It’s easy to debate a conservative

I’ll show you, with a specific example.

I’m going to pick apart this piece by James Antle III, a conservative pundit (see his profile here). Before diving into it, though, I’ll remark that we don’t hear much political debate in the U.S. anymore, just a lot of partisan noise. You’re about to see.

Let’s pretend I’m sitting at a coffee shop table with him, discussing politics. (Some quotes have been shortened to improve clarity.)

ANTLE: “Democrats can’t complain about the retribution Kevin McCarthy is threatening. By breaking tradition and meddling with committee assignments across the aisle, they had to know they were triggering years of partisan tit for tat.”

ME: Okay, let’s talk about that.

ANTLE: “Kevin McCarthy is holding firm to his pledge to strip three liberal Democrats of their committee assignments when the new Congress is seated next year. Democrats opened the door to the majority party dictating minority lawmakers’ committee memberships when they voted to remove a controversial Republican lawmaker from her committees last year.”

ME: Democrats didn’t dictate Republican committee assignments; all they did discipline Marjorie Taylor Greene for saying Democrats should be killed.

ANTLE: “By breaking tradition and meddling with committee assignments across the aisle …

ME: They didn’t meddle with Republican assignments. Sanctioning misconduct isn’t “meddling.” Disciplining misbehaving members is well established, appropriate, and necessary.

ANTLE: ” … they had to know they were triggering years of partisan tit for tat.”

ME: “Partisan tit for tat” is simply revenge. The law of the jungle. Is that how Congress should be run?

ANTLE: “If McCarthy follows through, Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota will be kicked off the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Reps. Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell won’t be allowed to serve on the House Intelligence Committee. All three are big Trump critics and liberal lightning rods, with Schiff playing a major role in the impeachments of former President Donald Trump as chair of the intelligence committee.”

ME: Is being “Trump critics and liberal lightning rods” misconduct? You’re arguing that’s the same as saying Democrats should be killed, and that impeaching Trump for extorting Ukraine and inciting the Capitol riot wasn’t justified.

ANTLE: “The moves are in retaliation for the Democratic-controlled House taking a vote, unprecedented in modern history, revoking Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s committee assignments. The vote was held after the Georgia Republican came under fire for a variety of incendiary comments, and the GOP conference didn’t take such action themselves.”

ME: If the vote was unprecedented, so was the behavior. She said Democrats should be killed. The Democrats took disciplinary action because the GOP conference failed to. This was an egregious failure on their part.

ANTLE: (Quoting McCarthy) “’The Democrats have created a new thing where they’re picking and choosing who can be on committee,’ McCarthy said.”

ME: Okay, so now I’m debating McCarthy, instead of Antle. The Democrats aren’t picking and choosing who can be on committees. They disciplined a Republican member for saying Democrats should be killed. That’s not the same thing. And her replacements were picked by McCarthy, not the Democrats.

ANTLE: “McCarthy reiterated his vow to keep Omar off foreign affairs ‘based on her repeated anti-semitic and anti-American remarks.’ Omar has been taken to task, including by members of her own party, for use of language some saw as perpetuating negative stereotypes of Jews in harsh comments about Israel, for which she apologized.”

ME: As you pointed out, Greene has apologized for some of her incendiary remarks, for example Holocaust denial and the Sandy Hook shooting. Congress has a long tradition of accepting apologies as adequate penance. But I question whether an apology is enough when someone advocates political violence. By the way, 11 Republicans agreed and joined with Democrats in voting to discipline her, so it was bipartisan.

ANTLE: “Historically, House committee assignments are largely determined by the two parties and their steering committees. Simply put, the majority party picks its committee members and the minority party does the same. Under that arrangement, parties have been responsible for policing their own.”

ME: That’s fine if they police their own, but when a party causes that system to break down by shirking its responsibility to discipline its members, the other party is justified in stepping in to maintain good order. Eleven Republicans agreed with this discipline and voted for it. It wasn’t based on partisanship.

ANTLE: “In a period of political polarization, it was always predictable that this precedent would be used to go beyond removing members they viewed as particularly extreme and be extended to lawmakers who drive the other side’s fundraising emails.”

