Saturday, August 23, 2014

Compassionate Conservatism

Erick Erickson is one of the most well-known conservative bloggers, and his blog, Red State, is very popular on the right. He's also a Christian and deeply concerned that, based on some of the comments he gets on his blog from other conservatives, it's becoming increasingly difficult to reconcile some of what he hears from his fellow conservatives with what he believes his obligations are as a Christian. He's primarily dismayed with a strain of conservative troll, and even some more mainstream folk, that seems to be growing increasingly strident and uncharitable in their discourse.

What he's hearing may be an overreaction to the vitriol that has been thrown in the face of conservatives going back at least as far as the Bork confirmation hearings in the early 90s, and climaxing in the awful treatment administered by the left to George Bush, but no matter how understandable it is, it's nevertheless inexcusable, and conservatives should dissociate themselves from those whose contribution to the public discourse is informed more by hatred and bitterness than by cordiality and forbearance.

Erickson cites three recent issues in particular in which he has been disappointed by some of the commentary of some of his fellow conservatives. First, though, he offers a lament at having ever opened up his blog to comments in the first place:
Were I to recreate this site, I think it would have no comments section. Disqus is just horrible. I do not recommend it to anyone. And it just helps further what I see on so much social media these days. As much as the internet can bring people together of like mind, it also can help shrill minorities of people think their views are more mainstream than they are. That then emboldens them further.
This is one reason, by the way, why I never set up a combox for Viewpoint. There are too many people out there on both left and right who don't know how to disagree gracefully, and a combox is an invitation to these people to simply vent their obscenities and resentments in the ugliest fashion they can muster. The comment section of a blog seems to do for some people what getting behind the wheel of a car does to those with suppressed anger.

Anyway, Erickson continues:
In the past several months there have been three incidents that have solidified for me that my faith and my politics are starting to collide. While I am a firm believer in the idea of a conservative populism, I see a dangerous trend within the mix of unfortunate shrillness and hostility. That trend is playing out in the comments here at RedState and on social media.

To start, Christian conservatives were roundly assailed by other conservatives for daring to provide aid and comfort to children whose parents had shipped them across the border. Some could not distinguish between giving a child a teddy bear and supporting Mexican drug cartels. It was all one or all the other. In fact, many Christians, myself included, want expedited deportations and a secure border. But we also want to make sure the children, some victims of human trafficking, were taken care of, fed, and comforted.

But to some on the right, that is aiding law breakers. The anger and hysteria directed at conservatives engaged in private charity had all the makings of a leftist police state making us care about how we choose to spend our own money.
Glenn Beck and Ted Cruz both went to the border to express their concern for the children who were coming across and both were subjected to some awful criticism from the right. This was unconscionable. I certainly believe we need a secure border, and I deplore the Obama administration's apparent indifference to the problem of illegal immigration, but why anyone would blame the children who are being sent illegally into the country by adults is beyond me.
The second was bringing Dr. Brantly and his co-worker back to the United States. The number of angry calls into my radio program from well meaning conservatives, comments across social media, opinion columns, agreement thereto, etc. really boggled my mind. Here are two Americans risking their lives to help others and we are supposed to turn our back on them, leave them there, or criticize their decision to go in the first place? That’s not the America I know or love. The level of outright anger, fear, and bitterness over the decision to take care of American citizens and the lack of knowledge and understanding that formed the foundation for the anger, fear, and bitterness really left me wondering what is going on.
I heard Michael Savage and read Ann Coulter blast the decision to bring Kent Brantly back. Coulter even went so far as to call Brantly an "idiot" for going to Africa to practice medicine in the first place. It's despicable for Coulter who is not only a conservative but also a Christian to demean a brother for doing what Christ called his followers to do. It's hard to fathom why they think that Brantly, who has forgone a handsome living in a domestic practice in order to devote his life to helping those who suffer illness in places where medical care is scarce, should be left in Liberia to die an agonizing death when he could be safely helped here at home.
The last is the present situation in Ferguson, MO. The rush to win a fight and lay blame instead of mourning a loss and praying for a situation just leaves me perplexed. The rush to “change the narrative” with bad facts to replace bad facts by some folks who keep the ichthys on their car unsettles me.
I can't comment much on this last concern because I'm not sure that I've seen "the rush to change the narrative" that Erick mentions, at least not from conservatives (there's been plenty of it by liberals, of course).

Perhaps some conservatives are demanding that Officer Wilson be absolved of any wrongdoing before the evidence is heard, I don't know, but, if so, this is wrong. Conservatives should insist that Wilson be judged solely on the evidence, not exonerated just because he's a policeman and not inculpated simply because he's white and is ipso facto be found guilty and thrown in prison (or worse).

If the facts show that he deliberately, with malice, shot Michael Young then he should be convicted. If they don't, then he should be acquitted. Meanwhile, everyone would be wise to simply wait until the evidence is all released before making up their minds about Wilson's guilt or innocence. Isn't judging before the evidence is known the very definition of the word "prejudice"?

Speaking of already having one's mind made up, it was a shame that the Attorney General of the United States announced that he visited Michael Young's family but chose not to visit Officer Wilson's family. Why not? Is Wilson already guilty in his mind? Isn't Wilson's family living in fear of retribution by the anomic mob burning and looting the town of Ferguson?

I might add to all the above that it irritates me whenever I hear Rush Limbaugh disparage Michael Gerson's term "compassionate conservatism" which he wrote for George Bush. I know Limbaugh claims that the term is a redundancy, but why get upset about that? I've heard him complain that it implies that some conservatism isn't compassionate, but, in fact, there are some conservatives for whom compassion isn't high on their list of virtues, as Erickson's combox reveals. There are lots of liberals who seem to have a compassion deficit as well, mostly those on the secular left.

To be a Christian, though, obligates one to strive for a more irenic tone in one's discourse, and a compassion for those who suffer. This doesn't mean that a Christian should eschew criticism of our political leaders, nor does it mean that we shouldn't call foolishness, mendacity, hypocrisy, venality, and evil by their names. We should. What it means, though, is that we should rather forego criticism that is unfair, tendentious, and shallow and to refuse to engage in the sort of hurtful nastiness which does nothing but insult people.

Erickson closes by confessing that he sometimes may fall short of that standard, as I do, because he's a sinner, as we all are, but nevertheless that standard should be what we aspire to. The way Christian conservatives comport ourselves in the public square reflects not only on us but also upon the God we claim to follow, serve, and represent.