Thursday, January 20, 2011

Obama is right: Conservatives should be civil

Sarah Palin (Therealbs2002)
My friends and readers in Georgia and around the country will probably be shocked to hear me say, but I agree with President Obama.  A phrase that many native Georgians heard while they were growing up was “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”  This advice applies in politics as well.

Many Georgians have probably closely followed developments in the Tucson shooting, including the accusations that Jared Lee Loughner was inspired by conservative rhetoric.  These accusations were quickly discredited, but the controversy over heated political talk remains.

President Obama recently addressed these concerns in his recent memorial speech for the victims in Tucson.   He said, “But what we can't do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on one another.  As we discuss these issues, let each of us do so with a good dose of humility.  Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let us use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together.”

He continued, “
If this tragedy prompts reflection and debate, as it should, let's make sure it's worthy of those we have lost.  Let's make sure it's not on the usual plane of politics and point scoring and pettiness that drifts away with the next news cycle.”

I think that he is right.  Even if political talk from the right (or left, after all, at least one victim, Judge John Roll,
was a Republican) wasn’t the cause of the incident, we can still use it as an opportunity to slow down, take a deep breath, and think about alternatives to the way we are currently doing things.

Most conservatives are civil people.  There are exceptions.  There has been no shortage of conspiracy theorists on the right since the election of Barack Obama.  Most conservatives aren’t racists, but many have forwarded racist emails about the president.  Most Tea Partiers are nice people who love their country.  A few are nuts with insulting or bigoted signs.  Most conservatives speak in terms of facts.  A few want to label their opponents as “socialists” or “communists.” Most talk show hosts are reasonable and responsible.  Some, in the words of Neal Boortz, “make the kids run and hide under the bed.*” (Michael Savage, I’m looking in your direction.)  It is the exceptions that hurt conservatives everywhere.

Conservatives have nothing to fear from a civil discourse.  Facts and history are on our side.  Conservative policies work when tried.  Low tax rates lead to prosperity.  Second amendment freedoms lead to lower crime rates.  Economic freedom leads to a rising tide that lifts all boats.

On the other hand, liberal policies usually fail.  The Obama stimulus was a massive and expensive failure that did not lower unemployment or end the recession.  The same was true of FDR’s New Deal.  Gun control disarms honest people and leaves them at the mercy of criminals.  As President Reagan said, “… some years ago the federal government declared war on poverty – and poverty won.”  Liberal engagement of despotic regimes has led to nowhere except the empowerment of dictators.

The path to conservative victory is through showing the rest of America the differences in liberal and conservative policies.  In particular, we should point out how, despite their good intentions, liberal policies are prone to failure and unintended consequences.  Good intentions don’t matter if the result is a bigger mess and more problems. 

Some conservatives point out that liberals are the ones doing the majority of the name-calling.  From my perspective this is probably true.  That doesn’t mean that conservatives should respond in kind.  First, we should expect the left to be angry precisely because of the failure of their policies.  They cannot argue the effectiveness of their policies, because their policies are ineffective. 

Second, it has been my experience that liberals are usually emotional, rather than logical, people.  Their emotions dictate a call to action to resolve a crisis.  The rallying cry of Maude Flanders on the Simpsons is typical of modern leftists:  “Won’t somebody please think of the children?” All too often, they take rapid action, and then fail to notice, as they are congratulating themselves on their compassion, that they made the problem worse.

Health care reform is good illustration.  For years we were told that the US had to enact universal health care since many Americans were dying because they could not afford health insurance.  Then last year, against strong public opposition, Democrats enacted their version of health care reform.  This included many provisions such as free preventive care, a ban on excluding pre-existing conditions, and the claim that a new entitlement would help reduce the federal deficit and lower everyone’s health insurance costs.

Less than a year later, while Democrats are still congratulating themselves on their historic legislation, the truth is still coming out.  By not letting insurers screen out pre-existing conditions in children (this provision is not in effect for adults yet), the law has caused the market for children’s health insurance policies to collapse.  Many companies are no longer writing child-only health policies and others have been forced to raise rates, making the coverage unaffordable.

Far from making health insurance more affordable, the health care reform law has caused health insurance premiums to rise.  A report by Medicare’s Office of the Actuary projected that the law would increase health care costs.  The report was released not released until after Congress had passed the law.  Millions of Americans, me included, are finding that under Obamacare their health insurance costs are going up.  The much vaunted high-risk pools to cover those with pre-existing conditions have signed up only about 2.6% of the number predicted.  By all measures, the law is a spectacular failure.

The American people understand all this.  They consistently opposed passage of the law and now they consistently favor repeal.  In spite of Democratic and media support for the law, most Americans understand that it will add to the federal deficit, cause a decline in the quality of US health care, while hurting the economy and job growth.  If conservatives start engaging in a heated war of words with liberals, these facts may be obscured.  In fact, that is what the liberals are counting on!

Brooks vs. Sumner (John Magee)
As other conservatives have pointed out, today’s political arguments are not as heated as they have been at times in the past.  Sarah Palin was criticized for pointing out, correctly, that the Founding Fathers sometimes settled disagreements with dueling pistols.  Even duels paled in comparison to May 22, 1856 when Rep. Preston Brooks (D-SC) severely beat Senator Charles Sumner (D-MA) unconscious with a cane on the floor of the US Senate.  Brooks was re-elected.  Sumner later became a Republican.  Things got worse only five years later with the outbreak of the War Between the States.  Nobody today wants a war or violence.

In contrast, the Republicans should take a lesson from the liberals and the Bible.  Proverbs 15:1 says that “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”  This can be seen in the eight years of the Bush presidency.  Liberals were daily excoriating President Bush with accusations that he lied to start to wars, was complicit in the 9/11 attacks, caused global warming, allowed New Orleans to flood because he did not care about black people, and much more.  Where did it get them?  President Bush served two terms and was a largely successful president.  Voters rallied to support the president from unfounded attacks.

If conservatives mount baseless attacks on President Obama, we may suffer the fate of a second Obama Administration.  A new poll shows that 48% of Americans disapprove of President Obama’s policies, but only 21% disapprove of him personally.  Will conservatives win votes by insulting a man liked by 73% of the country?  It would be a far better strategy to attack Democratic policies rather than the president.

Finally, it has been pointed out that liberals are unlikely to maintain their air of civility very long.  This is true.  When you can’t defend your record of accomplishments, the only thing to do is either change your mind or lash out with charges of racism, sexism, or the accusation du jour.  Already one House Democrat has again started comparing Republicans to Nazis.  More will probably soon follow suit as the Obamacare repeal effort gains steam and the debate over debt financing heats up.

To this I say that Republicans and conservatives are not responsible for the behavior of Democrats.  We are responsible for our own behavior.  If the other side wants to (or has to) resort to childish name-calling to distract from the lack of positive results of the policies, then let them.  The conservative response should be to politely rebut their falsehoods and maintain civil criticisms of their policies.  This worked in the last election.  It will work in the next.

*Boortz is quoted as recalled by the author during an on-air live promo for the Michael Savage Show on WSB-AM 750.

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