Monday, March 05, 2007

Dragons and Gnats

One of the principles of the modern conservative movement, as well as a differentiator from modern liberalism, is a desire by conservatives to support and enact effective public policy changes. Most politicians, whether conservative or liberal, are concerned with looking good, but those of us who are not political, have had different priorities. In general, those on the left have been more concerned with equality of outcome, regardless of effort. The left wants to feel good about the policies they support. In general, those on the right are more concerned with equality of opportunity, regardless of results. The right wants the policies they support to be fair and effective, without concern for feelings.

Modern conservatism found a home in the Republican Party when Ronald Reagan became president. Modern liberalism has never produced a president, but as conservatives gravitated towards the Republican Party, liberals gravitated towards the Democratic Party.

For the last two decades, conservatives have accused liberals of being more concerned with symbolism than substance. For instance, a raise in the minimum wage does not help the poor, but support for a raise in the minimum wage makes politicians look like they care about the poor. Minimum wage is an ineffective, but symbolic, policy. Reducing CO2 from automobile exhaust will have a very minimal effect on human produced CO2, but support for reduced CO2 from automobiles makes politicians look like they care about global warming.

The focus on appearance by liberals led to political correctness. Looking good to large groups meant thinking like a group and talking like a group. Precise thoughts and precise words became less important as group orthodoxy become more important. President Clinton was a pragmatist, not a modern liberal, but he was the master of political correctness as President. He managed to appeal to large groups of people without ever saying anything specific.

For most of the time since Reagan, unelected conservatives have been able to resist political correctness. William F. Buckley spoke for William F. Buckley only. George Will spoke for George Will only. Both were considered conservatives, but other conservative never felt the need to associate or disassociate with either man. Conservatives accepted their differences. Conservatives didn’t need to appeal to a group or be accepted by a group. Ideas and beliefs, right or wrong, stood on their own. Advocates of beliefs and ideas, right or wrong, stood on their own.

When Senator Edwards hired two far left religious bigots to blog about his campaign last month, pundits on the right were unanimous in condemning him for hiring them. Shortly thereafter, both bloggers (ahem) resigned from their position in Senator Edwards campaign. Pundits on the right then patted themselves on the back for a job well done.

When Ann Coulter used a bigoted word to describe a thought she believed about Senator Edwards, pundits on the right jumped at the chance to demonstrate the difference in civility between the left and the right by unanimously condemning her. Pundits on the right did exactly what Ann Coulter said they would do if she used the word she wasn’t going to use because of the response it would illicit. How ironic, by trying so hard to prove and demonstrate the difference in civility between the left and the right, pundits on the right have become just like the left in practicing group think and enforcing group orthodoxy.

Like the rest of the mob, I believe the word Coulter used was offensive. She deserves to be criticized. Many on the right, including one of my favorite bloggers, Joe Carter, have been critical of her long before her CPAC remark. Gnats occasionally need a good swatting.

However, political correctness, group think, and enforced orthodoxy, is much more than an insignificant gnat. Political correctness is a cancer that has devoured the Democratic Party, and now with the internet and blogging, it is aggressively chewing at the heart of conservatism. It is a dragon that needs more than an occasional swat. Ann Coulter speaks for Ann Coulter only. When conservatives feel the need to dissociate from a lone agent, the war for freedom is over; the left has won.

As Buz intimated in his recent comment, 1984 is a little late in coming, but it is here.


Rick and Gary said...

Hi David --

I think it's important to remember what the p.c. speech movement was all about and why it was so dangerous.

On university campuses in the '80's and 90's, scholars could literally lose their jobs for discussing empirically valid FACTS or reasonably well grounded theories, if the facts or theories in question were seen to interfere with the agendas of politically well organized identity groups.

Rather than debated of criticized, such facts and theories were void for no reason other than being "offensive"

The conservative movement did a great service by attacking this practice with public ridicule, preceded by the seminal book "The Closing of the American Mind" (which, interestingly, as written by a brilliant and highly effeminate life-long bachelor at the U. of Chicago)

The tactic of the p.c. movement was to eliminate the distinction between free, unwelcome ideas and socially repugnant hate speech. Respectfully, your post appears to loose that distinction as well.

Joe Carter said...

Conservatives accepted their differences. Conservatives didn’t need to appeal to a group or be accepted by a group. Ideas and beliefs, right or wrong, stood on their own. Advocates of beliefs and ideas, right or wrong, stood on their own.

I have to disagree with you on this point. Throughout the history of the movement, conservatives have denounced individual conservatives or groups in order to make it clear where they stood. In fact, it’s rather odd that you mention Buckley since he is one who is most famous for doing just that. In the sixties he separated himself from his friend Robert Welch and the entire John Birch Society. In 1991, Buckley publicly distanced himself from Pat Buchanan and even implied that the paleocon was an “anti-semite.”

That’s not to say that it’s the right thing to do (though I think it is at times) but it certainly has a long precedent. ; )

David M. Smith said...

Hi Rick,

I am not criticizing you or anyone else for being disgusted with Ann Coulter and her remark. I would expect you to be disgusted and to express your disgust.

Don’t you expect me to be disgusted with the bigoted statements of Sam Harris? Should I expect everyone on the left to be equally disgusted with the bigotry of Sam Harris?

If I believed all of the pundits on the right were really disgusted with Ann Coulter, my point is moot. However, my sense is that many of the pundits expressing disgust are not really disgusted with her. Many are just jumping on a politically correct bandwagon. I don’t include Joe Carter in this group because he has long been a critic of Coulter. The Johnny Come Lately’s are who I am writing about.

It’s group think, it’s political correctness, it’s 1984.

David M. Smith said...

