During a panel last week on Real Time with Bill Maher, both Maher and pop-atheism author Sam Harris spoke passionately against liberal hypocrisy regarding Islam’s casual flouting of basic human rights and reprehensible contravention of liberal democratic ideals. Maher and Harris made significant points about the importance of ideological consistency among liberals.
Many conservatives have commended these two liberal commentators for their comments on Islam and liberalism. What is noteworthy, however, is the fact that Maher and Harris were not primarily concerned about the possibility of conservatives agreeing with them. They were much more concerned about standing up for their own liberal beliefs and ideals — even attacking the left from the left. Those on the right who are praising Maher and Harris need to follow their example.
Conservatives tend to be so concerned with being on the opposite side of liberals on every issue, that they do not mind jettisoning their own principles for the sake of being oppositional. We see this with the war on drugs. Liberals oppose the war on drugs, so mindless conservatives feel compelled to support it, despite its lack of results, its similarities to other big government programs, and the idea that it goes against the fundamental conservative principle of freedom by locking people up for substances that they choose to put into their bodies.
People who are unserious about ideas simply choose an ideological opponent, and then stand on the opposite side of every stance taken by those opponents. This is why mainstream conservatism is alarmingly focused on opposition to liberals, and advancing conservative principles is merely an afterthought. With a conservative movement so doggedly focused on attacking liberals, it is no wonder liberals are politically triumphant, while conservatives are comfortable with perennially complaining about liberals and their policies.
Peculiarly, many conservatives believe that it is both unquestionably verboten and a crime against conservatism to critique the right from the right—except when calling Republican politicians ‘RINOs.’ Criticizing the conservative movement from the right is a quick way to be labeled a phony conservative or a liberal plant who just wants to cause havoc and split the conservative movement. It is this kind of groupthink mentality that is causing the downfall of mainstream conservatism. The conservative movement has become a hermetically sealed bubble where there is endless agreement and nobody to speak uncomfortable truths.
A principal reason why there is an obvious dearth of people courageously analyzing the right from the right is that it is not profitable. Earlier this week, Sam Harris posted an additional blog post describing his experience on the panel. Harris pondered whether liberalism can be saved from the willful ignorance and intellectual dishonesty of some of its adherents. Critiquing the right from the right means one will be generously showered with insults, whereas conservatives who rush to repeat the regular, hackneyed talking points against liberals are rewarded with book contracts, speaking opportunities, and radio shows. Even though there are many people with the potential to be the Mahers and Harrises of the right, they are busy seeking attention. Telling the truth about conservative shortcomings is simply not a good business model — even though it is the sour medicine needed to create positive conservative change.
Criticizing one’s own side of the political aisle is an intellectually healthy practice. The notion that criticizing ideological fellow travelers constitutes betrayal is poppycock that can only be held by people who enjoy — and benefit from — groupthink. Critiquing one’s own side of the ideological divide contributes more to political understanding than attacking the opposite side. Critiques of one’s own ideology tend to be more careful and thoughtful, whereas critiques of different ideologies tend to be less charitable and less insightful. A conservative critiquing himself and his fellow travelers will often make points that help people understand the nuances and subtle differences between different forms of conservatism.
When prominent conservatives make disrespectful and bigoted comments in order to titillate and entertain, they are using their status and platform as recognizable conservatives to tarnish the entire ideology and make it look unattractive to those not already in the movement. Such people make bigotry seem as though it is a foundational tenet of conservatism. It is incumbent upon serious conservatives to speak out against people who use irresponsible rhetoric under the banner of conservatism. Rather than just praising Bill Maher and Sam Harris who hold liberals accountable for their hypocrisy and lack of dedication to liberal democratic ideals, conservatives would do better to follow their example and hold the right accountable too.
Chidike Okeem is a writer. Born in Nigeria, raised in London, England, and now living in California, he writes about race, culture, religion, and politics. You can follow him on Twitter @VOICEOFCHID and read more of his writings at www.voiceofchid.com.