Preaching to the Unconverted

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Books abound on the social Right about how to talk to liberals – meaning, of course, not classical liberals but members of the “progressive” Left. Ann Coulter had a bestseller titled “How to Talk to a Liberal (If You Must).” Glenn Beck now has one out under the title “Arguing With Idiots: How to Stop Small Minds and Big Government.” Disdain for minions of the Left simply drips from their pens. Talking to such people, they make clear, is a chore: perhaps unavoidable, but highly unpleasant and best gotten over with as soon as possible.

If we view it as an onerous task, the fact is, we’ll resent it — and probably just end up in a fight. But fighting words don’t convince anybody. So we’ve talked to our idiot (“to” generally implying more “at” than “with”), feel our painful duty is done, and move on. We’ve probably only hardened him in whatever existing prejudices he may have had, but we feel better. We’ve done our duty, and reconfirmed the fact that these people simply won’t listen — or are too stupid to learn.

But if we approach it in that way, we haven’t done our duty. Not if we really care about our convictions enough to make any converts.

The wonderfully diverse realm of libertarians and near libertarians abounds with converted idiots. A great many of us, at one time, believed passionately in leftist ideals. As a matter of fact, we now proudly count, as some of our brightest minds, people who once ranked among the biggest “idiots.” We would do well not to shut our own minds to the possibility for even radical change.

I was one such “idiot.” As are many of my friends. Were I, with the smugness all too typical of many converts, merely to turn my back on them, I would leave them to languish in stupidity, perhaps forever. It is truly painful, now, to talk politics with those with whom I formerly agreed. But I care too much — not only about the beliefs I now hold, but about the people I’m talking with — to keep my back turned and sim- ply walk away.

I understand why many on the Left hold the views that they do. And I recognize the reasons (largely personal, but some intellectual) why they think that way. In reasoning with those who disagree with us, we must speak a language other than the one in which we now prefer to converse. But we remember that strange tongue, even if we would prefer to for- get it; and we almost certainly retain some facility in it. The unpleasant but unavoidable fact is that if we don’t go back and help a significant number of these folks to see the light, our cause is ultimately doomed to failure.

Our country is in too much trouble for us to take the easy way out. If we’re content to wallow in our self-righteous com- fort, leaving on the outside those who do not see things our way, we will never help to build the sort of enduring majority necessary to bring about the changes we desire — or, for that matter, to prevent the changes we wish to keep from happen- ing. Whether we like it or not, there are just too many “idiots” who need to be converted if we are to save our country from being dragged down into an idiocy from which it cannot recover.

Their numbers are multiplying daily. Idiocy on the Right breeds more idiocy on the Left. As social-conservative statists on the Right ramp up their hysteria, it rises up on the Left, like a tsunami, in a nightmarish mirror-image. We must call the elected officials of our preferred party to strict account when they are tempted to exploit this. Surely no rational mind believes that the antidote for an epidemic of hysteria might be still more of it.

What we have, now, is a screaming-match between those who think all dissidents from the extreme religious Right should be locked up and those who urge us to do things for which we probably ought to be locked up. We’re stuck in an asylum full of lunatics, and we want to break out. New populist voices are emerging: folks who realize that our founders left us a treasure, and who wish to preserve it. They are far less “extreme” than their critics would claim. But they are screaming, too — and amid such a cacophony of screams, it is difficult to distinguish the sane from the loony.

Somebody has to speak in a reasonable tone. “Don’t Tread on Me” signs at tea parties are good reminders of the heritage libertarians desire to preserve. But once in a while, instead of marching and protesting, we must actually sit down with those who disagree with us and exchange ideas like adults. At the moment, that’s not often being done.

We must, first of all, admit that big-government social “conservatives” do pursue a statist fantasy of their very own, and that it is no less dangerous than that dreamed up by “liberals.” In the battle now raging between statist visions, those

Whether we like it or not, there are just too many idiots who need to be converted if we are to save our country.

of us who believe in liberty — those who are both the real liberals and the real conservatives — are between a rock and a hard place. Statists of every stripe find it necessary to scream, to suppress, to resort to violence both verbal and rhetorical. A “soft answer” might not, as the Bible indicates, merely “turn away wrath.” It speaks in the voice of real reason — a voice in which may be heard the truth that finally resonates with sane minds on both sides. In the war between Left and Right, neither side can be expected to lay down its sword while threatened by that of the other. In reasoned conversation, many of my gay and lesbian friends reveal themselves to hold beliefs that are, essentially, quite conservative. But so long as people calling themselves “conservative” (and accepted as such by the lazy mainstream media) advocate criminalizing our relationships, as some still do, I have difficulty blaming these friends for seeking shelter on the Left. As poor a job of living up to their rhetoric as they may have done, modern liberals at least keep out of our bedrooms and refrain from demonizing us.

