Part of our critic Savrola’s issue with us paleos is that he doesn’t like our debating style. He can speak for himself, but I take it he thinks it is too cerebral, too nice and not effective. He would like us to take off the gloves and start calling names. Specifically he would like us to let fly with the accusations of treason and traitor. If this is not a fair assessment and summation, then he can correct the record in the comments below.
My general tactic when I am debating interventionists at sites like American Spectator is to repeatedly make the case that non-interventionism is the authentically conservative position and that interventionism is inherently anything but conservative. I also point out the obvious exaggeration of the threats against us upon which the case for interventionism rests and the obvious absurdity of America needing to spend HALF (give or take) of the entire world’s allotment on “defense.”
It’s certainly possible that these tactics are more effective at winning debates than they are at converting people, but at a site like AmSpec I am frequently arguing with true believers. I don’t expect to make converts out of them. The audience I hope to persuade is the generally conservative person who is not yet a committed militarist. There is also something to be said for simply “representing,” so to speak, non-interventionism. A way of declaring that we haven’t conceded the field.
My rational is this: people at places like AmSpec are not your normal Joe on the street. They are political hobbyists who hang out on political web sites. They self-identify as conservatives. For them being a conservative (and perhaps a Republican) is an integral part of their identity. They are more likely to buy in toto the official conservative party line than is the vaguely conservative Joe on the street. I suspect they embrace interventionism not so much because they have thought about it deeply, but because it is part of the whole modern three-legs-of-the-stool conception of conservatism that they imprinted on when they were first identifying as conservatives. (This is one reason why young people are much more receptive to Ron Paul. They didn’t come of age during the Cold War when militant anti-Communism was a defining feature of organized conservatism.) I go after them on the “real” conservative issue because being a conservative is a fundamental way in which they conscieve of themselves. This is, I believe, one reason why some react so viscerally to non-interventionism. I am challenging a core part of how they identify themselves. Making them think. “What do you mean interventionism isn’t conservative!?”
My experience is that there simply isn’t a lot of middle ground here. While the man on the street might have been beating the drums for war after 9/11 and now have other priorities, the dogmatic interventionists of the AmSpec comments type (or National Review or Free Republic, etc.) do not usually drift to some form of moderate realism. They either remain three-legs or convert to non-interventionism and embrace the whole rest of that suite of issues (anti-Fed, pro-Gold, Constitutionalist, etc.). (They replace one imprint with a different imprint.)
While I concede I may not have a lot of luck making converts and may simply be doing more “representing,” where is the evidence that name calling is more effective? The thought seems to be, “Well the other side does it.” So if questioning our special relationship with Israel elicits immediate thought stopping charges of anti-Semitism then excessive fidelity to Israel should elicit immediate charges of dual loyalty, treason, traitor etc.? This strikes me as an invitation to an uncivil pissing contest that does nobody any good. It drives me crazy when the other side pulls the mindless name-calling crap, so why should I stoop to that level myself? Quite frankly, I’m just not comfortable doing that, and I don’t have it in me.
Hence, I guess, the charge that I’m, and paleos in general are, too cerebral. Politics is often not about reason. It is often about gut. I get that. But as I said in the other thread, can we not have the concept of division of labor here? If some people need to make gut level appeals to emotion, then so be it. But leave me alone while I’m trying to make rational arguments that appeal to people’s brains.