From the mail:
My two cents on why so many people who hold conservative views come across as inarticulate: most of the values that ordinary, conservative people live by do not require much reflection or explanation. After all, how much justification does a man need for being loyal to his friends, not cheating his customers, and being kind to his neighbors? It is the man who seeks to undermine those values who needs the rhetorical dodges and obfuscations. It takes little mental skill to tell a lie, but it takes quite a bit of deviousness to construct a justification for abolishing the principle of honesty altogether . . . .
My correspondent supplies part of the explanation. For those with a conservative bent there is a defeasible presumption in favor of traditional practices, beliefs, and values. They place the burden of proof on those who would question the traditional practices, beliefs, and values. For the conservatively inclined there is no need to justify that loyalty is good, cheating is wrong, being kind is better than being cruel, and that killing infants is murder. Feeling, with some justification, no need to justify his practices, beliefs, and values, the conservative rarely acquires the skills to do so, and so comes across as inarticulate and unreflective to those skilled in the verbal arts. Of course, I am talking not about conservative intellectuals but about ordinary conservative folk and their political and talk-show representatives.
What my correspondent may not appreciate, however, is that it is not enough to have the right views and values; one must also know how to articulate and defend them when they come under attack. And this is where conservatives are woefully inadequate. How many conservatives could say what I said in the preceding paragraph? Can you imagine George W. Bush speaking of "a defeasible presumption in favor of traditional practices, beliefs, and values"? Even if he could get the words out without stumbling, could he explain what they mean? His defense of marriage consisted of the repetition of the flat-footed, "Marriage is between a man and a woman." A gratuitous assertion, however, calls forth a gratuitous counter-assertion. His mere assertion, unexplained and unjustified, makes him appear a bigot to those who find opposition to same-sex marriage 'discriminatory.' What he ought to have done is provide a brief justification of why the state is involved in marriage in the first place and why same-sex 'marriage' is not something the state should support. But could he do that off the top of his head? I doubt it. He's got the right view, but he can't defend it. And that's the problem.
Or consider Charlie Sykes the talk-show host I mentioned the other day. He claimed that the reasoning in support of the moral acceptability of infanticide was "academic gobbledygook." When you say something like that about careful and clear reasoning, you make yourself out to be a dumbass, allergic to distinctions and nuances. You come across as a rube, a redneck, a hick, a yahoo, an anti-intellectual, an Archie Bunker, a beer-swilling, sports-watching, tobacco-chewing ignoramus, a benighted denizen of fly-over country. Many others who got worked up over that infanticide article claimed that it was 'illogical,' thereby betraying a failure to understand what logic is. They thought that since the conclusion is morally outrageous, which of course it is, the reasoning to it had to be incorrect. But that's an elementary mistake since one can reason correctly to a false conclusion.
A local talk show guy, Mike Gallagher I think it was, was fulminating againt the article in question and came out with the remark that 'medical ethics' is an oxymoron. Well of course it isn't. What he was trying to say was that a medical ethicist who argues that infanticide is morally permissible cannot be an ethicist . . . .
Or consider my man O'Reilly. He often points out that we live in a capitalist country. It's true, more or less. But citing a fact does not amount to a justification of the fact. What O'Reilly may be incapable of doing is to provide arguments including moral arguments in favor of capitalism. That is what is needed in the face of libs and lefties who, when told that we live in a capitalist country, will respond, "Well then, let's change it!"
But having a nasty streak of anti-intellectualism in him, O'Reilly would probably dismiss such arguments as mere 'theory' in his Joe Sixpack sense of the term.
Conservatives, by and large, are doers not thinkers, builders, not scribblers. They are at home on the terra firma of the concrete particular but at sea in the realm of abstraction. The know in their dumb inarticulate way that killing infants is a moral outrage but they cannot argue it out with sophistication and nuance in a manner to command the respect of their opponents. And that's a serious problem
To beat the Left we must out-argue them in the ivory towers and out-slug them in the trenches. Since by Converse Clausewitz politics is war conducted by other means, the trench-fighters need to employ the same tactics that lefties do: slanders, lies, smears, name-calling, shout-downs, pie-throwing, mockery, derision. And now I hand off to Robert Spencer commenting on Andrew Breitbart.
Politics is war and war is ugly. We could avoid a lot of this nastiness if we adopted federalism and voluntary Balkanization. But that is not likely to happen: the totalitarian Left won't allow it. So I predict things are going to get hot in the coming years.