As a small businessperson, on the other hand, I view heavy taxes and insane big-government controls, advocated by the Left, as nothing but an attack on my ability to survive. When we seek refuge on the Left, we are supporting those who would take bread from our mouths by making it impossible for us to earn a decent living. Even though we are gay, we can’t deny that we must eat and keep a roof over our heads, just like everybody else. Whichever statist path we choose, when we seek to protect our interests on one side, we are attacking them on the other.

Most of the conservatives with whom I actually converse are not antigay. But because of political correctness on the Right (which is as bad as the Left’s version, though few will admit it), they are afraid to spread the word that gay people don’t have horns or wield pitchforks. Expressing compassion and tolerance is taboo, so the only alternative to growling at us is keeping silent. They are alarmed at hateful rhetoric from others on their side, but they sit on their hands and say nothing, afraid of being tossed out of the club. Their fear of show- ing “weakness” is what weakens them in fact.

Were there one diabolical mind behind the destruction of our country, it would set us against each other exactly as the factionalists are doing now. Liberals are hardly the only ones who seem unaware of this. Many latter-day so-called conservatives are former liberals who developed their thinking (such as it is) in the contentious, childish, “me first” atmosphere of the Left. It is, indeed, as hard to reason with them as it is with many of their archrivals. If it’s too difficult for them to talk to “idiots,” it may be because, in their eagerness to learn the language of the allies they’ve since chosen, they have forgotten their mother tongue.

The divide-and-conquer strategy is favored by those who would grab power over others because division is naturally a source of distraction. It keeps us busy thinking about how horrible the other side is instead of what our would-be lords and masters want to do to us all. The temptation to work our will on those we dislike is dangled before us. We don’t realize that while working our will we have lost our freedom — until it is too late. The fantasy of tyrannizing others seems a juicy plum, but when we bite into it, it turns to dust.

Conservatives used to understand this. They can speak sensibly to no one until they remember how easy, for instance, it was for them to support government intervention in edu- cation, until they realized that it often resulted in their own views being outlawed from the schools.

At gatherings with family and friends, we can relate to the conflicts that conservatives feel by sharing our own. Most people’s opinions change over time; ours have, theirs have or can, too. We can invite along friends with whom they may not ordinarily associate, to give them a firsthand experience with people they may fear or dislike but really just don’t know. Once some of my loved ones found out I was gay, they realized they couldn’t hate faceless “others” any more because some of us had faces they knew. The same thing may be done by former liberals or conservatives who come out of the closet to those who know them best and admit that they are libertarians.

Closeted libertarians deprive the world of much needed light. When I told my friends, this Christmas, that I was now a libertarian, they looked at me as if I had just landed from Saturn. I had to share with them the reasons for my changed outlook, and since they knew much of my story, they could relate to me. Since I was familiar with their own lives, it was easy for me to point out ways in which government intrusion was costing them more money, making their work harder, and perhaps even keeping them from getting jobs. We all need medical care we can’t afford, and as one who spent 30 years in the insurance industry, I was uniquely able to steer them away from scapegoating “evil insurance companies” for ills actually caused by government interference.

I told them that libertarianism, far from being some new wacko notion, is the set of principles upon which our country was founded; that the reason for their confusion over whether I was “Right” or “Left” wasn’t my own incoherence but the fact that libertarianism was the fertile soil from which both modern Right and Left have grown. They knew me, and they recognized the glimmer of wisdom in what I was saying. For my part, I knew they weren’t really idiots, whatever some might call them, and I respected them enough to reason with them.

It is becoming clear that unless most of us return to think- ing of ourselves as rights-seeking Americans foremost and only thereafter members of whichever political “club” we prefer, our country will not survive. That is the lesson I have learned from beholding the mayhem of current American politics, from sea to shining sea. I must put my partial interests as a gay person, as a business owner, and as everything else I may be second to those of the nation as a whole and its full set of liberties.

Political factions, each with its separate language and demands, will tear this country apart, just as our founders warned they would. Never before has it been so urgent that we stop them.

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