Monday, March 5, 2012

Keeping Personal Space

Using the current Rush Limbaugh contretemps as a framing issue, William Jacobson raises a warning flag about some of the tendencies of contemporary political rhetoric:
I’m talking about the second-tier of the warfare, the attempt to intimidate those removed by one or more degrees of separation from the dispute, and to use them as tools against the target.
We have seen it a number of times in the past couple of years.
When King & Spalding agreed to represent the U.S. House of Representative after Obama changed positions  and announced that the Justice Department no longer would defend DOMA in court, there were not only protests against King & Spalding, but threats to picket and protest clients of the firm who had nothing to do with the dispute.  The threat that clients of the firm who were completely unconnected to the dispute would be harrasseed was enough to cause the firm to withdraw the representation...

I would not be surprised to see a similar reaction from the right to the left’s attacks on advertisers, but that would be a mistake.
What is happening goes beyond Obama’s call for people to argue with their neighbors and get in their faces.  It goes far beyond Bill Clinton’s politics of personal destruction directed at accusers, and beyond name-calling by right wing pundits.
This total war, in which no one is allowed to be non-political and neighbors and clients become mere pressure points, is a dangerous development.
The whole thing is worth a read, and Jacobson's point is well-put: a political total war would be poisonous to the tradition of classical liberalism/conservatism.  It seems to me that classical conservatism and classical liberalism in part often depend upon keeping a cultural space that is relatively insulated from the petty ideological controversies of the moment.  This space can include much of everyday life, social traditions, certain kinds of cultural activities, and so forth.  These activities are still open to political critique and commentary, but they often stand aside from the hand-to-hand battles of political warfare.

The New Left and, more broadly, the new radicalism preach a rather different creed: Alinskyite-style, these movements instead seek to permeate contemporary culture and society with ideological combat.  The personal is the political, and everything is correspondingly politicized.  These tactics have borne some fruit (witness many of the cultural changes of the past few decades), and there is a temptation for classical conservatives to ape these tactics.  But this imitation would itself sell out the tradition of conservatism and consume non-politicized culture in the morass of ideological warfare.

Moreover, these past few decades (and days) have also seen the toxic confusion of principled critique and personal politicization, in which rallying one's "side" in an ideological war takes precedence over a sober analysis of political aims.

Which brings me to a few points about the saga of Sandra Fluke:

The often disgusting and mean-spirited comments aimed at Sandra Fluke do not disqualify---indeed, have nothing to do with---the principle that religious organizations should not be forced to pay for measures and procedures that go against the tenets of their faiths.  Democrats have tried to confuse the personal (Ms. Fluke) with the political (the freedom of religion as guaranteed in the First Amendment), and some conservatives, by indulging in personal invective against Ms. Fluke (focusing on destroying her person rather than her arguments), have indirectly aided them in this confusion.

And the fact that lefties have said disgusting and mean-spirited things against Sarah Palin and Laura Ingraham and Michelle Malkin does not change the grossness of the language leveled against Ms. Fluke from some corners.  That kind of deflection through equivalence is a hallmark of the moral relativism that the right so often decries.

Should a religious organization be mandated to fund things that go against its core beliefs?  Furthermore, is it acceptable for these mandates to be passed down by some executive branch official?  Those are the questions at issue---not who wins some media game of gotcha or who can muster greater outrage.  Conservatives can offer worthy, principled answers to those questions.  Defending religious freedom is a winning issue for Republicans; getting mired in radical "progressive"-style debates about the personal-political, not so much.

1 comment:

  1. "Should a religious organization be mandated to fund things that go against its core beliefs?"

    The answer to this is an obvious - yes, for at least some things. There is at least one religion in America who quite sincerely objects to any given action.

    Eg. Scientologists object to all psychiatric medications. The church of Christian Science objects to blood transfusions. Should businesses run by individuals of these faiths be exempted from providing such life-saving medicine?

    Carried out logically, the idea that the religious can choose which health care options their employees are allowed leads to the ability to refuse to provide health care altogether.