Saturday, July 31, 2010

reflexive conservative-bashing

The following quote (link from Instapundit) displays two pernicious misunderstandings of conservativism:
Tea Party 365 is eager to gain more members, turning to a demographic often ignored or even persecuted by conservative activist groups: immigrants.
The first and most obvious is the liberal lie that conservatives "persecute" immigrants. Conservatives have expectations about immigrants: that they will follow the law (including immigration law) and that they will adapt to their new country by learning the language. Any immigrant who meets those expectations can walk into any conservative group in the country and be well-received. The idea that conservatives are against immigrants just because they are immigrants is a lie that is spread by liberals.

More subtle, but just as pernicious is the suggestion that conservatives "ignore" immigrants. This is the viewpoint of people who view the Democrat spoils system as normal politics. Democrats give government handouts and other special considerations to immigrants, to blacks, to hispanics, to women, to teachers, to policemen, to union members, to gays ... and to any other identifiable group who has enough money and/or votes to help the Democrats gain more wealth and power. This system is a corruption that eats at the foundations of a democracy and conservatives reject the system entirely. So, yes, conservatives "ignore" immigrants, just like they "ignore" blacks, hispanics, women, teachers, policemen, union members, gays, and everyone else. There are a few halfhearted attempts to reach out to particular groups in order to counter the pernicious Democrat spoils system, but true conservative really don't have their heart in it because they ultimately don't like the idea of dividing Americans into groups and classes like that.

In the Democrat's class-based view of the world, the Republicans have their own protected classes: angry white men, and religious nuts, but the Republicans do not do what Democrats do --they do not try to raise the groups that vote Republican above other Americans, do not try to direct government money to these groups, and do not create institutions dedicated to influencing these groups, and do not preferentially hire from these groups. Conservatives do not judge you based what groups you are a member of, but only what you yourself do and express and believe.

That's why it why it is silly to suggest that conservative groups "persecute" immigrants or anyone else based on group membership. Conservatives oppose people based on who they are and what they do, not based on what groups they are members of.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

the Shirley Sherrod war

Civil war among conservatives! And some of it none too civil. Rush Limbaugh and a bunch of emailers using the word "coward".

There a few basic facts that most conservatives ought to be able to agree on:
1. When the video first came out, people were saying based on the video that (a) Sherrod had once had a (presumably government) job where she was supposed to help poor farmers; (b) she had refused to help white farmers, and (c) she thought it was funny. That turns out to have been false, and it was the editing of the video that led to that false impression.
2. The Obama administration was wrong to fire someone based on an edited video without allowing the accused a chance to defend herself and without doing even the most superficial investigation to verify the accusation.
3. The NAACP is showing astonishing hypocrisy in their criticism of people who took this video at face value because they themselves took the video at face value and issued an official statement condemning Sherrod based on the edited video --again without investigating and without letting Sherrod defend herself.
4. Breitbart never pretended to be an unbiased reporter. He was engaging in open advocacy and any responsible person would have viewed the video in that light. Whatever his fault was in releasing the video, it pales in comparison to the faults of the NAACP and the Obama administration.
5. All of those liberals who are criticizing Breitbart but not the NAACP and administration are, as usual, hypocrites. They don't really care about justice and fairness. Their pretension to do so is just a pretext for them to criticize their political foes.
6. Sherrod may not be guilty of what the video seemed to imply, but she certainly is a racist, she does endorse class warfare, she does believe in Marxist conspiracy theories of history, and she did use her government position to advocate for racism, class warfare, and Marxist conspiracy theories. She arguably should have been fired for that even though the original story was false.
As far as I can tell, there is no real disagreement over these points, but that there seem to be some misunderstandings where people think there is disagreement on some of these points.

There is also an actual disagreement going on over what the rules ought to be for political advocacy, and whether Breitbart violated those rules. This is a real and ongoing argument within the conservative community. I've had my own arguments with Patterico over whether Ann Coulter violates rules that advocates ought to follow. I'm somewhat in the middle on this. In matters of decorum, conservatives ought to strive to raise the level of public discourse, but they should not be held to some absolute standard of civility that the other side ignores. We should not be fighting with one hand tied behind our backs --not when the stakes are so high.

Being truthful and consistent are much more important. Conservative ought not to tolerate lies and hypocrisy from the right any more than they tolerate it from the left. In addition to the obvious ethical reasons there is a good tactical reason for this --the left controls the big megaphone in political dialog, so any falsehoods of the right are likely to become far more widely known that the constant falsehoods of the left. This is the field we fight on: the advantage of the left is their big megaphone; the advantage of the right is that we are telling the truth. Let's not squander our big strategic advantage for some temporary rhetorical advantage.

Was Breitbart untruthful or does he owe an apology? If he had been pushing the story that I described in item 1 then he would have been untruthful and would have owed an apology, not only to Sherrod but to all of his readers. However, that is not what Breitbart was doing. His focus was on the audience, not on the speaker.

Was Breitbart careless in posting a video that was edited in that way? If he edited himself or had access to the full video, then he was careless and he owes an apology. If he just received the edited video and posted it, then he was not careless and the most he owes Sherrod is an expression of regret that she came to harm over it. The video was news, edited or not, and if Breitbart could not evaluate it properly within a short time frame then he was still entitled to post it while the story would still be hot.

These opinions are a close call and I can still respect someone who differs in their judgment. Look, we are fighting an unprincipled foe who is a grave danger to ourselves and our descendants. Let us not distract ourselves from that important work by assuming that our allies are unprincipled whenever we have disagreements.