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Fighting Back: One Conservative’s Rather Modest Thoughts
I am a conservative. I know that means different things to different people. In my case, it means that I’m emotionally attracted to the old ways of doing things, skeptical and perhaps fearful of change, generally dismissive of optimizations and improvements, and inclined to defend tradition. In my case, it means I appreciate, intellectually, the value of the accumulated wisdom of the past. I have a low opinion of our ability to understand and manage complex systems, and a distrust of those who claim to be able to do so. It means I’m an American who loves what I believe are the traditional American virtues: limited government, the rule of law, freedom of expression, freedom of worship, civic order and civic duty, the supremacy of the Constitution, and the assumption that these things make America unique and uniquely great. That’s what I mean when I say that I am a conservative.
Almost everything about the Left runs counter to who I am. In its mildest form, the Left embraces change and innovation, places faith in man’s rationality and ability to manage complex systems, seeks to compromise core conservative principles in the name of efficiency and common sense and humanism, and is dismissive of tradition and its value. In its extreme form, the Left is outwardly hostile to the things I value, willing to compromise or negate every core principle in its relentless pursuit of an unobtainable perfected order. Today the Left is in favor of greatly expanded government, opposes free expression and religious liberty, undermines civic order, replaces civic duty with institutional redistribution, disregards the Constitution, and denies American exceptionalism and greatness. I oppose the Left in almost every particular.
How do I fight back?
So how does a conservative like me fight back against the Left? Most of us don’t have a billion dollars, a radio program, or a syndicated column. Most of us aren’t conservative speakers or authors in high demand. Most of us are working people, family people, busy making a living and raising our children, working in our communities. Many of us have a social media presence, but few of us are social media giants. That’s me; A single dad working for a living, raising kids, doing some service to our school and community, and expressing my thoughts on social media to a small following of generally conservative readers.
How does someone like me push back against the liberal tide?
I work for and vote for people who favor limited government. Occasionally I contact my representatives to express my views on a particular bill or policy. I founded a TEA Party branch a few years ago. Rarely, I contribute to the candidacy of people whom I believe are conservative. That isn’t a lot, but for most of us it’s as great as our direct involvement with government is going to get.
I write and talk, and I do a lot of both. I have a reputation in my community as an often embarrassingly blunt conservative. I say that men and women are different and I reject faddish leftist trends like the transsexual movement and gender identity. I explain to people why Islam is incompatible with our values and why political Islam must be opposed, and I defend the Judeo-Christian tradition against the specious claim that “all religions are alike, and Islam is no worse than any other.”
I argue, coherently, patiently, truthfully, and, I think, intelligently, about the damage done by minimum wage laws, about the absurdity of climate change alarmism, and about the dishonesty of Black Lives Matter and similar race-baiting movements. I point out the bias of the mainstream press, debunk popular leftist talking points, and explain, over and over, why socialism is the worst idea in human history and why only an ignorant person would endorse it.
But above all, I try to defend the things that I believe are under attack. I oppose efforts to suppress free speech. I oppose violence and lawlessness. I condemn the coarsening of society, the gleeful vulgarity of the left. Not everything that is permissible is wise or good, and some things that we must allow we should nonetheless deplore.
It’s easy to talk about fighting back. It’s easy to be vague, to say we’re at war and we have to act like we’re at war. But in fact our friends on the Left, if they’re acting within the law, are taking part in the American experience just as I am, and have as much right to flog their idiotic and ultimately destructive views as I have to push my own. I don’t have a right to prevent that, however foolish I think they are.
What I do have is a right to speak up, even when that upsets people and violates the evolving norms of polite company.
It’s easy to talk about fighting. It’s hard to say, to someone you like, that, no, you don’t agree about this or that piece of politically correct received wisdom. That, no, you don’t think women are underpaid; that, no, you don’t think we have a problem with racism in America; that, no, you don’t believe that Islam is a peaceful faith; that, no, you don’t believe that people can change their sex, or that people who think they should are healthy and normal.
It’s easy to cry havoc online. It’s harder to tick off a coworker in person by saying that, no, you actually don’t agree that two mothers are just as good as a mother and a father.
I believe that college anti-free-speech protests are a symptom of runaway liberalism, not a cause, and that the most important battle is the grass roots push-back against the leftism that we’re supposed to kowtow to and eventually take for granted. I believe that voicing our convictions, even when it causes some to think less of us, is paramount.
