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.

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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

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?

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.