A Debate About How to Debate Interventionists

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.


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13 thoughts on “A Debate About How to Debate Interventionists

  1. C Bowen (Hawthorne)


    The gutter snipe Jeff Lord could write that “non-interventionism” was not conservative, never was, and then a few months later praise Nash’s new Hoover book, because Lord has to kiss ass and do hit pieces for a living.

    One doesn’t have a debate with such sewer life, one just humiliates them, let the editors know that Jeff Lord is not “getting over.”

    Jeb Babbin is simply a criminal (like Robert Maginnis at Human Events–any time he writes on foreign policy, I am there to remind) and it should be reminded, every time. He violated federal law by working with the Pentagon to disseminate propaganda.

    Anytime Guiliani, Ridge, or John Bolton open their mouth or get a mention–the answer is send them to Gitmo for taking money from terrorists.

    When Quin opens his mouth on foreign policy, I post on how Quin once linked me to some crackpot (Deroy Murdock) who said Saddam was behind 9/11–as late as 2007. Quin doesn’t like that one and has been sticking to domestic issues for a while now. He should be humiliated for getting into the race war stuff as he worked with Buddy Roemer to stop David Duke in Louisiana all those years ago.

    One that has to find spots to post the consensus foreign policy position: that invading Iraq made Iran a power in the region, and resulted in the ethnic cleansing of Christians.

    One’s angle should not be ideological, but to paint the opponent as a mad ideologue whose ideas are the ravings of lunatics and traitors.


    On another front Angelo Codevillo, is sort of an editor at Am Spec. He traffics in esoteric conspiracy theory/power elite analysis. Any mention of bin Laden should have a post reminding that Codevillo wrote in AmSpec 2009 that bin Laden had died years before. (This point dovetails nicely with my note that AmSpec reviewed Sutton positively in 1974.)

    Not once is there a debate. Forget who posts, think about the people reading and what they might stop to look at.

    Back in 07-08 I did tell Antle to buck-up and stop being so negative, a paleo who was afraid to win–and we had a nice dialogue going for a while until it was time to move on. Reid Smith is worth tracking down an e-mail and just getting a discussion going–enlighten him on paleo thinking, ask him if his plan is to make a go of writing in this lousy business?

    Oh, and never hesitate to mention that Alex Linder got his start at AmSpec with any guilt by association plays and AmSpec carried Laurie Mylroie for years.

    If not your comfort zone, fine then I think most people who post on blogs, particularly one like AmSpec that cannot even afford Disqus, are missing that they need to up the intensity by 10 if a comment is to be read.

    There are more serious places that don’t get much traffic that might be more intellectually rewarding for debate.

  2. RedPhillips Post author

    C Bowen, I’m just not buying it. Everything you mention strikes me as very much inside baseball. Only a small number will have any idea what you are talking about. Although I don’t really consider any of those things name calling.

    Telling these folks that they are not real conservatives hits them where it counts.

  3. RedPhillips Post author

    “Harrison, why don’t we record an interactive debate between us on talkshoe or some other program of that sort?”

    A debate about what? How to debate?

  4. RedPhillips Post author

    “why not?”

    I was just clarifying.

    “Red, did you ever read William Rusher’s book on how to win an argument?”


    “Red, when was the last time you had a debate where you could look your audience in the eye?”

    First of all, I’m a much better writer than I am a talker. Remember that whole division of labor thing. But to answer your question, two Sunday’s ago when I had a debate on the Christian merits of the Declaration of Independence. Before that probably when campaigning for Ron Paul.

  5. Feltan


    Back to your original points in the article.

    I think you are quite correct and spot on. The concept of Fortress America is far more conservative than trying to make the world safe for democracy.

    While a debate sometimes calls for taking the gloves off, I agree there is no need to damage your own dignity by appealing to the lowest common denominator. Be accurate, be forceful, be polite and above all be passionate. Leave the name calling to lesser men.


  6. Matt Weber

    Well, I have to agree with Savrola that internet debates are largely useless in terms of changing minds. The most likely good that happens in such a debate is that your own positions and arguments are honed. The best that could happen is that non-interventionism–or whatever–becomes a legitimate position to hold. And that is happening, to some degree, but the intellectual anarchy of the internet hasn’t quite broken the MSM stranglehold on respectable discourse yet.

