The Debate on Conservative Civility
Posted by Adam Graham on May 8, 2009
I responded to a piece by a John Hawkins on Pajamas Media on conservative civility
PJM columnist John Hawkins’ advice to conservatives to be as nasty as liberals is like Sean Connery’s “Chicago way” speech in The Untouchables applied to American politics: “They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That’s the Chicago way.”
But is the “Chicago way” the right way for conservatives? Certainly, conservatives need to re-evaluate their tactics in light of Democratic behavior. That Democrats will engage in obstruction of Republican judicial nominees, while Republicans will let Democratic nominees sail through is absurd. In my home state of Idaho, a local was critical of Republicans talking about challenging first-term Congressman Walt Minnick (D-ID) and urged them to wait until 2010, even though Minnick was on record as a candidate who criticized former Congressman Bill Sali back in January of 2007, the year Minnick raised more than $400,000.
When conservatives do things like this, they’re acting like British troops trying to form into straight lines while their enemies take positions behind rocks and trees to pick them off like flies. They’re denying reality and have failed to acknowledge that the battle lines have shifted. However, I think Hawkins’ thesis for conservative nastiness is wrong for several reasons:
1) Conservatives are not liberals
I’ll counter Hawkins’ martial arts analogy with a sports analogy of my own. A baseball team with several players that regularly hit home runs can get players on base, not worry about base running, and win with a strategy of “pitching, defense, and the three-run homer.” This same strategy won’t work if a team has decent speed and only one or two players that are reliable long-ball hitters. Baseball strategy is always going to be dependent on the team you have to play with. You can’t expect singles hitters to consistently deliver three-run homers, so you have to work it another way.
Culturally, conservatives are unable to play the same game as liberals, because we do not possess the same mentality. I would argue that conservatives have a greater sense of respect for authority, rules of civility, and fundamental order within society. This is so ingrained that in Boise, when social conservatives felt the need to practice civil disobedience over the removal of a Ten Commandments monument, it was arranged in advance with the police that only a small number of people would be arrested and they would go quietly. There was a strong feeling among Ten Commandments supporters that they didn’t want to give the police officers a hard time, because the police were only doing their job and enforcing the actions of a boneheaded city council.
Hawkins responded with a piece of his own that didn’t leave me a whole to respond to in an actual PJM response. Hawkins doesn’t prove that his tactics will work, only arguing that conservatives should do them because the liberals are due it.
Hawkins of North Carolina questions the tactics of the Ten Commandments:
It’s fascinating that Mr. Graham picks that example, not only because it was a failure, but also because of the obvious contrast that has so often been drawn between Christian and Muslim protests. Christians are mocked and laughed at with impunity in this country because most Christians don’t have the backbone to stand up for their faith. Maybe the truth hurts, but I suspect there are few Christians reading this who’d disagree. On the other hand, Muslims are treated with the utmost respect here in the U.S. and across the world. Part of that’s because there is a fear that if you insult Muslims, one of them might kill you. However, even if that weren’t the case, Muslims would be treated with much more respect because they take grave offense when someone insults their religion. If Christians felt the same way, 90% of black Americans would be voting for Republicans instead of Democrats, Barack Obama wouldn’t be invited to speak at Notre Dame, and that Ten Commandments monument would be sitting in that Boise park today.
I’d also add that sometimes, regrettably, the only way to preserve “respect for authority, rules of civility, and fundamental order within society” is to give the people who are ruining those things a taste of their own medicine.
So, let me agree in part with Hawkins, that if Christians had cared in large enough numbers about the issue, there would have been a different outcome politically. We had hundreds involved, but there are tens of thousands of Christians who didn’t care and indeed who in order to make themselves look good attacked those who supported the Ten Commandments.
However, what if the 100 people who had volunteered to be arrested all lied down on the ground and made their bodies go limp, would that have stopped police? It would have delayed them, but the monument would have still gone out. We needed Christians to care to the point that there were political consequences for the Mayor and Council, not for hundreds to obstruct police.
If this were an effective tactic, abortion would have ended during the Operation Rescue situation. While, it can be argued that Operation Rescue’s tactics were moral as a response to abortion with non-violent civil disobedience, they did not end abortion.
Hawkins also disagrees with my statement on trained protestors:
Really? The 18-year-old college students blocking conservatives from speaking at campuses are trained Alinsky radicals? I’m not so sure that’s correct. Moreover, it doesn’t seem like such a good idea to “never go outside the expertise of your people.”
I’d say many of them are, though probably more like the 21-year old ring-leaders. Generally, you’ll hear certain things at protests that people have been taught to do, like the screaming/chanting person who stands up like a priest during vespers.
Chanter: I say union, you say rocks. Union.
Going along with my point of conservatives looking silly in this regard, imagine this:
Chanter: I say Captain Gains Taxes and you say, “suck.” Capital Gains Taxes.
Chanter: Captain Gains Taxes.
I rest my case on the poser point.
Moreover, the Right is slowly but surely narrowing the media gap. For example, WorldNetDaily — which Mr. Graham disparagingly mentions — gets more traffic than the Associated Press and the top seven conservative talk radio hosts alone reach more than 60 million people a week combined.
My point is that the stories on journalists are more likely to play in a conservative echo chamber and not get out to the general public. Conservatives are narrowing the media gap, but with the exception of Fox News, the only people who are being reached are conservatives. Therefore to expect to get great play in the mainstream of society by exposing Maureen Dowd is silly. Ain’t happening.