Last week, the bombastic Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) was at it again. He let Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) have it with both barrels, telling MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough that Paul was “not capable” of having “an intelligent debate” over national security policy, specifically the issue of drones. This isn’t the first time, either: in the last few months, King has called Paul a “disgrace to the office,” and a “part of that hate-America crowd that I thought left us in the 1960s,” who “doesn’t deserve to be in the United States Senate.”
This is one of my biggest pet peeves in politics, and something where the right would be well-served to take a page from the left’s playbook. There will be ideological disagreements, of course, but for God’s sake, have it out in private. This kind of bare-knuckled brawling over cable TV does nothing to help, but a great deal to hurt, the cause you purportedly serve.
Republicans are famously divided into the establishment and grassroots camps. This characterization isn’t necessarily accurate, but there are significant differences of opinion on foreign policy, social issues and political tactics, to name a few. But they’re not alone. The Democrats’ coalition, though it may not look it at first glance, has just as many meaningful splits, if not more. Labor unions and environmentalists, for example, are two major components of the left-of-center spectrum, with interests that are often in conflict. But you don’t hear about it as much because the left doesn’t fight about it in public.
There are vast differences of positions between, for example, the very, very liberal and self-proclaimed socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and moderate, red-state Democrats like Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) or Mark Pryor (D-Ark.). But the difference between left and right is that you don’t see Landrieu throwing rhetorical punches in public at Sanders or vice versa, because they recognize that their cause of furthering progressivism is more important than intra-party ideological nitpicking. Republicans could learn a lot from that
The left’s lack of public arguments can be attributed in part to its general temperament, which is inherent to its ideology. Liberalism favors collectivism and deals with people in terms of the groups (racial, economic and so forth) that they identify with. On the other hand, conservative ideology is much more concentrated on the individual. Thus, it’s much more difficult — when you’re a rugged individualist as many conservatives are — to sit back and toe the party line. And it’s not as though we should start conforming, but we should realize that sometimes, escalating debate in the center of the media’s attention does more harm than good. That’s where the left has it right.
Here’s something else I admire about the left. I have a great deal more respect for those who openly admit that they have an ideology than for so-called “moderates,” particularly those who claim something like, “I don’t do left or right; I support what works.” An ideology – liberal, conservative, libertarian, communist, monarchist, or whatever else – demonstrates a coherent, cohesive worldview through which they look at specific issues. Perhaps this is a function of my own nature as an ideologue, but I respect the level of honesty it takes to admit to being an ideologue.
There are still many problems with the liberal approach: often they misdiagnose the problem, and they almost always prescribe the wrong solution, but having the courage to admit their ideological nature is something I can’t help but respect.