Over at Ace of Spades HQ, Ace hits the nail on the head talking about conservative groupthink and how to go about winning hearts and minds:
If you want to move someone to the conservative side, you must first convince them that conservatives are not, as the media claims, crazy or weird. That is 90% of the battle, actually, as Breitbart knew, and as he made it his life’s mission to prove.
The next 10% is to offer up the smallest buy-in possible. Here’s what we believe, basically: freedom, respect for citizens in their capacity and wisdom to manage their own affairs, modesty of government ambition and modesty in the government’s appraisal of its own ability to manage large ventures, and the basic idea that the government exists to keep the order so that men and women may face each other as free citizens in the public square and make voluntary transactions and decisions between each other, with as minimum government intrusion and “oversight” as possible.
I’ll try to add a thought or two to Ace’s excellent summary of the problem. As long as you’re drawing the line of conservatism through a specific issue, particularly a contested one, you’re excluding your allies rather than including them. If you’re judging someone by their stance on a single topic rather than their underlying principles and intentions, you’re doing yourself and them a disservice. That’s one more friend, ally, or teacher you threw away because you couldn’t look past just one point of contention. Have faith that their intentions are as noble as yours, and that underneath the differing opinion is something common to both of you.
Take national defense as an example. As a freedom-loving individual, I can conclude that a strong and carefully-deployed military is crucial for our national security and support the continued and perhaps expanded funding of our armed forces. I can also conclude that the military poses the risk of federal overreach, domestically or abroad, and advocate a reduction in permanent military spending and engagement. Both arguments stem from the same starting point, yet reach vastly different conclusions. The judgment and logic differs in each case, but simply choosing a different opinion in support of the same broader point is not sufficient grounds for fighting.
As Ace says, criticizing someone you think is wrong remains fair game for you, even a welcome critique. The worth of ideas cannot be proven without test, and there’s no surer way to test your ideas than to discuss them with one willing to buy your premise but not your conclusion. The points I make here are certainly not the attempted stifling of speech. I am only offering encouragement not to let petty disputes result in fragmentation or attempted groupthink.
I have witnessed the unnecessary infighting within the right, but I have also seen signs that at least some of the participants are aware of the big picture. Stacy McCain blogs regularly about his relationships with other conservative icons and their ups and downs. Professor Jacobson consistently comes back to the big picture—Congressional races—when the web seems filled to bursting with dark talk of the presidential primary.
These examples, and others I read of in passing, give me faith that the discussion is constructive and that we’re not losing sight of the long-term goals we share. No one should be excluded who gives their heart freely and without reservation to the cause of liberty. And that brings me to the other half of Ace’s post: recruiting new conservatives from the ranks of the moderates, the liberals, and the unaffiliated.
Again, inclusion wins out over exclusion. My limited experience with people of other political stripes has shown that much of the difference between their thinking and mine boils down to a lack of information. I may not be well-versed in news, history, or politics, but I’ve picked up enough knowledge to place myself half a head above the average uninformed citizen. Just a few basic facts are often enough to change someone’s mind on some truly important topics. That change comes when they are encouraged to seek common ground with you, not to attack you as the representative of something they’ve been conditioned to hate.
True political changes don’t happen overnight. They happen one realization at a time, and that crucial first step is to open a mind to your way of thinking. That doesn’t come by stuffing doctrine down their throat. It comes from openness and acceptance. The rest will follow—free markets, morality, you name it—given time and exposure to those who think such thoughts. The person you introduce to conservatism will not reflect your beliefs in every way, just as a brother isn’t your perfect mirror. But they will be a friend, an ally, and a pupil, and they will carry their realization to others.
So the next time you find yourself arguing over a candidate, a policy, or any other divisive issue, take a deep breath and remember that the person you’re fighting with is on the same side as you are. The same goes for the friend, neighbor, or acquaintance who’s missing something from their political arguments. Speak up and work to include people wherever possible. You’re fighting for a cause, not a movement. Never forget that.