    One might do some real good among their family, friends, and neighbours in this regard, because they know you as more than words on a screen. If the right is ever to effect change, this is going to be the avenue.

  7. roho

    I always remind myself of the saying: “A man convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still.”

    The power of influence is helping people think that it was their idea to reverse a flawed decision. I find that more and more Conservatives have become “Reagan Worshipers”, as liberals have become “Lincoln Worshipers”………I often ask them to examine why Reagan did not invade after the Marine Barracks Bombing in Berute Lebanon?

    And, “Have you read Smedley Butler?”

  8. C Bowen (Hawthorne)


    Starting again, I reject the premise of this article as misleading, and starting from the wrong point.

    Where do you see the Internet as it relates to media/technology:

    An evolved newspaper?
    An interactive television?
    Radio with a real print organization?

    It’s own thing?

    In my own experience, it required erasing the first three points, and investigating the fourth. One cannot investigate the fourth without person to person contact.

    How does one advertise non-interventionism on the Internet? is the correct question, right?

  9. Feltan


    Interjecting myself here, I hope you don’t mind.

    Do you see the battle to capture mindshare as a single titanic event, or a slow battle of attrition? I see it as the latter.

    Get a toe hold. Expand it.

    Today, ideas on non-intervention are not the most popular — but, oddly, they aren’t entirely rejected either. Getting the word out; making a case for an alternative view point — these are important building blocks in my opinion.

    As I stated above, I think Red has it exactly correct. You eat an elephant one bite at a time, and really doesn’t matter where you start.


  10. RedPhillips

    C Bowen, I’m not sure I understand your question. I would probably see it as somewhere between an evolved newspaper and its own thing. As far as political websites they are sources of news and opinion and for the political hobbyists who comment on blogs it is a form of entertainment. But in general it is a medium that you have to seek out. It doesn’t come to you in the same way TV and radio do. You could go your whole life and never visit a political website, but it would be hard to avoid some exposure to CNN and pop music for example. I hope that answers what you were looking for.

    When I comment I am trying to convert people, but I also think there is something to be said for just representing. Early in the days of war fever, non-intervention wasn’t even on the radar screen and most “conservatives” did not recognize it for what it was. They took interventionism for granted and assumed it was liberalism and some even wanted to label it sedition and treason. But slowly but surely, and we have Ron Paul primarily to thank for this, it has gained a foothold and is ever increasing. Interventionist “conservatives” may not like it, but they generally recognize it for what it is. So in a broad general sense we are making a difference.

    When that idiot Jeff Lord casually equates non-interventionism with liberalism I see that as a way of trying to recreate that early dynamic when interventionism was virtually unopposed. He wants to discredit us and make us go away. But the beauty is he can’t get away with it. He attempts to do so and he creates a firestorm and generates responses from Tom Woods, Kevin Gutzman etc. and 500 comment long threads. Jeff Lord knows who we are and knows we are moving some people.

    Why did places like Red State and FreeRepublic ban Paul supporters and non-interventionists if they didn’t think we mattered? They too were attempting to recreate that early environment when they were unopposed and could talk freely among themselves. Why do people like Mark Levin get so hysterical about Ron Paul and non-intervention if they don’t think we are making a difference?

    It feels good to me to know that when some interventionist posts an article at AmSpec it won’t go unchallenged. It feels good to me to know that when someone bashes Ron Paul that it won’t go unanswered.

    Now I know that people who comment on political websites are not your average guy on the street. They are the obsessed few. But this obsessed few have certainly been exposed to our arguments. They have been more exposed to our arguments than has the marginal conservative who tunes into Fox News every now and then.

  11. Aaron

    I think the approach depends on your audience. There’s no one correct approach. I’m not familiar with the American Spectator, but my guess is that you just have to make some kind of argument; it’s not even important that it’s a good one. Just get your point of view out there.

    Savrola’s right that logical arguments don’t persuade people, but you’re mostly trying to get your views accepted as legitimate. That’s one reason that calling people traitors is just going to hurt you. That kind of talk is good for firing up the troops and for venting emotions, and for nothing else. If you want legitimacy, you have to gain people’s trust first. I’m recommending the approach of the apostle Paul: “I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.”

    A disclaimer: I’m not really interested in persuading people. If I were, I definitely wouldn’t waste my internet time posting to political blogs. I’d use Facebook and Twitter.

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