While the Democrats have long enjoyed support from Hollywood actors, the Republican party clearly does not want to be left out. Recently, Jon Voight gave a speech that was highly critical of Obama.
Actors, despite being considered the dregs of society by the Romans, are still citizens and are thus entitled to freedom of speech. Not surprisingly, famous actors can have considerable influence, mainly because many people are bad at logic. To be specific, people often let their positive feelings or views about an actor serve as reasons as to why they should accept the actor as an expert in a subject area, such as politics. However, being a good or even great actor does not convey special expertise in other fields (see Plato’s Ion for an excellent discussion of this matter).
Naturally, a person who is an actor can also master other subjects. For example, Bruce Lee was an expert in martial arts as well as being an actor. As such, what he said about the martial arts could be taken as having considerable credibility. While Jon Voight clearly has strong opinions about Obama, his expertise in the matters of politics, economics and foreign policy is unclear.
Lest anyone think that I am just bashing the right wing, rest assured that I have the same view of actors who come out in favor of Democrats. Unless the actor has special expertise, their claims have no more merit than any other non-expert. Naturally, their claims do not have any less merit.
Now, to turn to some of what Voight said.
“Are we supposed to sitting and waiting, watching for the possibility of a new Holocaust? Who’s going to take the responsibility to keep America, I mean Israel, safe. ”
It seems clear that Obama has taken on the responsibility of keeping America safe. While he has been opening diplomatic channels and using soft words, he seems to have done nothing to weaken America’s military. His administration also seems quite willing to play hardball, should it come down to that. For example, look at how North Korea is being handled. Obama and Clinton have made it clear that we will not play North Korea’s old game and that we are ready to shoot down anything they send our way. While people love to paint Hilary as a soft lefty, she seems to be a pragmatic politician who sees foreign policy in terms of realpolitiks rather than in terms of a global game of patty cake. Obama also did not show any left wing softness when he authorized the Seal team to use force against the pirates.
Of course, this is an empirical question. Obama has yet to face a truly serious foreign challenge that will test his mettle, although there seem to be several shaping up. The fact that Obama does not make macho speeches and the fact that he prefers diplomacy might be seen as weakness by some, but they seem to be signs of a smarter foreign policy. Trying to go it alone while talking tough did not work out very well for the Bush Administration. I suspect a return to the more classic approach of diplomacy when possible and force when required will serve us better. But, we shall see. I think that Obama is a pragmatic man who takes protecting America seriously-but this has yet to be tested.
Voight goes on to say “I’ll tell you why this really scares the hell out of me. Everything Obama has recommended has turned out to be disastrous.”
This is, of course, mere hyperbole. While some of his plans have not worked and I think that some of them will fail badly, he has had some success. Also, he has not been in office that long. Saying that all his recommendations have turned out to be disastrous is quite a leap-most of them have yet to come to fruition. Voight might turn out to be right, but assessing Obama now is like assessing a baseball team in its first at bat in the first inning.
Voight next says: “Obama really thinks he is a soft-spoken Julius Caesar. He think he’s going to conquer the world with his soft-spoken sweet talk and really think he’s going to bring all of the enemies of the world into a little playground, where they’ll swing each other back and forth.”
While Obama has a great deal of self-confidence, this is hyperbole. Obama also is quite capable of being self-deprecating and seems far too sensible to see himself in that role. But, of course, we don’t know the contents of his mind. Perhaps he does go to a secret room of the Whitehouse and don a purple robe, armor and sword.
Obama is obviously aware that words alone are not enough and he clearly has no expectation of having such a playground. I assume that Voight is aware of this and is merely using hyperbole to, as the media would say, throw some red meat to the base.
Beneath the hyperbole seems to be the not uncommon view that we should not be engaged in diplomacy and that it is foolish to try to work towards a peaceful world. Underlying this might be the view that force is the only way to go about dealing with countries that are not our allies and that these other countries will never get along with us. This is, of course, speculation. However, one common criticism from the right against Obama has been that he is willing to talk to our enemies. The right sees this as naive and instead recommend the use of force.
While force does have its uses, I think that Sun Tzu got it right-it is preferable to win without fighting. After all, peaceful solutions do not kill people and do not destroy cities. As such, it makes sense to at least try to talk first before resorting to force.
Perhaps the most quoted part of his speech is his claim that Obama is a false prophet. Voight says: “We and we alone are the right frame of mind to free this nation from this Obama oppression. Let’s give thanks to [Republicans] for not giving up and staying the course to bring an end to this false prophet, Obama.”
Obviously, Voight is making extensive use of hyperbole and certainly seems to be bashing away at a straw man. He also seems to have fallen into a sort of messianic state.
Voight’s claim that “We and we alone are the right frame of mind to free this nation from this Obama oppression” is certainly interesting. It certainly seems to imply that he thinks that everyone who is not a Republican (or perhaps not a Republican who happened to be in the audience at the time) has nothing positive to offer the country. As such, his remark seems to dismiss all the rest of us while elevating a chosen few to a special, exalted status. The view that one’s group has a such a monopoly on rightness can be seen as sign of extremism-or perhaps even a mental illness. In any case, he is clearly presenting an “us” versus “them” view with the added element that only his people can save the nation.
That, obviously enough, does not seem to be true. The Republicans had their chance for eight years. That did not, as we have seen, turn out so well. as such, we have little reason to think that only the Republicans have what it takes to save the day.
Of course, it might be claimed that the Republicans are the only folks who can save us from the current Obama oppression, despite their past failures (including their failures in the past elections).
This, naturally enough, assumes that we are being oppressed. I don’t really see any signs of new oppression. What new laws have been passed that oppress us? What is Obama doing that would merit such a harsh word? Voight might not like what Obama is doing, but that would hardly seem to count as oppression. Oppression involves things like intruding into private communications, suspending constitutional rights, imprisoning people without trials, operating secret prisons, and so on. Perhaps the Republicans think they are oppressed victims-I have written about this before and have argued that they are mistaken.
To call Obama a false prophet is, to say the least, both extreme and harsh. It can be seen as implying that there is more than just a difference in political views here. In a religious context, to call someone a false prophet can be a rather serious charge, perhaps implying that the person serves the forces of evil, is an intentional deceiver, and is an enemy of the faithful.While a false prophet of this sort would be a grave danger, Obama seems to be a charismatic politician and not, as some have claimed, some sort of Hitler or Anti Christ. Voight might well be consciously tapping into those baseless fears-or perhaps he sincerely believes what he is saying.
This sort of branding of a political opponent is a rather extreme and divisive tactic-needlessly so, I think. While dissent is good for a democracy, such hateful vilification does not serve us very well. We can disagree and dislike one another, but it is important to do so in a civil manner and to recognize that the other person is an American, too.
I think that the conservative movement has a lot to offer America and Obama’s policies and actions should be subject to critical assessment. But I do not think that the sort of speech that Voight gave does America or even the Republicans any good.