Thoughtful Conservatism Can Win Hearts and Minds

I read something by John Hawkins the other day, and I can’t get it out of my mind.

Complaining bitterly about the Democrats’ “politics of personal destruction” or bellyaching that the media doesn’t treat us fairly ultimately accomplishes nothing. The public doesn’t care.

Using the exact same tactics against the left that it uses against the right may very well be effective.

Even if it isn’t, it may at least convince them that such tactics ought to be off limits on both sides. We can say, “Gee, what if Bush had done this” or “That’s a cheap shot” all day long, but until our political opponents feel the brunt of the same savage incivility that it dishes out on a regular basis, nothing is going to change.

There’s something comforting about what Hawkins has to say, because it’s always easier to act on our baser nature than to rise above it, but after giving it a great deal of thought, I’ve come to the inescapable conclusion that savage incivility won’t help. Savage incivility didn't win the White House for Democrats; Barack Obama did. Few people become Democrats because they like the savage incivility displayed by members of the liberal cultural elite. We really should understand this before we start imitating the worst behavior of our fellow Americans, because, for a variety of reasons, it simply won’t work.

I think it’s helpful if Hawkins recognizes a few things that are, not what we wish them to be. Firstly, conservatives do not, by and large, have the influence over popular culture that liberals have. Secondly, conservatives are not in power politically at the federal level. Thirdly, conservatives have been successfully labeled and framed by liberals.

We can't expect that simply following the liberal playbook will lead to conservative success, because we're not liberals. We're not in the same position as liberals. We don't have the same tools as liberals. We're different, and our tactics must be different as well.

The first step in determining our tactics is determining our goal. If our goal is to simply give the Left a taste of its own medicine then "savage incivility" might suffice. I was under the impression, however, that our goal was a bit loftier than engaging in a full-throated battle of the bastards. I thought our goal was to win. To win elections you have to win hearts and minds. If we want to do that, I'd suggest a new archetype: the thoughtful conservative.

The thoughtful conservative already exists, of course. Mark Levin's Liberty and Tyranny is a perfect example of the thoughtful conservative in action, though Levin's radio show may not always qualify. Similarly, Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism is the work of a thoughtful conservative, though not every one of Goldberg's posts on The Corner may qualify. Thoughtful conservatives may not always be thoughtful, but their body of work still possesses a quality not found in, say, the collected works of Michael Savage.

The thoughtful conservative doesn't set out to mock or ridicule, but to convince. The object is to advance an argument, not to put an ideological opponent in their place (though that may be a by-product). A lot of conservatives have been talking about Jon Stewart’s labeling Harry Truman as a war criminal, but I have seen relatively few conservatives talk about what an amazing job Cliff May did in thoughtfully forcing Stewart to take that position.

May went to The Daily Show knowing he'd face a hostile audience and host. Still, he was the polar opposite of how John Hawkins thinks conservatives should behave. He didn't come armed with intrusive facts about Jon Stewart's life or make outlandish and unsubstantiated claims about Stewart's staff. He calmly, reasonably, and humorously stated his position. He explained in a very engaging way why his position was far more rational and pragmatic than the position taken by Jon Stewart. Without ever ceding the moral high ground, he eventually got one of the poster boys of progressivism to call Truman a war criminal (and awkwardly take it back a few days later). Thoughtful conservative 1, pseudo-intellectual talk show host 0.