So, my Crazy Liberal Friend, codename ‘Cliff’, keeps telling me that I’m a knowing victim of extremist brainwashing and a woefully un-informed spouter of low-IQ cliches, largely because I have a few issues with one Barack Obama. Cliff is, not to put too fine a point on it, very excited at the prospect of POTUS Obama. Whether it’s policy and politics, voting record and previous accomplishments (or lack thereof), questionable associates and friends, recent pandering and flip-flopping, or egregious displays of hubris, my every criticism of St. Obama is dismissed as uninformed and desperate. I challenged Cliff, who swears he doesn’t think Obama is perfect so much as I have yet to come up with a valid point, to name one area where he will agree that Obama is, gasp, only human and thus flawed. Cliff has yet to get back to me on that one, perhaps because, given that I am unable to see the sheer awesomeness that is Obama, I am a lost cause. If this name-calling is supposed to make me a BHO convert, something is grossly wrong.
To be fair, Cliff is highly intelligent and well-educated, a voracious consumer of news and no slouch when it comes to thinking through ideas. But he won’t agree that I am as well.
Mature people admit that a smart, thoughtful, morally good person who is educated, well-read, cultured, and aware of current events may still draw different conclusions on issues – up to a point. I am not espousing tolerance for the opinions and preferences of neo-Nazis, pedophiles, or Spice Girl fans. There’s a point to make here that I’ll come back to. Real adults deal with their peers as equals, even when those peers demur on some point, and they respect that people are allowed to have their own opinions.
This is a prime instance of my ‘Stop Calling People Stupid’ doctrine. Anyone who plays in politics knows what it’s like to be labeled ‘Stupid’, ‘Immoral’, ‘Uninformed’, ‘Brainwashed’, etc. by the other side. Both sides do it, thought the American Left is definitely the greater offender here.
These are the people for whom, should you disagree with them, you’re a moron, immoral – if not out and out evil, a fool, a shut-off rube who has no exposure to important ideas and no understanding of current events, a poorly educated dunce who lets other people think for you, and so on. You get the picture.
These folks will snidely refuse to engage in any real debate and dismiss any argument you make, because you’re just not a serious, educated person anyway. You may as well not point out that this is circular reasoning. They don’t need to listen to you, because you’re an uninformed fool.
This is paramount childishness. It also shuts down the chance for any constructive debate. Consider: why would, and why should, anyone listen to your argument when you started off by insulting their intelligence and their character? If the aim is to convince people to support your candidate, or to get them to switch allegiances to your side of the aisle, mockery and insult aren’t going to be your winning tools.
In fact, once you’ve taken this path, you’ve made an enemy and turned someone who likely would have been perfectly willing to hear you out and who would have been a potential convert into a staunch opponent of your position. You’ve established in someone’s mind that your position is associated with self-important blowhards who are so certain they’re right that they openly disdain all dissidents. Again, not a wise rhetorical tactic.
Even if the person you’ve just insulted may see validity in some parts of your position, who wants to hang out with a bunch of self-important blowhards?
Yet the fashionable elites of the American Left is turning into just a sniveling cadre of just such types. First they tell you that you’re an idiot for disagreeing with them, then they expect you to sit there and listen while they rant as if the First Amendment guarantees a captive audience, and then they decide that your unwillingness to hang around proves what an irrational buffoon you are, all the while praising dissent in theory. Here is where the way the Left increasingly debates really gets to me. Having done all this, our prototypical leftie announces that those who can’t solve problems with words are moral failures. Perhaps these people refuse to read How to Win Friends and Influence People because they get their Carnegies confused and think Dale was a ‘robber baron’, too.
If you think I’ve gone nuts, ask yourself which side is adamant that all we need to do with Hugo Chavez, Kim Il Jung, et al is to hold a summit and ‘dialogue’. For crying out loud, who uses ‘dialogue’ as a verb, anyway? What is the preferred conflict resolution method of the UN? If you guessed, ‘legalese babble backed by hollow threats of force’ and being given a ‘last chance’ 47 times, you’re right.
What I’m getting at here is the baffling contradiction in refusing to carry on a polite conversation with anyone who disagrees with you and then insisting that words can solve everything.
The same individuals who can’t even be coolly civil to someone who wants to hold capital gains tax down to, say, 25% are shrill in their insistence that genocidal madmen will mend their ways after a stern (but not too stern)talking-to. Amnesty International is predicated on the idea that letter writing campaigns to men who operate torture chambers and condone mass rape are going to bring about Utopia. Try, if you will, to imagine Mugabe perusing a neatly penned missive in which the writer pours out his anguish at human rights violations in Zimbabwe and being so moved that he instantly discontinues all his inhumane policies and turns the summer palace into an orphanage for children whose parents were slaughtered on his orders. It’s more likely that Mugabe uses unopened Amnesty letters as kindling when he burns people alive.
Dammit, these men are not unaware of right and wrong, nor are they in the dark about what the rest of the world thinks. They don’t care, not about their own captive, terrorized, impoverished citizens, and not about skinny Marxist undergrads howling for UN inspections.
What those who take this line are missing is that a threat, a promise, an assertion that X is factually correct, all need to be backed up by the willingness to act, to offer proof. And this means something historically. Interviewed after the Soviet collapse, Gorbachev was asked when he knew that Ronald Reagan was a very different President from his predecessors, and especially a different man than Jimmy Carter. Gorbachev answered that it was when Reagan fired the air traffic controllers, because that was when he, and the entire Kremlin, understood that their adversary was a man who meant what he said, a man who did not issues threats he was unwilling to make good on.
Liberals are getting it backwards, refusing to deal politely with rational people and kowtowing to lunatics. No less a figure than left-wing demigod Gandhi averred that non-violence only works against a fundamentally moral opponent; limiting your opposition to words is only effective against someone whose moral code prevents them from descending upon unarmed people. And the international enemies we’re dealing with right now aren’t fundamentally good.
Debate will solve some problems, even if it’s only coming to a mutually tolerable compromise or agreeing to disagree. But adults who presume to tackle the worst problems have got to be absolutely willing to use overwhelming force upon evidence that a foe won’t respond to anything else.
Machiavelli, who no one reads and everyone hates, made this exact point. He wasn’t advocating for bloodlust. He was advising people, especially political leaders, not to make enemies needlessly (which is exactly what you do when you call people idiots) in the first place. Treat people – even enemies – civilly – until they give you reason not to. Don’t humiliate people or parade around like a jackass just because you can. That’s the portion of Machiavelli few people consider. The other major point is that, once an enemy leaves no doubt about his intentions, you’d be a fool to hesitate to devastate him. Yet we, as a nation, are dealing with enemies who have given us staggering proof of their true intentions and basic nature and we still refuse to discard a method that doesn’t work in favor of one that does.
Ultimately, words only carry weight so long as their author is a man of his word. Praising free speech while openly loathing anyway who disputes you purely because no one should ever disagree with you is hugely hypocritical. So too is droning on about your love of humanity while allowing millions to suffer because you can’t stomach physical force. However, pissing off decent people and guaranteeing they won’t talk to you in one thing. Abiding wholesale attacks on innocent men, women, and children in the name of non-violence is truly evil.