Conservative infighting and the Eleventh Commandment

Al Cardenas of the American Conservative Union says it’s time to knock off the infighting:

“It has become fashionable among some conservatives to devote a preponderance of their time to finding things about other conservatives they don’t like. I do not believe this serves the conservative movement well. I am proud to be a traditional Ronald Reagan conservative. The movement taught me to be thoughtful, firm, principled and positive. Conservatives prospered politically when we worked at getting along in spite of differences of opinion or personalities. These will always exist, but it is essential that we abide by basic rules of engagement, not play out our disagreements in public and do our homework before criticizing our colleagues, as I believe we did in the past.”

He doesn’t name any names during his article, but an example I was asked about during an interview last week was S.E. Cupp going after Rush Limbaugh.  In a lengthy New York Times article about saving the Republican Party from obsolescence, she said, “We can’t be afraid to call out Rush Limbaugh.  If we can get three Republicans on three different networks saying, ‘What Rush Limbaugh said is crazy and stupid and dangerous,’ maybe that’ll give other Republicans cover.”  

Cupp eventually specified, in a follow-up New York Daily News column, that she had the Sandra Fluke affair in mind when was thinking of crazy, stupid, and dangerous Limbaugh quotes.  She proceeded to get the quote in question wrong; Limbaugh never actually called Sandra Fluke a “slut.”  His jest, which he later allowed was in poor taste, was to say that she was herself implying she was a slut by demanding other people fund a staggering amount of birth control.  Fluke, in turn, later admitted she has no idea what the birth control supplies in question actually cost – she was basically pulling a big number out of thin air to make a political point.

Cupp’s basic point that she should be free to criticize someone like Limbaugh without being reflexively savaged by his fans is fair enough, although the tenor of her New York Daily News piece was a bit too reminiscent of Meghan McCain’s “Look at me!  Look at me!” outbursts for my taste.  There’s always going to be a huge liberal media market for people on the Right, especially fresh young faces, who turn against other conservatives.  (The New York Times really isn’t interested in saving the Republican Party from obsolescence, and neither are S.E.’s bosses at MSNBC.)  

That’s one of the things Ronald Reagan had in mind when he popularized his 11th Commandment, “Thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow conservative.”  (The saying was actually coined by someone else.)  I think Cardenas has the proper interpretation of this.  It’s not an absolute injunction against ever criticizing anyone else on the Right.  There is a difference between informed, careful criticism and “speaking ill” of someone – for example, by calling them “crazy, stupid, and dangerous.”  Particularly when the ill speaking serves to shore up a major liberal narrative, in this case the destruction of one of conservatism’s greatest champions, and the elevation of the absurd Fluke to something like secular sainthood.  Here’s a little experiment for S.E. Cupp: try calling Sandra Fluke crazy, stupid, or dangerous, and see what happens to you.

Incidentally, the “dangerous” part of Cupp’s formulation, according to her follow-up piece, was because Limbaugh’s mockery of Fluke “trafficked in the same kind of misogyny that liberals use when they blast conservative women for being sluts, prudes, or sexually repressed.”  She might pause to notice that liberals routinely get away with that, and they’re using far more derogatory, dehumanizing rhetoric than anything Limbaugh said.  I think we conservatives should avoid shoring up a media landscape in which we’re expected to exercise the utmost circumspection, on pain of career death, while the other side gets to call us any names it pleases, float sick conspiracy theories about the true parentage of our Down’s Syndrome children, or casually suggest that our candidates are tax cheats and murderers during presidential campaigns.  Boasting that we’re better and nicer than them doesn’t seem to be getting us far.