Damning Labels

by Chris Bodenner

Foreign Policy, in its four-author critique of Paul Wolfowitz's take on realism and Obama, touches on way too many issues and first principles to cover in this space, so I recommend reading Walt, Rothkopf, Drezner, and Clemons for yourself. But I think this passage from Rothkopf is relevant for foreign-policy wonks and non-wonks alike:

Reading Wolfowitz's piece, I kept thanking Providence for giving me a concentration in English in college rather than say, political science. I actually was taught what words mean. (In fact, being an English major taught me that "political science" may be the humdinger of all oxymorons ... even if calling "realists" realists and "neoconservatives" neoconservatives comes pretty darn close.) Economists have their "lies, damned lies, and statistics" and clearly, political scientists have their "lies, damned lies, and labels."

It's not just "neocons" and "realists" of course who are mislabeled or falsely advertising themselves. There is nothing "conservative" about the reckless fiscal policies of "conservative" champions like Reagan or Bush, nothing "progressive" about the New Deal nostalgia of many on the left, nothing "pro-life" about abortion opponents who also use a misreading of the Second Amendment to allow them stock up on assault weapons, nothing "liberal" about folks who think the answer to everything is greater government control of people's lives. Say what you may about the underlying beliefs, the labels are meaningless.

A huge pet peeve of mine is when people in the abortion debate refer to each other as "anti-choice" or "pro-abortion" (or even the noxious "anti-life"). People distort their own beliefs with labels enough as it is, as Rothkopf says, so it's that much more corrosive to public discourse when people distort the beliefs of others.