I believe this because I think most people are essentially conservative, apolitical, respectful of passion but uncomfortable with drama, and disinclined to make others uncomfortable by voicing things they may believe when no one else in the room is doing so. The emperor is naked. For most of us, pointing that out is the most important thing we can do, and it’s essential that more of us do it.
There. That isn’t very sexy. I didn’t call for hitting back hard, for giving them a dose of their own medicine, whatever that means. I don’t want to shut down a leftist speaker. I want to educate the people around me about the difference between what conservatives and liberals believe, and why the arrogance and foolishness of the Left really isn’t a good thing. In the process, I want to let the people around me know that they don’t have to hide their skepticism, and that they won’t be alone if they speak up.Published in Culture
Talk to them. Realize that even though they are misguided, they have good intentions. Listen to what they say, stay calm (difficult), then make your rebuttal. Finally, don’t expect to change their mind in the short term. Just plant the seed, and hope it grows. All growth starts with seeds, plant them. Even if the soil isn’t fertile, something will grow.
Your approach is, actually, the only one that works. When you attack people, they get into trenches. I don’t understand why so many people don’t get this unless they’ve already given up and are in trenches of their own making.
PC, I agree — even to the “good intentions” part, though a lot of our fellow conservatives will take exception (and, of course, there are exceptions).
You’ve just summed up several of what I consider to be the essential qualities of competent debate: listen (and understand) your opponents; remain calm; don’t expect to convert them; be informative and truthful; leave them feeling okay about themselves or they’ll reject what you said out of hand.
The critical things I’d add are (1) to remember that you’re usually arguing for the audience as much as (or more than) for your opponent. You’re planting seeds there as well, which is why it’s so important to remain reasonable and polite; and (2) stay focused on the core point you’re trying to make, and keep bringing the discussion back to that.
Great response. Thanks!
I agree, Henry, well said.
I believe that it’s the one that works best for actually changing hearts and minds.
There is a place for theater and drama in politics, but I think it’s more likely to work against the people who initiate it than for them. The Berkeley riots, the Black Lives Matter protests, these things undoubtedly fire up the hard-left’s base. But I think they alienate far more normal people than they encourage, and they ultimately end up serving the right more than the left.
The left creates plenty of drama that we can point to as examples of why people should listen to us instead of them. (Think Venezuela, for example.) Our best use of drama, I believe, is to point to the left’s failures and excesses, and to continue to be rational, principled, and passionate.
Well said. Your words describe my own situation eerily well. You don’t mention one thing: weariness. The onslaught of the Left is unrelenting and pernicious. A consistent conservative can grow weary of always being the “grownup,” challenging the enticing nonsense spewed by Leftists.
Yes. And with the weariness can come a sense that we’re boring, a tired old song everyone’s heard and no one wants to hear again. That makes places like this, where like-minded people can recharge each other, actually important and valuable. It’s more than an echo chamber, it’s a way of reminding each other that we really do share a common sense of what is right and important. Not so much reinforcing our beliefs (though it does that and that’s something we should be aware of), but reinforcing our conviction that our beliefs are worth sharing.
I agree fully. Often, my wife has stated to me that I was wasting my time, talking to (whomever). My reply is, yes I understand that he closed minded, and not listening, but there were other people around who were listening.
Thanks for the thoughtful post. I agree with it.
I also think that we — or at least Republicans — are winning, in general. Republicans have won control of the presidency, both houses of Congress, and the vast majority of states, The notion that the Left is pummeling us into submission isn’t accurate.
One area where I do have concern is with our education system, as it tends to further entrench the already susceptible young’s turn to progressivism. We need to take down the odious and corrupt teacher’s unions to make progress there. Fighting silly wars on twitter or “trolling” will not lead to “victory” in this fight. Just patiently explain to people that these unions force teachers to sign up and contribute to democrats, who in turn give the unions and their own policies more and more control. We are already seeing the beginning of the end here with various municipal bankruptcies, school choice programs, etc. Note too the push back, even from the hard Left, on college campuses’ attempt to shut down political discourse from the Right.
The change will continue to be slow and gradual, but it will come. We just have to be patient and keep “fighting” in the correct fashion — just as outlined in your post.
[My post ignores of course the horrible health care debacle continuing to unfold, but that’s a whole ‘nother topic with a whole different set of problems. Polite discourse certainly isn’t the cause of the looming catastrophe there.]
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Very well done, Henry! I’m taking a slightly different tack for the OP I’m working on, but I hope people will expound further on your ideas (and I’m sure you’d love that, too). We must be active, unapologetic and dedicated to expressing the ideas that in many ways have made this country great. Thank you!!
