What’s in a name?

Yippie Abbie Hoffman said all isms should become wasms. Historian John Lukacs thought after the Soviet Union imploded that all isms actually became wasms.

Isms, however, still hang on in their own way. Despite that, thoughtful political observers know obsolete language about socialism and related bugaboos (communism, fascism, collectivism, individualism, gobbledy-gookism) just stirs the pot to rouse fears.

Here’s my view: Isms are wasms because they never were. Nor will they ever be. Why not? They’re abstract ideas.

Multi-syllabic ism words categorize and inadequately try to encapsulate concepts so large they become meaningless without ever approaching useful status. What people think indeed is important, but what they are and do trumps mega-ideas.

A friend recently told me about meeting a self-avowed communist while in Ireland. They were drinking in a group at a grog shop, and the self-identified communist was into his cups well and improper. He kept leaning over to my friend and repeating, “You’re a communist, right comrade?”

My friend tried to be diplomatic, smiling and saying nothing until after several such overtures. To end the non-conversation, finally, he peered directly into the beer-beclouded eyes of his new-found drinking partner and replied, “No, but I’m the next best thing. I’m a Democrat.”

Should a besotted and self-identified fascist ask me if I sided with him in his single-party, nationalist longings for promoting survival of the fittest, I’d find it difficult to be so kind. “No, Il Duce, but I’m the next best thing—I’m a Republican” is probably the last thing I would say.

More likely I’d buy him another drink in a bid to cut down his fitness for survival. (Ditto for the guy who fancied himself a communist, but drunks in bars bore me.)

The point is Americans who believe in collective, government-backed solutions to societal problems aren’t necessarily communists or socialists; neither is someone who believes in individual freedom, solid standards and the dangers of group-think anything akin to a fascist or reactionary.

Name-calling doesn’t help in the national and state dialogues over how to end the recession, what future health care insurance policy should be, how much in taxation and government services to require, or who should lead.

We’re Democrats, Republicans and independents rather than socialists, fascists or middle-of-the-road misfits. Passion is one thing, but hate and diatribes are debilitating for both the dialogue and our psyches.

If name-calling between parties is senseless, it’s even more stupid among folks in the same party. To hell with acronyms like RINOs or DINOs (Republicans/Democrats In Name Only). I’m a RHINO, thank you (Really Happy I’m No Oaf). My friend who travels in Ireland is more of a DIME (Decently Inclined Masked Everyman).

I’ll have much to say in future columns on how to end the recession, figure out health care, taxes and services—as well as who should lead—and most of it from a conservative and Republican perspective.

I refuse, however, to think anyone has all the answers—especially people of any political stripe who won’t use critical thinking to challenge themselves along with others. If there is a worthwhile ism, it is skepticism. This ism began with Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher who said (loosely translated), “You can’t step into the same river twice.”

Other skeptics (whatever political affiliation they had) included philosopher William James and humorist Will Rogers.

“A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices,” said James.

“It ain’t what you don’t know that’ll hurt you,” said Rogers, adding: “It’s what you do know that ain’t true.”