April 26, 2005
An interesting exchange
Through reading WatchBlog, I discovered Walker Willingham's blog, as he was an author of one of the Lefty threads. Because his comments struck me as being consistenly civil and respectful (as well as thoughtful), I decided to seek out his site. I read through a significant part of his writings up to the November elections, and I remained impressed. As I said to him in my first comment on his blog
So far, I've found that you probably disagree with me on just about every one of my major political tenents, but that you do so with a great deal more polish and grace that I'm used to hearing from your side.
Quite courteously, he replied to my comment with a very nice e-mail. Since then, I've browsed his blog a few times, but hadn't left any more comments. Over the weekend, however, he sent me a link to an article he'd recently read, asking for my comments. If you're interested, his own comments on the article can be found here. I was quite flattered and very willing to oblige. The extended entry contains my response. Since my response, I've read every entry of Rob Salkowitz's blog since just before the election, and found it quite fascinating. At the moment, I'm desperately in need of a good, long, conservative read to replenish my faith in my ideology :-), but I consider it worth the trouble. Don't worry; I've asked permission to post these things. I'm interested in your thoughts on the issue, as especially your critique of my critique. I'm not exactly a seasoned debater and I have the uneasy feeling that I made many blunders that I'm going to wish I hadn't.
Dear Mr. Willingham,
Before I begin to respond, let me say 'thanks' again. Thanks for thinking of me, for taking the time to send the link to me, and for caring (to some degree) what I might think about the article. It is a great honor to me.
I think that opponents of every kind have a tendency to view their opposition as more united and dangerous than they really are. For example, up until the late 1980s (from what I can tell), most on the right still considered the Soviet Union a united, deadly threat bent on worldwide conquest. As I've studied Soviet history this semester, I've realized that they had a whole can of worms amongst themselves that they were desperately trying to deal with. As I've read it, I've come to the conclusion that we were more afraid of the opposition than we should have been. It's like what my uncle said when he first had the opportunity to fly to the Soviet Union in the 1980s - "If that's the great bear, it's a toothless old thing." In the same way, I think that most of you on the left fear the right more than you should. When all this is history and (perhaps) the Democrats are back in majority in Congress, you'll be able to look back and see that "the right" was never as united and dangerous and "evil" as it seems today.
I think that the author has a significant point when he says that "On the Right, there may be some diversity of viewpoints, particularly between the self-styled libertarians and the theocrats, but there is a singularity of purpose, a basic agreement on the style of confrontation and the terms of debate, and a common set of assumptions about their tribal identity and the identity of the enemy." One thing I've thought over the last few years as the Republicans seem to have gained a temporary ascendancy is "This isn't supposed to happen. We're supposed to be losing!" You see, much of the right wing, particularly the "theocrats," is convinced that the larger public is against them, that the left wing hates them and urgently works for their destruction, and that the whole tide of our country is going the wrong way. I get the sense that most of the "theocrats" believe they are fighting a romantic, noble, "lost cause" against an irresistible tide of modern secular culture. We don't expect to win. We're determined to go down fighting, but I don't think anyone really expects to turn the tide. It's something like being the last few men alive at the Alamo, the night before the Mexicans attack. You lay down all disagreements with one another and fight to the death. What do disagreements matter? You're all going to die anyway.
I don't know what other "theocrats" are thinking, but I've been wondering for many years now when the other shoe is going to drop, when our run of luck is going to peter out, and when we'll start openly losing again. I'm starting to hear a lot more hopeful rhetoric from a number of sources, but I don't believe it yet. I don't believe in any sense that we've won. And I think that, at least among "theocrats," my view is common.
Because of this, I think that a significant part of "the Right" is unified and held together under a "last stand" mentality. We feel that we have to "hang together, or we'll all be hanged separately." In some of the right-wing mailings I receive, there's an earnest debate on whether or not (and to what degree) we should push for the Republican party to give us what we want. We certainly want things, but we don't want to break the coalition. The Republicans may be annoying politicians, but the Democrats are "the enemy."
So basically, I think that a huge chunk of "the Right" holds together because they are convinced that if they don't, they'll be destroyed by what they perceive as a hostile culture. I think that a majority of the "the Right" is shocked at its victory and mistrustful that it is genuine. That's why we hold together ... we see a very large and very powerful enemy. I presume you've seen the Lord of the Rings films - I think that much of the right feels like the forces of the West after the battles for Helm's Deep and the Pelennor. We've won twice, beyond all hope ... but Mordor is still out there. It isn't time to celebrate. We have to hold together. For the "theocrats," I think that their hope lies in their faith in the coming return of Christ (just think Frodo and Sam) rather than any belief they can win the fight against the rising tide. Of course, I realize that most of you on the left would feel insulted by a comparison to the forces of Mordor and Orthanc (and perhaps a little smug when you think that "these poor little minds have this 'good' and 'evil' dichotomy that we see through"), but, from what I've read of the left's rhetoric, I think that you consider yourselves just as much "the forces of the West" against "the forces of Mordor" - only you're losing (temporarily).
