Over the Aisle: This You Must Defend

Marie Myung-Ok Lee finds herself conflicted about attending a controversial author’s reading and wonders: what does “speaking up” actually mean?

Source: Politics and Prose

Lee writes a fascinating article that is worth the long read for two reasons.

Most obviously, she is a progressive who is uncomfortable with the Antifa’s Red Guard style tactics. I take that as a positive: the more either side the US declines to align with its most extreme fringes, the more I nurture the hope that we will avoid civil war.

But what I find most telling is the grounds on which she criticizes the Antifa rabble shouting down a speaker: her problem is that the speaker is actually more sympathetic to their point than they realize, and if they listen they would understand. You see, the author they were shouting down was NOT someone like Richard Spencer. Because he was different than Spencer, because his position was closer to those of Antifa, he deserves to be able to speak.

It apparently does not occur to Ms. Lee that there is a greater crime being committed than the failure to recognize the importance of nuance in a political position. What Lee fails to do is to say – or even suggest – that the problem with the Antifa tactics is that they are not expressing their own right of free speech as much as they are denying someone else theirs. Lee – a writer who thrives on the rights granted by the Constitution – is unwilling to defend that right. By implication, indeed, free speech is not a right but a privilege to be granted only to those who agree with you.

I pick on Ms. Lee, and perhaps unfairly. She is not the issue. The problem is that on the progressive left it is okay to listen politely to someone you agree with, but that someone you disagree with does not even merit the privilege of a public forum. The problem is that it has become okay on the American left to suggest that those whose ideas I find repugnant have no right to self-expression; or, indeed, that there are ideas which must not be aired, even in a free society; and to do so without having to worry about being questioned by your fellows.

In so doing, the left runs the risk of sacrificing its opportunity to take political leadership of this country at a time when, even in the eyes of this conservative, the nation needs a liberal opposition capable of credible leadership.

The Democrats will probably take home a great victory in November, a “blue tide” that will give the Executive Branch the opposition it deserves. If it is to get the opposition that the nation needs, the left must make clear that it offers an inclusive vision of the future, one in which there is even a place for people whose ideas they find repugnant. Nothing will undermine that more quickly than questions about whether the left is prepared to uphold and defend the Constitution.

Same as the Old High

If Marx posited that religion is the opiate of the people, then we have reached a new, more clarifying moment in the history of the West: Opiates are now the religion of the people.

Andrew Sullivan

This is a plague ripping America apart from within, far greater public health crisis than AIDS ever was.

And the Presidential solution is to give it to his wife to manage.

Once again, the band plays on.

On Schaeffer’s Beatification of Obama

Barack Obama painted portrait DSC_3641.JPG

Barack Obama painted portrait DSC_3641.JPG (Photo credit: Abode of Chaos)

A quote by commentator Frank Schaeffer is becoming a web-meme due to the efforts of Occupy Democrats. The paragraph, taken from a Huffington Post article Schaeffer penned in November, is a pocket panegyric to President Obama, and appears to be an appeal less to the Republican right (or center) than an attempt to woo back disaffected Democrats:

Senator Obama won scholarships to America’s top academic institutions, was voted by his peers to be editor of the Harvard Law Review, is a family man with an exemplary and obviously loving marriage, has a wife who is a brilliant charismatic woman, two lovely children, is a born-again Christian comfortable with his faith, has avoided making the fast buck in the new gilded age of greed when he could have, served his community, is thoughtful, considered in his opinions, slow to anger, proved right in his judgment about the Iraq war, the economy and just about everything else, looks at every side of a question before making a decision, and is not given to grandstanding let alone defending himself. That is who I voted for twice. That is who the president still is.

I include this lengthy paragraph neither to endorse it nor to refute it, but to demonstrate the degree to which public debate has been hijacked by the politics of personality. The endless ping-pong between personal demonization and political beatification is a waste of time and effort and, in the end, is the sign of a debater who has run out of arguments in his favor.

As far as Mr. Obama is concerned, those who have been his detractors since the beginning acknowledge scant virtue in him. Those who have been his most ardent supporters concede few if any of his vices. The truth lies somewhere between the two extremes, and we should leave judgment on the man to history and the Almighty.

Enough of the ad hominem politics from both sides. I stand in firm opposition to the Administration, but I stand with those who eschew the temptation to create heroes and villains, choosing instead to focus their efforts on hashing out policies, debating the thinking behind them, and framing a future for the nation.

