The Campaign Spot

Can’t the Right Argue in Multiple Kinds of Styles?

From the Tuesday Morning Jolt

Must We Fume at Each Other? Can’t the Right Argue in Multiple Kinds of Styles?

Here’s Project Veritas’ James O’Keefe,  crossing the U.S.-Mexican border in an Osama bin Laden mask recently:

Katearthsis – ignore the Selina Kyle name in her Twitter handle, boys, I’m fairly certain she’s not Catwoman – is one of us. She’s a young  woman of deep religious faith and one of the few art students interested in conservatism. I have a tough time believing that she’s the problem facing today’s Right.

She didn’t think much of O’Keefe’s latest video. You can scroll through her feed for her full arguments, but the gist is she thinks putting on a bin Laden mask and sloshing through a narrow portion of the Rio Grande, far from any border patrols, is a fairly silly way to illustrate a point that very few people would dispute: at this point it is not terribly difficult to sneak into the United States from Mexico.

So, thousands of immigrant children cross the border, but for some people it takes @JamesOKeefeIII to show the border isn’t secure. No.

— Selina Kyle (@katearthsis) August 11, 2014

Actually, I suspect those people already knew the border wasn’t secure; they feel that O’Keefe in a bin Laden mask vividly illustrates the potential danger of an insecure border.

Twitchy ripped into Kate for criticizing O’Keefe; some good folks on Twitter ripped into Twitchy for what they perceived as group-think.

Maybe O’Keefe’s video is your cup of tea, maybe it isn’t. It probably does tap into that “get a load of this!” share-able element necessary to take an idea viral, but on the other hand, the obstacle is not really getting Americans to believe the border is not secure. The obstacle isn’t really getting Americans to believe the border ought to be secure, either. The obstacle is getting incumbent politicians, and this administration in particular, to believe that securing the border ought to be a priority – and that any “path to citizenship” scheme can’t be seriously considered until the border and its steady supply of new illegal immigrants is shut off.

The “you’re hurting your cause by being a clod” argument sprung up recently in another context.

Ann Coulter recently had her annual slow-news-cycle-dominating national controversy – she’s guaranteed one per year in her contract, right? – contending that missionary work and running medical clinics in poor countries represented a foolish choice for a Christian:

If Dr. Brantly had practiced at Cedars-Sinai hospital in Los Angeles and turned one single Hollywood power-broker to Christ, he would have done more good for the entire world than anything he could accomplish in a century spent in Liberia. Ebola kills only the body; the virus of spiritual bankruptcy and moral decadence spread by so many Hollywood movies infects the world.

If he had provided health care for the uninsured editors, writers, videographers and pundits in Gotham and managed to open one set of eyes, he would have done more good than marinating himself in medieval diseases of the Third World.

Erick Erickson, the Anchoress, Pete Wehner, and Peter Rosenberger, among others, strongly objected to Coulter’s argument.

One point I would note is that while O’Keefe and Coulter are different ages, they’ve both achieved a certain prominence and status with their respective styles. Whether or not you or I like it, they’ve decided it works for them. And the proof is in the book contracts, YouTube hits, television appearances, syndicated columns, speaking gigs and so on. No matter how much someone tells them to change their style or the way they approach advocating for their ideas, these two – and most of us! — are never going to change, or at least are extremely unlikely to change.

So I’m not sure it does anyone much good to yell at anybody who’s having an impact on the Right and demand they change.

It’s been said that “conservatism is a mansion with many rooms.” (Somewhere someone is scoffing, ‘great, even our metaphors make us look like the rich guys.’) If we don’t all agree on every issue –military interventions, trade policy, gay marriage, abortion, eliminating the home mortgage deduction, boosting the child tax credit – why do we have to agree on styles and tones of public argument?

The creaking-from-book-weight bookshelves are set up in the new house, and on the top shelf, you can see my selections from the more serious side of political thought – the boss, Robert Novak, Christopher Hitchens, William F. Buckley, George H.W. Bush, Rudy Giuliani…

… and then a shelf below you can see another side of the political world: Michael Kelly, Mark Steyn, Christopher Buckley, P.J. O’Rourke, Greg Gutfeld, Adam Carolla, Dennis Miller – and yes, Anthony Bourdain.

There’s room in the movement for just about everybody – even the voices that drive us batty sometimes. With metronomic regularity, people cite Buckley driving the John Birch Society out of the conservative movement like St. Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland, and call for a modern-day equivalent effort to drive out the faction of the conservative movement that irks them most. But that kind of excommunication requires a couple factors that rarely align in today’s conservatism: 1) a figure nearly-universally respected or revered the way Buckley was; 2) a faction within the movement that has few allies or other conservatives inclined to keep them inside or defend them; 3) a broad movement that is receptive to the idea that the particular faction is so noxious, wrong-headed, or detrimental to the larger cause that it has to go.

Perhaps we could add a fourth factor: a sense that the movement is sufficiently successful that it can afford to kick out potential allies.

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