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

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. E.D. Kain says:

    The need for this becomes more apparent by the day. Unfortunately, those in leadership positions no the Right seem to have no inkling that this would be good for Republicans. We may not need another Reagan for policy direction, but we do need another great communicator, and another gentleman (or lady) at the helm.

  2. Eric Florack says:

    Here’s the problem;

    At what point does it make the transition from empty rhetoric, to actual fact? If, for example, I was to really believe that the spook Beck had on his show the other day, was truly calling for a nuke attack on America (and as I stated in the other thread, I really don’t think he was) would it not be wrong-headed to call it anything but traitorous?

    If you agree in that instance, we seemingly agree in principle that that threshold can be crossed, that at some point, use of such words and descriptions can’t be avoided if we are staying within the realm of the truth. At that point, we are merely arguing on the trip point.

    Similarly, if we are convinced that “Cap and tax” is going to break the American economy, can this not be called traitorous, as well?

    Personally, I consider that a stronger case can be made for that situation being called traders, then can the crock of excrement that was tossed at the general a few years ago.

    So, there’s the question, then; at what point does invective become point of fact? And the point I would make is that when such charges are tossed about, it would be helpful if there was some facts that proved the application of the charge was correct. I suggest that on occasion, such a bold statement can be proved. Granted, it can be proved last often than it’s made, but there it is.

  3. DL says:

    Whatever Tip O’Neil was holding he probably took it home with him. If I remember right, he had a little kleptomania in his makeup.

  4. Derrick says:

    Similarly, if we are convinced that “Cap and tax” is going to break the American economy, can this not be called traitorous, as well?

    But that’s the problem, nobody is convinced that it will destroy the economy and most importantly who outside of the most rabid partisans believes that’s the goal? I had an inkling that Bush might screw up the Iraq war, but I didn’t think it was his goal. To many times people like you would rather think the worst about the motives of your opponent. We don’t call people who dimwittingly leave their CIA laptop at the hotel room traitors. Maybe stupid but not traitors. We call people who take a bribe from the Soviets traitors.

    Maybe cap and trade does do what you fear the most, but do you really think that Obama is going to be cheering in the streets that our dollar is worth the Zimbabwe dollar. If you can’t answer that pretty quickly and easily, then I’d guess that you should never think of yourself as a “reasonable” person.

  5. Eric Florack says:

    But that’s the problem, nobody is convinced that it will destroy the economy and most importantly who outside of the most rabid partisans believes that’s the goal?

    Apparently, you get your news from different sources.

    Possibly, the WaPo?

  6. G.A.Phillips says:

    It is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth — and listen to the song of that siren, till she transforms us into beasts. Is this the part of wise men, engaged in a great and arduous struggle for liberty? Are we disposed to be of the number of those, who having eyes, see not, and having ears, hear not, the things which so nearly concern their temporal salvation? For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it might cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst, and to provide for it.

    Patrick Henry, speech in the Virginia Convention, March 23, 1775

  7. I will do my best James. My apologies for responding to posters here in flamethrower mode far too often.

    Meanwhile, it is undeniable that they are some in power who take exception to the concept of American Exceptionalism and want to give up some of America’s sovereignty to accomplish their transnational progressive goals. Some seemingly don’t mind seeing America taken down a notch in when it comes to military or economic power or its citizens’ standard of living. That isn’t treason per se, but does lead to some of the accusations hurled at them. Further, if judged by results rather than intent, the track record of the utopian statists is poor and causes others to question why we want to tread down those same paths which have failed so miserably elsewhere, unless there is some ideological goal that is more important. Again though, that’s not treason. Finally, most people are emotional mirrors and give back what they receive whether it be kindness or hostility. A few sociopaths can get the ball rolling and then sit back as the cycle of incivility takes its toll.

    Sigh.

  8. Anderson says:

    Similarly, if we are convinced that “Cap and tax” is going to break the American economy, can this not be called traitorous, as well?

    Treason is making war against the United States, or aiding its enemies to do so.

    “Breaking the economy” is not war. If it were, then Bush, Paulson, and Bernanke might be traitors. But they’re not.

  9. odograph says:

    WFB is dead, in more than one sense.

  10. steve says:

    “Similarly, if we are convinced that “Cap and tax” is going to break the American economy, can this not be called traitorous, as well?”

    If you believe it, then prove it. Give us data. I read many blogs on the right and left, mostly econ and foreign policy. I seldom see much use of data. Manzi has been doing yeoman work on cap and trade, but his math still does not quite work out for me. Even assuming his numbers are correct, it does not break the economy. It may have a small negative effect if you assume the worst case. A small positive one if you assume the best. It may have some signaling effect. BTW, if you have a better source from the right than Manzi, please cite.

    You do realize, if you care, that calling someone a traitor over something like this really nullifies your voice, except with those who already agree with you. If your writing is just therapeutic, ie, a way to make yourself feel better, then continue. If the intent is to convince, James approach is much better. Traitors are spies and saboteurs, not people with different economic views.

    Steve

  11. Eric Florack says:

    Treason is making war against the United States, or aiding its enemies to do so.

    Mmmph. Note definition three, and recalculate.

    treaâ‹…son
      /ˈtrizÉ™n/ Show Spelled Pronunciation [tree-zuhn] —noun
    1. the offense of acting to overthrow one’s government or to harm or kill its sovereign.
    2. a violation of allegiance to one’s sovereign or to one’s state.
    3. the betrayal of a trust or confidence; breach of faith; treachery.