Tobin on Fair and Equal Outrage

Aside

What we need here is not so much more civility—though that would be nice—but some consistency when it comes to outrage. If you think gays shouldn’t be subjected to negative or prejudicial remarks on TV, then try to be just as interested when people of faith or conservatives are given the same treatment. The same advice applies to conservatives. Selective outrage that is only generated when someone whose political opinions you disagree with crosses the line is what is really turning our public square into a verbal junkyard.

“Duck Dynasty, Free Speech, and Hypocrisy”
Jonathan Tobin

Commentary
December 19, 2013

via Tobin on Fair and Equal Outrage.

Will Pope Francis Sunder the Religious Right?

Quote

But if Francis is successful at shifting the focus of American Catholicism away from the cultural issues of marriage and contraception and toward the policy issues of poverty and economic inequality, then this coalition may well dissolve. Perhaps the most pernicious legacy of the religious right in this country is that it has made issues of private morality — who and how we love, how and when we plan our families — matters of public policing, while turning public issues — inequality and poverty — into matters of private moral failing.

Pope Francis and the End of the Religious Right?”
Steven Conn
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Huffington Post
December 19, 2013

Does this mean that we are witnessing the birth of the Religious Left?

One wonders about how challenging it might be to fuse a coalition of atheist progressives and Catholic faithful. In the end, I think, the matter would not rest on an agreement about the evils of poverty, but on the solutions to the problem.

There will still be those Catholics who believe that the solution to poverty lies with the government, others who will argue that it is incumbent upon the Church, and many who will say that it is the obligation of individuals to take care of our fellow men. Gaining a consensus among Catholics will not be easy.

Those of us trying to get the bible out of the ballot box and the government off the pulpit, though, hope this all leads to a secularization of the political agenda.

Shades of Red

I read a lot of liberal/progressive publications. I think every Republican should. I also think liberals and progressives should read more writings from the right, as well. Not only is it good to know what the other side is thinking, reading the opposition tests intellectual honesty and hones one’s own thinking. And, as I have said here before, no side has a monopoly on the truth.

In this reading one of my ongoing irritants is that these magazines – The New Republic most prominently among them – still fail to make distinctions among Republicans. They don’t see the reactionary right, most often associated with the Tea Party; they don’t see the libertarian wing. They miss the continued presence of the silenced-but-real neoconservatives, frequently mis-named “mainstream Republicans.”

And, finally, they ignore totally the Silent Majority, those of us who understand that measured progress is a good thing, but that Change for its own sake is foolishness; and that we need a government that acts morally rather than one that tries to legislate morality.

Maybe from the far side of the spectrum, everything right of center looks the same shade as red. But I know that there are flavors of liberals, ranging from blue-dog Democrats to hardcore radical progressives. I learned a long time ago that profiling the opposition and lumping them all together ignores the hidden fault lines in American politics, and sacrifices opportunities to build common cause with a wide spectrum of people. In short, it’s just dumb and demagogic.

Phil Robertson and The Atlantic Magazine (Updated)

“The Real Duck Dynasty Scandal: Phil Robertson’s Comments on Race”
Jonathan Merritt
The Atlantic
December 19, 2013

I have refrained from commenting on the matter of Duck Commander founder Phil Robertson’s comments to GQ magazine and the A&E Network‘s subsequent action to censor him. Living in America grants Mr. Robertson the right to speak his mind. It also grants the A&E Network the ability to operate in a manner that its owners believe will protect their business. It grants neither side immunity from the consequences of the words they speak or the actions they take.

In keeping with this blog’s effort to rise above the daily piff-paff of politics in order to focus on substantive issues of principle and policy, I thought to let the chips in this matter fall as they may.

Until, that is, I read an uncharacteristically shrill j’accuse by Jonathan Merritt in The Atlantic that stopped just short of branding the entrepreneur/patriarch a racist.

“Buried under the firestorm of media and public outrage over Robertson’s comments on sexuality is his stunning insinuation that blacks were quite happy in the Jim Crow South:

Merritt’s issue is with these remarks to GQ by Robertson:

I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field …. They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word! … Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.

To which Merrit reacted:

He may envision a Jim Crow South where blacks were treated well and sang happy spirituals all the day long, but this is not the South many African-Americans knew in this era.”

Now, perhaps it’s me, but nowhere in those remarks did I see Robertson even suggest (as Merritt asserts that he does) that his experience in Louisiana extended to the entirety of the Jim Crow South. Robertson never denies any of the evidence of mistreatment of African Americans. He never asserts that awful, disgusting things didn’t happen to the African Americans of the south (or of the North, for that matter – remember the Chicago Race Riots of 1919?) He simply relates his own experiences without any attempt to make them universal.

