Another Way to Say What We Mean

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Today, Arthur Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) spoke to an invited list of about 60 people at a Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity luncheon.  Per his usual, Brooks was informative, even inspiring, and a key lesson can be found in some of the quotations I tweeted out during his speech:

I can’t speak for everybody in the room, but judging by my own reaction as well as the body language and questions of others, including liberals, many of us who get involved with politics and public policy do so for similar reasons, mainly having to do with making the world a better place.  We’re just in the habit of saying the same things differently.  

Often, sure, people make assumptions about what conservatives are secretly trying to say… whatever we actually say.  When a conservative uses a phrase like “the integrity of self reliance,” progressives hear something more like “if you prioritize the integrity of struggling to get by, I get to keep my own privilege.”  An assumption of bad faith makes even a clear articulation of agreeable principles seem like a scheme.

Conversely, Brooks used the phrase, “radical solidarity,” frequently during his short presentation, and it’s a phrase that makes a conservative like me recoil a little bit, even though I’m entirely on-board with the sentiment politically and theologically.  We all grow by helping each other, and building that community is what will ultimately make us happy. 

But from my conservative standpoint, that sort of phrase in the mouths of progressives is the agreeable principle that seems like a scheme.  “Radical solidarity,” in short, often seems to mean something more like, “you should feel solidarity with the poor, and I’m the one who gives things to the poor, so you should give me power over you.”

I wonder: If we could bridge this communication gap, how many of us would come together and learn to see those who are manipulating our division for what they are.  A pox-on-both-your-houses cynic might observe that these are two ways to trick people into handing a few people enormous power from either the Right or the Left.  Most of us (on the Right and the Left) don’t intend that.  We’ve just learned to hear it in anything the other side says.



  • BasicCaruso

    “An assumption of bad faith makes even a clear articulation of agreeable principles seem like a scheme.”

    If I had a nickel for every time Justin accused others of arguing “in bad faith”.

    • Justin Katz

      That it is wrong to assume bad faith doesn’t mean that nothing is, in fact, bad faith, and yours has been proven over many interactions during the years.

    • BasicCaruso

      What you say = “those who disagree with me argue in bad faith”
      What you mean = “it’s easier to dismiss some arguments than to address them”

      Always entertaining when you preach on civility or political etiquette.

      • Mike678

        Perhaps you’d care to share that advice with some of the progressive trolls that visit this site?

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