Commentary: Reagan Reed
As the calendar rolls into the month of October, is the Alan B. Sadler Building undergoing a new October Revolution? Your favorite local news source, Texas Citizen Journal, is here to answer the most pressing question of the day: Are the members of the Montgomery County Commissioners Court socialists?
I have already addressed McCarthy-esqe insinuations that Precinct 2 Commissioner Charlie Riley is part of some Marxist plot here. The reaction was both insightful and amusing, having managed to offend both the local tea party types and “the establishment” in the same article.
The most recent accusation is that the West County BBQ Czar and his comrades on the Montgomery County politburo are socialists. Marxism and socialism are actually two different things, despite the fact that they are used interchangeably (ad nauseam) by right-wing provocateurs to describe basically anything they don’t like.
The latest red scare concerns a recent vote by the Montgomery County Commissioners Court to hand out over $1.5 million of taxpayer’s money to various local charity and non-profit organizations. The item was on the consent agenda for the court’s September 28 meeting and was approved unanimously without discussion or deliberation.
Not, however, without the adamant remonstrations of local Republican Party precinct chair and perennial tub-thumper, Ginger Russell. “There’s a word for this: it’s called ‘socialism,'” said Russell, referring to the vote. “Taking other people’s money and distributing it to those charities you choose to give to is wrong. That’s wrong, it buys votes for you.”
After the vote, I even saw this thoughtful graphic proliferating in the fetid fever-swamp that is Facebook:
Now, before I also get lumped in with the “socialists”, I want to make it clear that I actually agree with Mrs. Russell’s opposition to the court’s handout of taxpayer dollars. If I was a county commissioner, I would have voted “no” on the issue, for two main reasons:
(1) As a conservative, I believe that the government’s role should be limited in scope to only a few things. Doling out taxpayers’ money to non-profits of your choice is not one of them. Government shouldn’t be picking winners and losers and forcing you to financially support private organizations with your taxes that you may or may not support. I’m sure many of the non-profits the court gave money to are fine organizations that do good things in the community. But charity is the responsibility of churches, private institutions, and the individual, not the government (although perhaps an exception could be made for things like natural disasters).
Undoubtedly, taxpayer funding for these programs is popular. Perhaps I’m just a heartless tightwad (I might take that as a compliment). The court’s vote to give over $1.5 million to non-profits is outside the proper role of government and fundamentally not conservative.
(2) Even if I did support using taxpayer dollars on charity, this item simply should not be on the consent agenda. The consent agenda is at the beginning of the commissioners court meeting agenda, and is approved unanimously without deliberation. The consent agenda is supposed to be reserved for uncontroversial and mundane items like re-naming roads or minor expenditures. Spending over $1.5 million on anything is a completely inappropriate use of the consent agenda, and this item should have been discussed and voted on as a regular agenda item.
Although County Judge Mark Keough, in my opinion, has been a substantial upgrade from his predecessor in many areas, when it comes to abusing the consent agenda by burying things in it that don’t belong there, he has arguably been even worse than Craig Doyal.
But is he a socialist?
As much as I agree with Mrs. Russell here on policy grounds, I profoundly disagree with her rhetoric and hyperbole. Socialism, like Marxism, has a very specific definition. According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, socialism is defined as:
“A way of organizing a society in which major industries are owned and controlled by the government rather than by individual people and companies.”
Socialism and Marxism are defined political ideologies, and shouldn’t be carelessly thrown around as emotionally charged buzzwords to attack any government expenditure with which you do not agree. Are Judge Keough and the commissioners violating conservative principles and spending money on something outside the proper role of limited government? Yes. But are they advocating, “a society in which major industries are owned and controlled by the government rather than by individual people and companies?”
To honestly answer the latter question in the affirmative would require some Simone Biles level mental gymnastics.
The bottom line is when activists engage in hyperbole, over-the-top rhetoric, and rampant exaggeration, it only serves to undermine the effectiveness of their arguments. If you go around calling everyone a socialist, people tune you out, and like the boy who cried wolf, whenever you do have a valid policy concern, it will fall on deaf ears.
It’s also unwise to call programs that are actually popular “socialism”. If people hear it enough and incorrectly associate things they like, such as government subsidized charity, with socialism, they may start to actually think socialism is a good thing. “Socialism” is not a word that should be mainstreamed or normalized in political discourse.
Words have enormous power. The most effective voices are those who engage in good faith and lay out their case with well-grounded, reasoned arguments. Great conservative leaders like William F. Buckley and Ronald Reagan come to mind.
Observing Montgomery County politics over the years, I am convinced that a major reason why the “establishment” usually triumphs over the tea party candidates is due to the reform movement’s failure to reign in their more zealous members’ rhetoric. They never break through to the broader public because your average Republican voter hears hyperbole and tunes them out, regardless of whether their policies actually have merit.
If the reform movement in this county want to actually start winning elections, they need to get serious and become more disciplined in their speech. A good first step would be to stop calling everyone a socialist.
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