I watched from the wings as a social media battle erupted last week between writers for National Review and The Dispatch. The argument was over censorship on social media and the fact that the White House had announced publicly that it is inserting itself directly into the issue; to combat misinformation (the irony of politicians “fighting” misinformation notwithstanding).
The statements from the White House I find alarming, and I could not disagree more with the administration attempting to regulate what is said in the public forum.
However, the online argument noted above was, in my opinion, silly. Here is why: Both camps were defending their position using the First Amendment. For one side, it was the First Amendment rights of the individual users, for the other side it was the rights of the social media platform.
The takeaway should have been that we all strongly support the First Amendment but differ somewhat on the fine details of the fine line between when a private company becomes a public utility or indeed a state actor. This nuance was lost on the participants in the argument.
There is indeed a split in the ranks on the right. Primarily, the split runs along the lines of “principled” conservatives and “populist” conservatives (the two sides frequently use other labels). The split essentially boils down to this: Populist ideas such as trade restrictions are at odds with principled views on free markets (for just one example). Trump is on the populist side, the writers at The Dispatch (and several at National Review) in the principled camp.
The populist side tends to label the principled side RINO. The principled side views the populist side as anything but conservative.
This split is nothing more than a larger version of the argument noted above. The fact is, there is much more that unites the two sides than divides. It is simply not true that the populist camp has abandoned all conservative principles. On the principled side, those that are intellectually honest would agree that Trump governed as a conservative for the most part (with trade restrictions the notable exception).
Andrew McCarthy (writing for National Review) believes that if conservatives do not distance themselves from Trump they will lose elections. I don’t think many would dispute that since the election Trump has damaged his brand with many voters. Is Mr. McCarthy right? I don’t know, I guess time will tell. However, it seems to me that if both sides of this debate insist on attaching such “life and death” electoral prospects to one man, both have abandoned conservative principles entirely.
I would argue that if the populist camp did indeed abandon conservative principles, they would not win many elections – and certainly not the White House. Likewise, if the principled camp ignores all populist arguments, their electoral prospects are no better.
To me, it makes no sense to continue such arguments among conservatives. These arguments are what are going to cost us elections. These arguments are based on nuance, not profound differences. It makes much more sense to focus on our similarities.
Dr. Robert Mather made a social media post recently encouraging everyone to watch the recent CPAC speech by Glenn Beck. I’m glad I did, and I freely admit this post was inspired by that speech. Beck throws a lot of historical facts into the faces of the Democrats, and rightly so. He also makes a point of how important it is to unify – even in the face of some profound differences. He ends his speech with the fact that as conservatives, we believe in the Bill of Rights, we believe in the Constitution, and we believe in the Declaration of Independence. On this, we can all agree.
There is no strength in a house divided.
Andrew McCarthy, “The Latest ‘Stolen Election’ Stunt’s Lesson: Move On from Trump — or Lose”, National Review,
Dr. Robert Mather
Glenn Beck at CPAC 2021