PJM columnist John Hawkins’ advice to conservatives to be as nasty as liberals is like Sean Connery’s “Chicago way” speech in The Untouchables applied to American politics: “They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That’s the Chicago way.”
But is the “Chicago way” the right way for conservatives? Certainly, conservatives need to re-evaluate their tactics in light of Democratic behavior. That Democrats will engage in obstruction of Republican judicial nominees, while Republicans will let Democratic nominees sail through is absurd. In my home state of Idaho, a local was critical of Republicans talking about challenging first-term Congressman Walt Minnick (D-ID) and urged them to wait until 2010, even though Minnick was on record as a candidate who criticized former Congressman Bill Sali back in January of 2007, the year Minnick raised more than $400,000.
When conservatives do things like this, they’re acting like British troops trying to form into straight lines while their enemies take positions behind rocks and trees to pick them off like flies. They’re denying reality and have failed to acknowledge that the battle lines have shifted. However, I think Hawkins’ thesis for conservative nastiness is wrong for several reasons:
1) Conservatives are not liberals
I’ll counter Hawkins’ martial arts analogy with a sports analogy of my own. A baseball team with several players that regularly hit home runs can get players on base, not worry about base running, and win with a strategy of “pitching, defense, and the three-run homer.” This same strategy won’t work if a team has decent speed and only one or two players that are reliable long-ball hitters. Baseball strategy is always going to be dependent on the team you have to play with. You can’t expect singles hitters to consistently deliver three-run homers, so you have to work it another way.
Culturally, conservatives are unable to play the same game as liberals, because we do not possess the same mentality. I would argue that conservatives have a greater sense of respect for authority, rules of civility, and fundamental order within society. This is so ingrained that in Boise, when social conservatives felt the need to practice civil disobedience over the removal of a Ten Commandments monument, it was arranged in advance with the police that only a small number of people would be arrested and they would go quietly. There was a strong feeling among Ten Commandments supporters that they didn’t want to give the police officers a hard time, because the police were only doing their job and enforcing the actions of a boneheaded city council.
Has that ever been a consideration in liberals’ actions anywhere? No. That’s why liberals can jump on stages and disrupt events without being condemned. They don’t have that same fundamental respect for authority and are willing to use whatever means necessary to achieve their ends. Every single action by them is morally justified without exception, whether it’s being rude to a conservative speaker or using the personal failures of a politician’s adult son to attack the politician. If one’s going to consider following liberals’ example, then I think it’s relevant to look at what Saul Alinsky wrote about radical activism. In Rules for Radicals, Alinsky declared, “A good tactic is one your people enjoy.” Based on this, becoming like liberals is a poor tactic for conservatives.
2) Conservatives don’t like it when conservative activists behave like liberals
Conservatives have a greater sense of the unwritten rules of propriety. Many conservatives, or even conservative-leaning libertarians, were turned off by Ron Paul supporters’ tactics, which were far more in line with the usual behavior of liberals than conservatives. Many were outraged at how raucous Paul supporters were marching around the Iowa straw poll site. Do we expect these same people to go for behaving like liberals? In a similar manner, Ann Coulter’s style has cheesed off quite a few conservatives who agree with her on substance. Some of her attacks, such as her use of terms like “raghead,” even earned her criticism from Michelle Malkin back in 2005.