  12. Eric Florack says:

    I will do my best James. My apologies for responding to posters here in flamethrower mode far too often.

    NO.
    No apologies needed for my part. A teacher of mine once told me if you can’t write with a certain amount of fire, put the pen down. It’s not worth it.

  13. An Interested Party says:

    In a post about respectful political debate, we have someone actually straining to make the silly argument that the Waxman-Markey bill is somehow “treasonous”…I’m sure the irony is lost on some…

  14. JohnG says:

    Hrm, I thought they meant traitors to the republican party, which they most certainly are in this case aren’t they?

  15. sam says:

    @Charles

    Meanwhile, it is undeniable that they are some in power who take exception to the concept of American Exceptionalism and want to give up some of America’s sovereignty to accomplish their transnational progressive goals.

    Charles, I think the problem is that our political discourse has become Manichean, with the forces of goodness and light arrayed against those of darkness and evil. (Choose your side.) I sometimes wonder if it’s not possible to fashion some version of Ramsey’s Principle for American politics. Frank Ramsey was an English philosopher and mathematician in the early part of the 20th century. His principle went something like this: In any dispute between two philosophically diametrically opposed parties (say, realists and nominalists), you can find some foundational proposition that they both give agree on that is, in fact, false. (J.L. Austin put this in a very pithy way: realists and nominalists subsist by taking in each others’ dirty laundry). Is there something that the more perfervid exponents of left and right in our country agree on that is false, and that underlies all the vitriol?

  16. Eric says:

    Mmmph. Note definition three, and recalculate.

    treaâ‹…son
      /ˈtrizÉ™n/ Show Spelled Pronunciation [tree-zuhn] —noun
    1. the offense of acting to overthrow one’s government or to harm or kill its sovereign.
    2. a violation of allegiance to one’s sovereign or to one’s state.
    3. the betrayal of a trust or confidence; breach of faith; treachery.

    OK. Noted. But also note that two out of the three usages contradict you. Are you really going to simply disregard the first two–even though they are clearly more appropriate to this discussion–because they don’t support your position and expect us to take you seriously? (BTW, this is a classic amateur debate tactic. Look in the dictionary for a colloquial usage of word to “prove” your point, even though that definition is neither within context, definitive, or the most germane to the discussion at hand.)

    In any event, my understanding from reading the Federalist papers is that the Framers of the Constitution set the bar very high for accusing someone of treason was because of the abuse of that power by kings. As Anderson pointed out above, actual treason as defined by the Constitution and law is very narrow: making war against the US or aiding and abetting its enemies.

    Bitsy, the fact that you are having a hard time even distinguishing actual treason from imagined “treason” is simply one more indicator or how deep in the woods you are. Interested Party was right:

    In a post about respectful political debate, we have someone actually straining to make the silly argument that the Waxman-Markey bill is somehow “treasonous”…I’m sure the irony is lost on some…

    Next up: Bitsy uses the term “Three-Fifths Compromise” in defending Michelle Bachmann’s crazy census conspiracies.

  17. Eric Florack says:

    OK. Noted. But also note that two out of the three usages contradict you

    Whereas you choose to ignore the one that contradicts you. I forgive me than a farm unimpressed by that argument.

    Bitsy, the fact that you are having a hard time even distinguishing actual treason from imagined “treason” i

    So, we’re back to ignoring the definition that I pointed out?

    In any event, my understanding from reading the Federalist papers is that the Framers of the Constitution set the bar very high for accusing someone of treason was because of the abuse of that power by kings. As Anderson pointed out above, actual treason as defined by the Constitution and law is very narrow: making war against the US or aiding and abetting its enemies.

    At what point are you going to be sending this information over to Paul Krugman who last week leveled the charge of treason against anyone who doesn’t believe in the myth of global warming? It’s apparently won that AIP never read. You’ll forgive me if your application of the word seems selective.

  18. An Interested Party says:

    At what point are you going to be sending this information over to Paul Krugman who last week leveled the charge of treason against anyone who doesn’t believe in the myth of global warming? It’s apparently won that AIP never read. You’ll forgive me if your application of the word seems selective.

    So because Paul Krugman makes an inane comment, that entitles you to make an inane comment? Fascinating logic there…

  19. Eric says:

    Whereas you choose to ignore the one that contradicts you. I forgive me than a farm unimpressed by that argument.

    LOL! Are you serious? Classic nutwing logic. Focus on the one thing that seemingly supports your position while ignorng the multiple things that contradict it. (See Warming, Global; Evolution; Aliens, Area 51.)

    At what point are you going to be sending this information over to Paul Krugman who last week leveled the charge of treason against anyone who doesn’t believe in the myth of global warming? It’s apparently won that AIP never read. You’ll forgive me if your application of the word seems selective.

    At what point are you going to be sending this information over to Pamela Gellar?:

    4:30PM My take? If Palin is anything like I think she is (know she is), Obama’s treasonous presidency…

    You may have to send the info over to Ann Coulter, too.

    But of course you miss the point again. The point was simply that the coarsening of political discourse, whether by the right or left, is a bad thing. Yet you, ironically and apparently oblivously, sit here and seriously try to defend such coarsening as somehow truthful and “facty”–but only as it applies to liberals.

    Even in the face of counter-evidence, you inisist on the rightness of your position. But, of course, that’s classic wingnut conspiratorial logic.