Hi Joe,

William F. Buckley felt free to criticize whoever he wanted, however he wanted, whenever he wanted. He didn’t look over his shoulder to see if anyone else agreed with him. He was an individual, not a group. Other conservatives, felt free to agree or disagree back.

When I read your pieces, I never get the feeling I am reading the consensus of conservatives. I feel certain I am reading your unique perspective.

I think you deserve praise for being out front on Ann Coulter. I’m sure the last few days have validated your views. However, I worry that there are many who are jumping on the band wagon because it is the flavor of the day, not because they have come to the same moral conclusion as you.

Thanks for stopping by; I feel honored.

Rick and Gary said...

Hi David -- Your comment made me think of an angle that I don't think has been addressed anywhere.

Faggot is the language of adolescent boys. Perhaps I'm living in a fantasy land, but I think it's a strange word in the conversations of mature, self-confident men and women.

Ann Coulter plays to her audience, and CPAC conferences tend to dominated by young activists, in high school or college.

The right-wing bloggers, I would guess, tend to fall into the category of mature, settled types that don't need to prove anything about their sexuality.

So I don't think it's necessarily group think that prompted the negative reaction to Coulter. The comments were playing to young age group and ended up broadcast to an older age group.

Rusty Lopez said...

Hi David,

I see your point, regarding the possibility of conservative bloggers simply acting like sheep. I, for one, view the situation as that of holding our own to a higher standard.

While Coulter's remarks were offensive, they weren't (imo) as bad as the constant bile spewed by Amanda Marcotte. Also, consider that Coulter made a slur while Bill Maher just recently wished the VP dead (and is attempting to hide behind the facade of comedy). The liberals accomodate their nuts... we should reprimand ours.

David M. Smith said...

Hi Rick,

My first thought when I heard Coulter’s comment was about how childish is sounded. Perhaps the age of right wing pundits is a factor, but I still believe it is a group attempt on the right to prove the right is more civil than the left. As a parent, I’ve learned how to pick my battles. The good soldiers on the right went charging up a pretty small hill with their guns a blazing this time.

Thanks for challenging my opinion. I have a lot of respect for you and your opinion. I hope I have not lessened your opinion of me with the last two pieces.

David M. Smith said...

Hi Rusty,

I understand your desire to hold representatives of conservatism to a very high standard. I’m sure you feel the same about your family and your church. I do to. I don’t have any problem or disagreement with anyone who criticizes Ann Coulter, James Dobson, you, me, or anyone else. I am a big fan of appropriate criticism. Just ask my wife. : - ) Wait, on second thought, don’t ask my wife.

However, to me, the collective outrage at Coulters use of a bad word seems disproportionate to the offense. Many of the comments on the left are much worse including the two pundits you mentioned. One of them was even hired by a serious candidate for President.

Last night I heard a tape of Rudy Giuliani stating that Senator Edwards is a good and decent man. Ann Coulter doesn’t speak for you or me, but if the current trend continues, President Giuliani will be speaking for us. The employer of Amanda Marcotte is a good and decent man? Where is the outrage?

Rusty Lopez said...

Hi David,

Albert Mohler has an interesting blog post on this subject (see here).

David M. Smith said...

Thanks Rusty,

Apparently, Al Mohler and I do not share the same hierarchy of values. Like him, I value marriage and civility, but unlike him, I do not consider civility more important than other character traits.

Senator Edwards stated in an interview that he has a problem with the word “Christian”. He does not want America to be a Christian nation. Ann Coulter failed at a sarcastic joke.

Senator Edwards was against the ban on partial birth abortion. Ann Coulter made a mistake in a relationship.

Senator Edwards wants to abandon the innocent Iraqi people. Ann Coulter is unrepentant for using bad word.

Senator Edwards earned multi-million dollar paydays by misrepresenting scientific evidence in court. Ann Coulter has made millions defending conservative issues and causes.

It’s really not even a close call. One is despicable, the other is sometimes childish.

Rick and Gary said...

Hi David -- Oh no, this hasn't lessened my opinion of you at all! I'm lucky to have never been a target of name-calling or violence, so this sort of thing is probably a lot less of an emotional issue for me than for many homosexuals.

In retrospect, I've gotta give some grudging credit to Coulter for an underlying point of the joke. Specifically, the ridiculousness of that actor going into "rehab" for using some anti-gay words or that basketball player who had to apologize for saying he didn't like gay people. That sort of thing does smack of p.c. thought control.

Buz said...

I see political correctness as just another bullying tactic. No, they're not taking your lunch money, but those who some call the "thought police" are still trying to silence you, or at least your ideas.

There is something to be said about civility. Yes, we should be polite to people, even when we disagree with them ... BUT, when the ideas they present are loathsome, then it is time to take off the gloves. Just because someone says "the president should be assassinated" with a smile, doesn't make him any less of a monster than someone who says it with a grimace on his face.

Are we losing our ability to recognize smiling villians as villians? Do we imagine that everyone who is polite is also, therefore, nice?

It is one thing to peaceably disagree with someone. You can have friendly relationships with folks who have different beliefs than you. However, if someone is looking to destroy everything you believe in, don't be afraid to announce to the world that they are a monster ... in whatever words you see fit. And, if the world cannot bear to hear the word "monster", then say it again and again, and again! Until, they begin to understand the truth.

After all, have those who oppose Bush not been calling him all sorts of awful names? Where is the outrage of those labels? Let's hear those and other befitting labels for those who deserve them.


(P.S. I KNOW that the U.S. really DID think that there were WMDs in Iraq ... because if they knew that there were none, they would have found them!)

David M. Smith said...

Hi Buz,

Great points; all, including the PS!

Civility is a virtue, but civility is nowhere near the top of the virtue list. I know Al Mohler is highly respected, but the piece Rusty linked reads like drivel to me.