Should Trump staffers be safe from harassment in public? One answer to this question has been making the rounds among conservatives since yesterday morning, when Washington Post’s conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin offered it on MSNBC. On one hand, Rubin does offer a rather nuanced argument about the effectiveness of denying service to Sarah Huckabee Sanders as a way to influence policy. She then argues that Sanders asked for it — and deserves it as a “life sentence”:
I don’t think what’s most effective is throwing Sarah Huckabee Sanders out of a restaurant. I wouldn’t serve her either, frankly, but what’s most successful is getting a million people on the street to protest.
Let’s get a million people to go to Maine or a million people to go to Alaska and start putting pressure on those Senators. So it’s perfectly civil to do that — no one is telling them to be violent protesters, but we’re not going to let these people go through life unscathed.
Sarah Huckabee has no right to live a life of no fuss, no muss, after lying to the press — after inciting against the press. These people should be made uncomfortable, and I think that’s a life sentence frankly.
That’s a bit contradictory, isn’t it? Trump complaining about the press in campaign rallies and calling them “fake news” in front of a few thousand people is an “incitement,” according to Rubin, but a million or so people showing up to “put pressure” on elected officials to ensure they don’t “go through life unscathed” isn’t? One can criticize Trump’s frequent and low-substance criticisms of the news media on their own merits and demerits (and with some good reason), but griping about the press isn’t an incitement to violence, not even at a rally. Suggesting that people harass staffers like Sarah Huckabee Sanders in public certainly sounds a lot closer to incitement than Trump’s “fake news” complaints on the stump.
Of course, the civility argument has become the latest chicken-egg debate. Trump himself hardly was — or is — a model of civility, but incivility has been a long time coming. Trump is the result, not the source, thanks to the gradual evolution of political-electoral debate away from arguments over policy to warfare on the basis of character. But accusing people of incitement while demanding public harassment for one’s political opponents is a great example of how we got where we are at the moment.
Speaking of which, conservatives have been howling for Rubin’s head for some time in her response to her evolution from a conservative voice at the Washington Post to … something else. In another clip at Newsbusters from the same show, Rubin also called for protests to force Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski to go “all out” in opposing any Donald Trump pick for the Supreme Court that might have a conservative perspective on abortion. That had commentators on the Right aghast too:
The message to those two women by Democrats by pro-choice women in those two states — by the entire states of Maine and Alaska — has to be simple. You vote for this, Ms. Collins, Ms. Murkowski, you have voted to criminalize abortion — this is on you. And we’re not going to accept these nonsense excuses that, ‘Well, because he said he was in favor of precedent, this won’t count, you can vote for him.’ No! It has to be all-out, on the ground in those states.
Those women have to be put under a glaring light so that they finally have to make a choice that actually does go against their party. Unless they were just phony pro-choice women all along — which is distinctly possible.
That doesn’t sound like a traditionally conservative opinion, does it? Normally conservatives don’t concern themselves over whether women are “phony pro-choice” politicians. Neither do the entries on her blog at the Post indicate much connection to conservative principles, despite the Post’s subhead on Rubin’s column: Jennifer Rubin’s take from a conservative perspective. In one recent column, Rubin accused pro-life groups of “pulling a bait and switch,” and conservatives are accusing the Post of doing the same with Rubin’s blog, which was intended to give a little balance to the paper’s mainly liberal and left-wing opinion lineup.
There is a valid truth-in-advertising argument there, but calls for Rubin to get fired over her shift in perspective miss the point. If her opinions have changed or even her entire political perspective, then those of us in the opinion biz would be better off attacking the arguments (and the labeling) rather than Rubin herself or the Post for carrying them. After all, our opinions and perspectives might change on issues too, and while it would be incumbent on us to explain why, it shouldn’t necessarily result in deplatforming. The Left demands that all too often, and we shouldn’t fall into the same trap described so well by my friends Guy Benson and Mary Katharine Ham in their book End of Discussion. Take on the arguments, and let the chips fall where they may.
However, if the Washington Post really does have an interest in featuring a voice from the Right, they may want to add onto their staff. That would be the civil thing to do, adding to the debate while expanding it. And given how badly the media missed the momentum in politics in both 2014 and 2016, it would likely be the smart thing to do as well.