a right to life necessitate you receive care?

Hypotheticals like these make politics a confusing sport.

One more example: Consider Donald Trump’s recent call to ban all Muslims, citizens or not, from entering the United States. Not only is the policy asinine and impractical but also unconstitutional. But is it really that crazy? Two Muslims exploited our lax immigration laws and terrorist screening process to settle within our borders. They used our hospitality to wage jihad in the quiet streets of San Bernardino, Calif. Due to this negligence, 14 people lost their lives.

Freedom of religion is one of America’s hallmark values. But don’t countries have the right to police their borders and forge a unifying identity? If someone’s spiritual fanaticism is antithetical to a nation’s character, shouldn’t they be barred from entering? We ban animal sacrifice required by pagan beliefs. Isn’t that an encroachment on religious liberty?

In his anti-immigration novel, “The Camp of the Saints,” French novelist Jean Raspail wrote, “The Good are at war with the Bad, true enough. But one man’s ‘Bad’ is another man’s ‘Good,’ and vice versa. It’s a question of sides.”

In political arguments, it’s easy to pick a side. What’s hard is defending that side in the face of life’s inevitable complications. If governing society were simple, there would be no need for partisan bickering or political parties.

Here are a few more mind-benders: How do you keep guns out of the hands of disturbed people while protecting the fundamental right to bear and keep arms?

Who draws the line for when free speech becomes menacing?

If stop-and-frisk policing is a proven deterrent for criminal activity, why should the right to privacy overrule its effectiveness?

And finally, if men can’t be trusted to live peacefully without government, why then should certain men be put in charge of wielding the state’s monopoly on power?

If all of this seems beguiling, don’t worry. These are the issues that great thinkers have grappled with since the time of Pericles. Societies cannot exist without the individual members submitting to a higher order. And that higher order cannot be too oppressive to the point where the individual members revolt. This is the great paradox of politics.

There is one way to untangle the nasty knot of statecraft. As the Christmas season approaches, we should remember the eternal gift given to mankind in the form of a being both God and Man. For in all of life’s troubles, Jesus Christ shows the way. When confronted with a problem, we should reflect on the Redeemer of the World and the Truth he gave us: That we’re all flawed and susceptible to error.

Sometimes humility can help get us on the right path closer to the greater good, if not show us the answer.

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