I am a conservative in large part because I believe that politics should intrude on life as little as possible. Conservatives surely believe that there are times when the government should meddle in the daily affairs of the people, but they normally reserve those times for large questions of right and wrong, good and evil. Most conservatives, for instance, may want to restrict abortion on grounds rooted in the Decalogue, but few want the government to stop you from drinking raw milk.Both the left and the right likely share basic understandings about ethical issues such as feeding the poor, loving your neighbor as yourself, forgiveness, compassion, envy, lying, etc. More often than not, the major differences are bound up in their notions about the issue that Jonah touched on – the purpose, scope, size and role of government. As he notes, conservatives seek to limit the role of government. They do this for various reasons, not least of which is an effort to combat the loss of liberty that comes with a statist social order. But they do not seek to eliminate government. The general agreement among conservatives is that less government is better government. They are not anarchists.
Resisting big government necessarily means resisting the temptation to have government perform some incontrovertibly noble efforts such as feeding the poor. But preferring that government not be the primary purveyor of charity does not therefore mean that conservatives are opposed to all charity or even all government sponsored charity as some would have you believe – a safety net is part of everyone's thinking. Mostly, the discussion tends to circle around the size and scope of the safety net.
An atheist might oppose religious symbolism associated with government. This does not therefore mean that that atheist is opposed to morality. There is no need to transmogrify his opposition to the display of religious symbols on government property into hatred of moral people or ethics. But that is often how those who support limited government are treated:
- To support lower tax rates rather than higher rates is not hatred of the poor;
- To see negative societal ramifications with and to question the continued usefulness of affirmative action programs a half century on from their inception is not hatred of blacks;
- To support controlled and lawful immigration is not hatred of Mexicans;
- To make note of perceived societal benefits that customary marriage affords, especially to women and children, is not hatred of gays;
- To ponder and debate the meaning of epochs of temperature data is not science denial;
- To debate how to fund birth control or to oppose partial birth abortion is not warring against, hatred of or denying healthcare to women nor is it misogynistic;
- To support choice in school is not hatred of teachers, minorities or the poor;
- To support gun ownership is not hatred of children or supporting murder;
- To disagree with the policy prescriptions of the current occupant of the White House is not racist.
Although it is easier and politically expedient to just dismiss opponents as moral inferiors, uneducated dunces and cave dwellers, it is anything but intelligent, compassionate, respectful, decent, fair, responsible or kind. It could be that those who hold opposing views are decent people who are very interested in those affected by smaller government. It could be that they have significant moral and ethical struggles when considering the trade-offs inherent in life and politics. They may even have the best interests of others in mind when considering policies.
Each side strives for ideological conformity and none so willingly and gleefully makes use of derogatory language as the left. Those interested in power and the imposition of their values understand that it’s quicker and more effective to silence those with whom they disagree than to debate. It is just easier to liken successful women to whores and crudely titter about hate-f***ing them (it is hard to think of a more sexist/misogynistic notion), assume bad motives on behalf of those with wealth (it is hard to think of a more classist notion), compare the inquisitive to Holocaust deniers (it is hard to think of a more irrational/unscientific notion) and attack the racial bona fides (it is hard to think of a more racist notion) of those with a different opinion than to thoughtfully consider and address anything they might have to say.
So how about let's all do our best to avoid character assassination by slur as the replacement for discussion. Rather, let's rely on thoughtful deliberation for the defense of our values.
Derision is not discourse. Ridicule is not refutation.