It came to me as I was reading yet another masterful column by the Great Kevin Williamson of National Review.
In his inimitable, literate, informed, scholarly, erudite style (here), Williamson was heaping scorn on those doctrinaire clods — of both the Left and the Right — who have the narrow-minded unreasonableness to suggest that the other side — both Right and Left — might not be acting and speaking in good faith, and might not have the best interests of the people at heart.
Now, mind you, I don’t often disagree with the Great Kevin Williamson, because that moniker — the Great — is well deserved. Williamson is one of the finest, most intelligent, deepest observers of the local and world scenes.
However… he’s not perfect, and this is where, I think, he messed up a bit.
First, of course, some background: Williamson’s column crystallized a realization that I’ve had for a long time: there are essentially four sorts of observers and commentators on the scene today:
- Right-Wing (Conservative) Partisans (on the scale from mild to fire-breathing)
- Left-Wing Partisans (on the same scale as above)
- Those commentators who position themselves as steely-eyed, fair, but still partisan, reporters of what all is going on around them. (like the Great Kevin Williamson(1), who, when all is said and done, is a Conservative partisan. The also Great Jonah Goldberg also fits in this category.)
- Right or left-wing squishes who are so all-over-the-map that they have no coherent, or decipherable central belief system. (People like Kevin Phillips, David Brooks, and others)
So, since I’m pretty much a right-wing partisan, which do you think is the one I think is the correct one to be?
You might be surprised.
If you know me, then you know the answer’s simple: The first three… at various times. While the fourth is occasionally valid, like when you don’t have enough information to form a strong belief or opinion.
Furthermore, the first three options are valid not only at various stages of your life — contrary to what our own essay on “Political Maturity” might imply — but at various times throughout your life, depending on where your thoughts and knowledge are.
In my humble opinion, the Right-wing partisan perspective is usually the right one. However, the stated(2) tenets of the Left — fairness, tolerance, compassion, generosity(3) — are all wonderful virtues to exhibit in one’s personal life all the time.
Furthermore, it’s important to be the steely-eyed observer at most parts of your life. After all, how can you properly determine which partisan to be — Left or Right — if you’re not a competent observer and student of things around you?
You can be a glorious free-market fundamentalist all you want, but you have to recognize that such a system, with its emphasis on competition, does produce people who don’t succeed, and who do need help from time to time. That such a system produces great dynamism and huge prosperity. Great dynamism also produces dislocation… the so-called “creative destruction” of capitalism. The same force that has liberated billions from poverty, but that has also obsoleted countless industries in the west.
At this point, what are the remedies you should take, and the answer — in a civilized society — is not: let ’em die in the streets. However the answer is also not the leftist policies either, but the answer is — at least generally — fairness, compassion, generosity, tolerance. How do you do all that and at the same time promote that most precious of societal commodities: freedom?
Occasionally the various types of observers overlap. The example I used of the steely-eyed observer heaps scorn on those partisans who question the good will or good faith of their opponents. Yet, there are those who are acting in poor faith, and it’s both steely-eyed and partisan to point it out.
An example? Sure: As you know, in these pages, I often allege that the Left is not acting in good faith. That they’re not telling the truth about their main goals. I use as my evidence the fact that the Left uses numerous tactics to shut-down debate over contentious issues.
This is an act of bad faith, and it’s extremely common on the Left. Moreover, it’s exclusively found on the Left. There are no instances where a right-wing mob, for instance, has ever forced a left-wing speaker off a college campus. Not one. There are numerous such incidents on the Left.
Furthermore, I’ve noticed such things in all other prominent interactions between the Right and Left. Want another example? Watch the “point-counterpoint” debates that often occur on television talk shows. Watch who interrupts whom, who takes most of the microphone time. It’s a remarkable phenomenon that I’ve noticed for decades.
Now, one more incident in which it would have been a good thing to be both a partisan and a steely-eyed observer: 1930’s Germany. No, no, no, I’m not trying to make a moral equivalence between Nazis in Germany and Democrats today, I’m merely pointing out that sometimes to be a steely-eyed observer is to say that the other guy’s a goon and a thug.
The Democrats enable and facilitate — through their inaction and silence and, all too frequently, overt encouragement — the activities of goons and thugs like Antifa and Black Lives Matter (BLM). And, yes, I would make a moral equivalence between Antifa, BLM and Hitler. That conclusion is a partisan one and, a steely-eyed observation.
I mentioned the Great Kevin Williamson and Jonah Goldberg above. These two outstanding commentators often post columns that are, shall we say, more than just a bit fire-breathing.
Goldberg writes an occasional “To H*ll With You People” column that I enjoy immensely. In such columns he properly eviscerates people of the Left who are acting like, well, people of the Left. I love those columns, because Goldberg is at his articulate, erudite, and partisan best. Williamson does the same from time to time. Here’s a great such post from him.
We who know quite a lot about things going on in America today need to be all different kinds of observers of, and commentators on, the passing scene.
(1) I’m not being sarcastic here. Kevin Williamson is one of the finest commentators in the world today.
(2) This word — “stated” — is important. The Left is not sincere in their adherence to these concepts, since their actions always produce the opposite results. This has been so heavily and thoroughly documented by now — for example in large American cities — that there’s no one, not even the Left, who really disputes it. Instead they call anyone who disagrees with them names, and change the subject.
It’s a great tragedy of the American nation that the Left continues to campaign for the same programs and policies that they know full well will result in the opposite of what they claim to support. However, when you have a winning formula, right?
(3) They’re the stated tenets of the Right too… but for people’s personal lives. It’s one of the reasons why people of the Right are so much more generous in their personal lives than leftists. Vastly more commonly, the people of the Right actually live the principles the Left claims to revere. The people of the Left, however, make the mistake of believing that they can implement through public policy what folks ought to live out in their lives. Forcing others to live as they want them to, is one of the ways in which leftists salve their consciences for being personal Scrooges.