Conscience of the Conservatives
Mark Tapcott hath a point:
[I]n a Beltway Confidential post Tuesday, I asked what is the difference between folks on the Right calling the eight Republican House members who voted for Obama-Waxman-Markey the “cap-and-traitors,” and the infamous “General Betrayus” ad bought by the Left’s Moveon.org in The New York Times.
In no time at all, comments variously described your humble servant as a “moron,” a spreader of “piffle,” a “clueless knave or a fool,” and “a boil on journalists’ butts,” among much else. A few folks offered reasonable contrary arguments, but the clear verdict of most was that I am either incredibly stupid, or I’ve ingested an overdose of MSM fairy dust.
The fundamental problem here is that substituting personal invective for logic and fact points to the disappearance of a key aspect of republican virtue – putting the pursuit of truth in public debate before self-aggrandizement, also known as moderation or temperance.
It also signifies the continuing corruption of public language. Contrary to the deconstructionists among us, language is crucially important in a republic because it enables rational consideration of alternatives. Dismissing a proposal out of hand because it comes from a “moron” denies the possibility of logical argumentation and poisons the reasonable discourse required for a republic to function peacefully.
Usually with Reagan it was “our opponents,” or “the other side.” He was always a gracious speaker and a superb debater, quick to refute specious arguments or personal attacks with facts and logic. Reagan was tough, but he was a gentleman and an honorable adversary.
Reagan steadfastly avoided using personal opprobrium as a substitute for facts and reason because he refused to demean himself or his cause by diving into the gutter with others who were all too eager to hurl themselves and others there.
It’s not uncommon these days to hear suggestions that Reagan is no longer relevant. But his example of extending courtesy and respect to opponents – including those who don’t deserve it – is relevant for all time because it’s the right thing to do.
Mark’s piece may well overstate the degree to which the right has been more honorable in its debating tactics over the years than the left. There’s certainly been a long history of coded language implying that the other side is less loyal to the country, less moral, less likely to have good personal hygiene, and so forth. Then again, maybe having the decency to couch such charges in code words is a mark of civility.
Regardless, Mark’s quite right that respectful debate is both good for the republic and good manners. I’d like to see more of it.
Photo: US News