I understand that Merritt does not want history whitewashed. I don’t want it whitewashed either: indeed, I want my mixed-race son and all of his classmates to know that racism is a latent evil that must never again be shown a glimmer of tolerance.

But we should also remember that personal narratives that run counter to the mainstream of history are not experiences to be erased simply because they, inconveniently, don’t fit the broader story; instead, they should be understood as pieces of a greater puzzle that must be understood in their context.

There were poor white people in the south that didn’t hate African Americans. There were African Americans who got along with poor white people. And somehow, despite their circumstances, they were able to find happiness. That does not justify poverty or oppression: on the contrary, it suggests that there is nothing inevitable about racism or misery, and that even in the meanest quarters of this nation lie the roots of harmony and tolerance.

If that does not fit your narrative, sorry about that.

There is enough racism left in America that it need not be conjured. There are enough racists that it is unnecessary to brand every over-40 white male with right-of-center leanings and a rifle as a closet Byron De La Beckwith. And there must be enough tolerance in this nation to allow a retired entrepreneur to describe his past and his feelings without turning it into a battle in the culture wars.

Defining 21st Century Republicanism

Republicanism is not the defense of the status quo, or of the past. Today is not perfect, and any true telling of history belies the rose-toned filters of nostalgia. Not all social and political evolution touted as “progress” is good, and much should be resisted in favor of more measured change. But to resist change entirely is as misguided as the insistence that we live in a perfect world, and no betterment is possible. That is not Republicanism or conservatism: that is delusion with the taint of egocentrism.

Republicanism is not the belief that all progress to date, drawn from an arbitrary line in the past, is somehow misguided. It is the nature of all institutions – and government most of all – to foment efforts that are utter folly, or that are of temporary utility only. The former must be uprooted without mercy; the latter must be carefully but firmly closed. But there are those that are of lasting an important benefit and, when flawed, should only be replaced when the flaws may be removed, benefit may be increased, or the efficiency improved.  To root out necessary and valuable efforts merely because they fail an ideological test is the mark of an extremist. To do so merely because they were brought about by those less conservative is the mark of a reactionary.

Republicanism should be, instead, the effort to achieve the betterment of ourselves, our nation, and our world through the thoughtful, compassionate and more perfect application of time-proven principles. It is the hot steel of progress formed by the hammer of time-honored ideals against the anvil of our proven institutions, and tempered by the cool water of wisdom.

In governing a complex nation of 330 million souls, the head must lead the heart, not the other way around. Our righteous instincts, our desire to do the right thing by the ideals we hold sacred, those beliefs that Abraham Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature,” must advise all we do, but they must be subordinated to the knowledge that all actions have unintended consequences, and that no action, however worthy it might seem, is tolerable if it undermines the core principles on which our republic is based.

To be a Republican, then, is not to hew to a line that stands against progress: it is, instead, to be the rudder that guides the advance of the nation down a course that ensures its constant and timely improvement while guarding against the tempests of change and the shoals of stagnation.

Jonathan Tobin Talks Sense about the Budget Deal

“Ideologues Shouldn’t Torpedo Budget Truce”
Jonathan Tobin

Commentary
December 11, 2013

We are starting to see more common sense coming from my fellow conservatives, and Jonathan Tobin at Commentary offers yet another example of the growing ranks of Republicans who are tired of playing juvenile ideology games with the governance of the nation. In an emphatically worded article, Tobin puts the Tea Partistas on notice that blocking the budget deal would be unadulterated stupidity.

Many on the right are also denouncing Ryan’s deal not just because it doesn’t give them what they want on taxes and spending but because they don’t see the need to compromise at this moment. They see President Obama’s poll numbers falling and think the time is right to push hard again for the kind of reform that is needed, not an agreement that merely kicks the can down the road. But this is the same kind of faulty thinking from groups like Heritage Action and Freedom Works that led conservatives to shut down the government as part of a vain effort to defund ObamaCare. Apparently they’ve learned nothing from that debacle.

That Tobin would name names, calling out the hardliners and risking open schism on the right underscores that we are in the advanced stages of a battle for the soul – and the future – of the Republican Party. The time for juvenile procedural games and emotional non-cooperation are over. Instead, it is time we won with ideas, intelligence, and logic.

Equally important, as Tobin points out, there comes a time in every debate where we have to compromise in order to allow the country to move forward, if nothing else to buy time until we have the legislative wherewithal to offer our own solutions (assuming we have some by then.) The country comes before our ideologies. Anyone who debates that is less a leader than a demagogue.