Preaching to the Choir

Contributors to conservative sites such as this one are often reminded, and sometimes accused, of merely “preaching to the choir” and thus of having little effect on the corpus of public opinion. Why bother spending time and energy insisting on certain themes to the community of those who share the same set of social and political beliefs? Oddly, so far as I’ve been able to determine, commenters to left-leaning sites rarely apply the equivalent argument to their own contributors, owing, I suspect, to the overwhelming sanctimoniousness that inhabits the liberal left mindset. But it is different for many on the right. The threat of despondency, of the onset of a debilitating pessimism and even hopelessness, hovers on the polemical horizon.

But it is also true that conservative sites are visited by readers of a different persuasion, some of whom are obviously trolls, members of what Robert Gibbs has called the "professional left," whose only purpose is to subvert, insult and denounce, and many of whom, it appears, are actually on salary. There is clearly no dealing with them, no trading of ideas with such interlopers via comments and threads. The only language they have mastered is parrotese. However, there is also a species of antiphrastic readers -- i.e., who have misconstrued the meaning of “liberal” -- who come with the laudable intention of scanning the counter-arguments, perhaps of learning what the “other side” has to say, of entering into legitimate debate, and, optimally, of broadening their understanding of the acetylene issues of the day. Perhaps even of scrolling toward enlightenment.

Of course, there are daily skirmishes and exchanges of epithet fire between the conservative right and the liberal left. The term “culture wars” is distressingly accurate and there are doughty warriors in either camp who lay about them and give no quarter. Political debate seems almost Byzantine in its complexity and ferocity, like a re-run of the pitched battles fought between the Blue and Green factions in mid-millennium Byzantium. “The population in every city,” wrote Procopius in The Secret History, “has for a long time been divided into two groups, the Greens and the Blues [who] fight with their opponents … respecting neither marriage nor kinship nor the bonds of friendship.” Only now, in the U.S., the colors are Blue and Red.

It should nonetheless be remarked that the degree of verbal violence perpetrated by the liberal left seems almost unprecedented in its intensity, and it is this particular factor that makes rational reciprocity the most elusive of goals. The obscene abuse and irrational condemnations heaped by leftist commenters on conservative politicians, journalists and movements for presumably motivating Jared Loughner’s Arizona shooting spree is a case in point. The slagging of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker as Hitler or Mussolini redivivus for trying to repair the state’s out-of-control budget is another serrating example. Yet, judging from the occasional positive interventions of those on the near left (the far left is too distant to be reached), there appears to be room for a sliver of “hope and change,” in the meaningful acceptation of that duplicitous phrase.

Given this development, the posting of articles and columns elaborating a conservative point of view is not merely a function of preaching to the choir, but also of engaging the visitors from another continent of thought and belief who drop in to check out the scene, to observe the nature of the proceedings, even to appreciate the quaintness — or the drama — of the liturgy, like tourists enjoying the spectacle of the service in some ancient cathedral mentioned in a Lonely Planet guidebook.