Matt Lewis and I have a colloquy on that subject at The Week, but before we get to that, Matt made his regular appearance on Morning Joe to discuss his column. Are the hardball tactics pushed as an answer to the tactics of the Left pushing idealistic young Christians out of politics altogether? If so, both Matt and Joe Scarborough point out the danger to Republican ground games:
In his original column, Matt argued that pressure to use the demonizing tactics of the Alinsky rules against those who deploy them on the Left will lead to disillusionment among Christians, who will see the tit-for-tat tactics as anathema to their faith:
This is not a new dilemma. After experiencing a religious conversion, William Wilberforce nearly left the dirty business of politics, but was convinced to use his position in Parliament for good. And indeed, he lived to achieve his life’s work of ending the British slave trade. To pull this off, Wilberforce relied on some hardball political tactics. But one could argue that his end justified any parliamentary trickery and cajoling required.
If you’ve seen the film Lincoln, you’re familiar with the kind of horse-trading this required. Wilberforce is proof that spirituality and political involvement are not mutually exclusive. But for every Wilberforce, there are countless other men and women who have been dragged down by political involvement.
Plus, things have changed. People have always made exceptions to their moral code in times of war, and what is politics but a bloodless #war. But today, the warfare is asymmetrical. It’s done on Twitter and at political rallies. The line of demarcation between “civilians” and political operatives has vanished. And the fighting never stops.
It’s only natural that, once in the fight, conservatives would want to fight fire with fire. Once the other side ups the ante, to engage in unilateral disarmament is to surrender. We see this playing out right now during the government shutdown, where, in an effort to make sure the public feels as much pain as possible, the Obama administration is erecting “barry-cades” to keep people out of open-air memorials to World War I and World War II veterans. Conservatives responded by taking a page from Alinsky, who said, “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon,” and mocking them mercilessly. This is effective, but once your game is mockery, it’s hard to avoid descending into bitterness.
For Christians, political involvement has a way of breaking bad. The real danger is that over time, it has a coarsening effect, and that our political ranks and church pews alike will be filled full of Walter Whites who will do anything to achieve their goals. They are wise as serpents, but no longer innocent as doves. For what shall it profit a man if he should win the election, but lose his soul?
Actually, mockery of actions has a tradition in Christianity that goes all the way back to Scripture. The parables in particular tended to mock the authorities of the time — especially the Pharisees and Sadducees — for their hypocrisy. The problem is when the attacks turn bitterly personal, a line that is difficult to discern in the heat of debate over policies and tactics, especially on social media.
In my column at The Week, I answer Matt that the bigger issue for the GOP for Christian activists is their incompetence at messaging, which leaves the strong impression that their policies have no room for the poor and afflicted. And this is as eminently fixable as it is unfortunate, I argue:
The Republican Party, and the conservative movement for that matter, may at some time lose younger Christians, but it won’t be because either push the use of Alinsky-style tactics. They’re more likely to lose them through marginalizing the goals of Christians and producing candidates who make hash out of their arguments. …
There is an even larger problem that both columns miss, which is that not all Christian activists are necessarily conservative. Christians of all political stripes know that their calling is to assist the poor and the afflicted, not to ignore them or even put them at a disadvantage. Republican policies could be arrayed to those ends by supporting properly regulated free markets shorn of scale-tipping government intervention and rent-seeking regulation by the biggest players in markets, policies which create jobs and raise the standard of living for everyone. Reform of safety-net programs can mean refocusing resources on the truly poor and afflicted while incentivizing the able to find work and contribute, and especially emphasizing the immoral theft of future generations through heavy borrowing to pay for this generation’s benefits.
Here again, the Republican Party and conservatives should have an advantage through their overlap on social issues, but the rhetoric on the so-called 47 percent alienated plenty of them last year. Mitt Romney stumbled into that trap with an explicit reference to those who supposedly pay no federal taxes, and both the GOP and conservatives spent months defending the argument. Coming from a man of extraordinary wealth, the impression left is one of dismissal of those in need, which was indeed unfortunate for a man as personally generous as Mitt Romney.
The GOP had a great opportunity to change that narrative last year. Rep. Paul Ryan offered a reform of the Medicare system with careful, rational arguments based on subsidiarity, voluntary associations, and a balance to ensure that the needy would not be left on their own. Fiscal conservatives didn’t like the longer trajectory of deficit reduction, preferring Rand Paul’s approach of simply cutting off funding for most of these programs across the board, embracing Ryan belatedly when Romney added him to the ticket. Romney then held Ryan back from evangelizing on those policies, which wasted an opportunity to argue for the broader Christian vote.
I wrote about this extensively after the last election, but there hasn’t been much movement in that direction. When the Republican Party crafts its policies to fit the entire Christian mission, young Christians will rush to help put those plans into action — but that won’t happen while the GOP messages on the 47%ers. Hopefully, Paul Ryan will put more effort to regain his leadership role in crafting that approach.