Conservatives are shrinking when their courage is needed the most.
“What are the elements of conservative rhetoric that repel the Left?”
I hear this question more and more from college-age conservatives. I admire the few of them who earnestly muster their powers of articulation in an effort to better witness to the unpopular principles of conservatism and Christianity. But all too many of them are simply on a witch-hunt for the truths that have become anathema in today’s left-leaning public square. Rather than look for the best ways to express the timeless truths that they’ve inherited, they’re really just engaging in a new and bloodless calculus, seeking to delete from their public discourse those truths which are least likely to be embraced by the enemies of the truth.
What will this tactic lead to? Well, if they keep it up, we may expect that this rising generation of conservatives will win the hearts of the Left. But this victory will be a victory of cowards.
It should also be remembered that the Left, which has successfully fought its way into near-invincibility, has never shied away from strong language. My fellow conservative “millennials” often hush my “conspiracy-theory” language, warning that I will only embarrass the Right and be ridiculed by the Left. I would remind them of Hillary Clinton, who may be our next president, and who wasn’t afraid to coin the alarming phrase “vast Right-Wing conspiracy.” When I’m warned against speaking in “sharp” or “moralistic language,” I remind my friends of Barack Obama’s recent speech at the National Action Committee, where he said that Republicans were engaged in an attack on voter rights “just out of political spite,” and that “there was no good reason for it … [it’s] wrong!”
While the Left continues its offensive in full, spitting, biting force, too many of our conservative and Christian leaders merely bite their nails in the upper room. Romney was very gentle in his debates with Obama. He couldn’t even muster the guts to mention the Benghazi cover-up (because he would have seemed like a “conspiracy theorist?”), or call Obama out on his horrendous track-record with the working class (he would have turned voters of with his “moralizing?”).
The result? An unprecedented number of demoralized conservatives didn’t even show up to vote. And so here we are the second presidential term of a partial-birth abortion advocate. My young friends think that we must be gentler in our public speech because that’s the “Christian” thing to do. But what about the many Christian constituents who are as fighting mad as they are underrepresented by their leaders? Who will do the “Christian thing” and come to the aid of these poor souls? I was roused and encouraged when I attended a recent lecture by the gutsy, devoutly Christian Tony Perkins. He observed that Barack Obama has “lots of supporters” because “he stands for something. Unfortunately, [some Republicans] don’t seem to stand for much at all.”
I’m reminded of the great, saintly journalist and author George Bernanos. Faced with the ominous cultural shifts that preceded the Second World War, he abhorred the pandering attitude that many Christians had toward their cultural enemies. He recognized that the many efforts to “attract” rather than “repel” the Church’s enemies operated on the assumption that his generation of Christians could save a truth-hating people by peddling its own wonderfully original arrangements of the truth. He believed this rhetorical approach rendered all who used it it “secret accomplices”:
Bernanos continues, “At this point I know of no system or party to which one could entrust a true idea with the least hope of finding it intact or even recognizable on the following day.” While many did their best to apologize for the truth, he held it close and intact.
Far from desiring to pretty up the truth for public consumption, Bernanos bewailed the fact that, whether one likes it or not, “All the ideas one sends out into the world by themselves, with their little pigtails on their back, and a little basket in their hands like Little Red Riding Hood, are raped at the next corner by some slogan in uniform.”
Joseph Stalin once said that “[i]deas are more powerful than guns. We would not let our enemies have guns, why should we let them have ideas?” Today, as in Bernanos’ time, the central issues of economic and social conservatism come to a head in the simultaneous battle for the right of Christian employers to exercise their Christian conscience and their economic liberty. As the Church stands surrounded, and two key elections loom on the horizon, I find it more than suspicious that so many among our ranks are rushing to lay down their weapons.
I begin to think that many young people today are simply laboring under a lack of guidance. And it’s not entirely the fault of their would-be guides—their parents, teachers and pastors. I won’t let my generation off the hook that easy. Too many of us have consciously fled the heavy weaponry and dangerous wisdom of our elders—from George Bernanos to Tony Perkins, from the Church Fathers to the great popes who have dedicated themselves to the causes of liberty and morality in our own lifetimes.
Instead of battle-cries, I often hear the language of “attraction” among young conservatives: “How can we attract more voters from the Left?” Well the young would do well to remember a basic tenet of folk-wisdom: have we never been told, “Never marry someone with the intention of changing him”? Young conservatives would do well to consider whether they want to spend the rest of their lives with the Left whom they are attempting to seduce by being coy about the truth. More to the point: in seducing the Left, they may become inseminated by it.
Stephen Herreidis currently a Fellow at the John Jay Institute (Philadelphia) and the arts editor for Humane Pursuits. He has been a Contributing Editor to The Intercollegiate Review Online and has contributed several chapters to the latest edition of ISI’s Choosing the Right College.