Part of me doesn't know whether to laugh or cry on hearing a description of the "Left By Default" as a "reality-based coalition." This line, in particular, is a gem "However, there is broad agreement on the tactics of reason, compromise, learning from observation, and distrust of dogma." Does he honestly think his opponents don't think the same for themselves? It's all very well to self-righteously pride oneself on being the voice of reason and rationality, just keep in mind that one's opponents think the same of themselves. Insofar as, these days, science is considered a god-replacement (since, if it's scienctific, it's "true"), he has just, in effect, said "God is on our side, not our enemies'."
If the Republicans have done a masterful job convincing people that a vote for the Democrats is a vote for "Communism", the Democrats are fervently trying to convince the people that a vote for the Republicans is a vote for "theocracy." Don't try to claim the moral high ground because the Republicans are trying to paint their opponents in extreme colors - so are the Democrats.
"They have banished the reality-based members of their coalition and have fused everyone else together under a banner of uncompromising extremism, regardless of the specifics of their issues." The self-righteousness of this line is staggering. "Uncompromising extremism" indeed. Just be aware, it doesn't look like "uncompromising extremism" on this end.
I liked your response, particularly in saying that it is important to hold onto your values and principles. It's good to know that you believe you have a rational basis for being "left" - I trust you can defend it. Quite apart from feeling endangered by the left, I have a rational reason for being "right" as well. The idea of compromise with the left draws cautious interest from me. What is it you want to compromise over? Some things are sacrificable. Some things are not. I know you feel the same way.
What do I see in the cards for the future? I dunno. Nothing lasts, particularly in politics. We've only won by narrow margins, so it won't take much to start losing again. I don't think that Democrats have anything serious to worry about. As far seeing any hope for what I believe in, that depends. While it would be wonderful if "the theocrats" won and abortion was banned and I could speak of God in public without fear of being sued by the ACLU, I don't think it'll happen. Besides, if the "theocrats" did win, then they would go nuts and I would have to join their opposition to keep them from doing dumb things. I do not believe this country will be transformed ... certainly not by any political movement. But God always leaves a remnant. A few will hold on. If Christians could hold on in Soviet Russia, Nazi Germany, and the Roman Empire, they'll hold on if the "left" wins.
Personally, I believe the left will win. I believe that within a generation, Christians will be openly persecuted for their faith with the backing of the state, likely enough to the point of martyrdom. I believe that the America I love is almost gone. However, persecution is a blessing, if a bitter one. The church deperately needs a cleansing force to help drive out mediocrity. And I know that my opinion is shared by almost every evangelical I know. With an attitude like that, I doubt you'll see much compromise in the future. You see, even if the world isn't ending (and, though I'm not sure myself, most evangelicals seem to be quite sure the world is about to end), many evangelicals are pretty convinced America is about to end. To us, it feels like we've allied for a last-ditch defense and that, if (and when) we lose, it's over. But it was glorious while it lasted.
It strikes me that most of the remarks on the left that I read sound about the same - only they're convinced that we stand on the brink of a neo-Nazi theocratic fascist dictatorship and they are the last defense. Some of them are as pessimistic as I am. That's what strikes me as so odd and dangerous - that both sides feel threatened to the point of near-extinction. Actually, it gives me some hope. I know that, to my knowledge, the Vast Rightwing Conspiracy is a myth. Maybe, just maybe, so is the Vast Leftwing Conspiracy. If people on the left are terrified of people like me or James Dobson (which seems laughable), maybe the people I worry about aren't really as dangerous. Maybe I'm wrong in thinking that the US stands on the brink. Maybe. If so, then I can take a deep breath and we can work things out.
The odd thing is that both sides claim to know more about the others' intentions than the other does. The left says the majority on the right are being duped by their evil leaders into supporting a cause that will inevitably lead to a neo-Nazi theocratic dictatorship. The right says that the majority on the left don't realize that their policies will lead to the destruction of the United States and the persecution of Christianity. Each side sees the other as racing toward a cliff, a cliff that they alone (the rational, sane side) can see. The question is "who's right?" Is America just a few short steps away from neo-Nazi theocratic dictatorship? Are we next door to UN world domination and the deadly persecution of the Christian faith? Or are we both a little hysterical? What is true? Can't get around that question.
Obviously, in the near-term, both sides' fears seem ludicrous. John Kerry's presidency would not have been the end, just as George Bush's won't be. But where are we headed? "Where are we going, and what's with the hand-basket?" :-) If I had to guess, all sides have a bit of truth in them. The vector of what is "right and just and good" is almost never parallel to any side.
No matter what is true, there's room to talk. To talk about the abstract ideals of left and right. To debate over present policy and future trends. We can even do so civilly.
I think I'll close this response (and my thoughts) for now. Thanks again for writing to me, and for reading this far. My thoughts probably aren't as clear as I could make them (I'm still musing over a lot of these issues), but I hope they help.
Thanks much. May God bless you.
~ Daniel Leatherwood
PS. I'd like your permission to post this letter (along with necessary links to explain it) on my blog. Would that be acceptable to you? Of course, if you desire, you're free to post this letter as well.