Thank you, Susan. Yes, I’m looking forward to practical advice on how we can be more effective, and in a variety of ways, from you and others.
Republicans have done well over the last several years, certainly. At the same time, I think we’ve been losing ground in the critical cultural battle — have been for decades — and that our loss there will ultimately cost us the the political battle as well, as more and more people reject (or simply never learn about) what America represents, and so don’t know or care to defend it. (As you said, education is a crucial part of that.)
Well said, Henry. There have been quite a few expositions on this subject recently. Yours is the best. I would add one thought. Our friends on the left have been taught that all conservatives are racist, sexist, multi-phobic, stupid, and just generally evil. Even aside of the merits of the arguments you make to them, there is tremendous value in simply exposing them to the fact that decent and reasonable people can be, and often are, conservatives. That fact, even more than the merits of particular arguments on particular issues, has the potential to get them to stop and think a second time about the beliefs that they take as givens.
Or they can tell me that I’m the exception to the rule . . .
The more “exceptions” they encounter, the better the chances that they will start to question the “rule.”
What I think worth remembering — and what will certainly be the topic of a future post — is that we often have an audience, and the contrast between the way you express your views and the way your opponent expresses his can be a powerful persuader. More on this later, but remember that most people appreciate respect, thoughtfulness, and sincerity, and don’t care for viciousness or drama. Most audiences will be drawn to someone who seems willing to credit his opponent with decency and good intentions, but who nonetheless makes calm, reasonable opposing arguments.
I’ve gotten that from people, too. And I’m not in any way. I know lots of thoughtful conservatives. And not just those on Ricochet.
Education is my biggest concern. If we don’t take back our schools, we have no chance of winning in the long run.
I don’t think conservatives mind change if the consequences are well thought out. It reminds me of an essay by David Stove, where he explains the “Columbus Argument.” What the left and liberals never consider in their advocacy of broad sweeping changes that are experiments on a massive scale, is the failures that history has as lessons. The left says, “they all laughed at so and so, and look what he did and how successful it was.” What they fail to include are the Lenins and Pot Pols and Maos and how much misery and damage they did. Conservatives do change. They even invent new things, but what bothers a conservative like myself, is the idea that all change is good. Obamacare is a change that is broad and effects all Americans and it is failing. The left has a problem or blind spot in understanding that a few smart people are dumb compared to the masses acting with the information they have on their own behalf.
Ralphie, I agree with everything you wrote — except for its generalization. I wrote my post to describe me and my sense of conservatism, who I am. I don’t like change in general. I’m bright enough to recognize when it’s obviously for the better, but I still dig in my heels sometimes when a more moderate and sensible person would not.
But yes, the problem you describe, of unintended consequences and a failure to learn from the past, is exactly what thoughtful conservatives worry about, when they aren’t simply being sticks-in-the-mud like I usually am.
@henryracette– While I agree with most of what you said, I’d argue that “I believe that college anti-free-speech protests are a symptom of runaway liberalism” is inaccurate, in so far as liberal means tolerant and open-minded, and these people are really neo-Marxists, about as ‘tolerant’ as Mao’s Red Guard.
Also, I try to argue by not at first directly contradicting them, but by finding areas where we likely agree, and then trying to expand that area. E.g., I would ask if they agree that for a child to develop in a healthy way, they need a parent of the same sex to serve as a role model, and to be loved by a parent of the opposite sex to develop a sense of self-worth. If they agreed, I would then say- do gay marriages provide that.
Isis has reportedly buried babies alive, and inspired the Ariana Grande bombing in Manchester, where they targeted children. I’d then point out that if you take the Barrack Obama/Katie Perry position that we should remove all barriers to Muslim immigration, aren’t there likely to be more mass murders of children. In other words, ask them thoughtful questions and give them (and any audience present) something to ponder. And I might add that if they take the BO/KP position, aren’t they in effect treating children as human sacrifices on the altar of diversity?
TA, good thoughts. Establishing rapport, understanding your opponent’s arguments and goals, and mentioning the uncomfortable truths of the applications of leftist ideas are all excellent.
As for “liberal,” that ship has sailed. I love words and I try to use them with precision and preserve their distinct meanings, but “liberal” no longer means what “classical liberal” means. It’s now, in almost everyone’s mind, a synonym for “progressive.” I tend to use “leftist” or “progressive” more often than “liberal” just out of respect for what “liberal” once meant, but I won’t pretend that the word hasn’t been lost.
Excellent post! I felt like you were reading my thoughts in everything you wrote – so thanks for writing this and saving me the intellectual effort! :-)