ME: You’re misrepresenting what happened. Greene wasn’t punished for being “extreme” or fundraising activities; she was disciplined for saying Democrats should be killed. There’s no precedent there beyond punishing advocacy of political violence. The polarization makes discipline more necessary, because polarization raises the risk of violence.

ANTLE: “McCarthy is taking a page from the playbook of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. After Democrats started filibustering Republican federal judicial nominees under President George W. Bush, McConnell responded by filibustering President Barack Obama’s, and escalated all the way to a nearly yearlong blockade of Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court. A similar dynamic is at play here.”

ME: This has nothing to do with McConnell or judicial appointments. While there may be tit-for-tat going on in the Senate over judicial nominees, there’s no analogy between filibustering judicial nominees and punishing a member for saying the opposition should be killed.

ANTLE: “What first happened to Greene can now be applied to Omar, Swalwell and Schiff. Once that’s done, a future Democratic majority can deny committee memberships to Rep. Louie Gohmert, a conservative firebrand deeply disliked by liberals, and then the next Republican majority can do the same to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a leading progressive who similarly annoys the right. Members can be targeted because they are too liberal, too conservative or just too unpopular with the majority party’s base.”

ME: You’re arguing that because Democrats punished Greene for saying Democrats should be killed, Congress now operates under baseball rules. That makes no logical sense, and there’s no justification for that. It turns Congress into a body ruled by the law of the jungle. Is that what you want? Is that something the public should want? You’re also assert, without evidence, that a “future Democratic majority” will deny committee memberships to Republican members simply because they don’t like them. History proves otherwise; Gohmert has been in Congress for years, but the Democrats haven’t denied him committee assignments. You’re also implying that if a Republican majority does this to Ocasio-Cortez, that’s allowable based on your assumption that Democrats will retaliate. You talk about members being “targeted” for being “too liberal, too conservative, or too unpopular,” but that hasn’t happened. You’re making a lot of things up.

ANTLE: “Letting parties police their own ranks, and leaving it up to the voters to punish them if they refuse to do so, was the better system.”

ME: It’s not a better system if it doesn’t work. In 1852, Rep. Preston Brooks (D-SC) nearly cudgled to death Sen. Charles Sumner (R-MA) on the Senate floor, yet Brooks’ constituents re-elected him. House and Senate rules exist to maintain good order, and those rules come into play when the voters send disorderly people to Congress. You’re arguing members should be able to do anything their constituents allow them to, which is silly. Note the Constitution empowers Congress to remove members by two-thirds vote, which is incompatible with this argument; it’s clear the Framers didn’t entrust congressional discipline exclusively to voters.

ANTLE: “Another unintended consequence McCarthy and future Democratic leaders will have to grapple with is this: Many lawmakers are discovering social media and cable news are a better path to influence than committee assignments. Greene is more influential now than when she lost her perch on various committees.”

ME: Totally irrelevant. And if you’re saying this because you think the purpose of disciplining Greene was to reduce her influence, you’ve completely missed the mark. She was punished for saying Democrats should be killed. I keep coming back to this because that’s the reason she was disciplined. You haven’t once acknowledged this, and that delegitimizes your entire argument. Members shouldn’t get away with that, period. I’m still waiting to hear that from you.

It’s easy to debate conservatives because they don’t have good arguments. Often, they can’t think and merely regurgitate mindless talking points.

Here, Antle has misrepresented many facts, glossed over the key fact, and fallen back on weak talking points. There’s no intellectual meat here, and his arguments lack logic and common sense. What he wrote is noise, not discussion. Why can’t we have real debates and discussions? And if we’re going to, let’s infuse them with some factual and logical rigor.

But he won’t be fired by Washington Examiner, his current employer, nor was he sacked by Daily Caller, his previous employer, because such rigor is not expected or wanted in those forums, which are in the propaganda business, not the ideas business.

Debating conservatives is like debating a tree stump. If someone who supposedly speaks for conservative intelligentsia can’t do any better than this, then maybe conservatives don’t have arguments and are only capable of making noise.

Related article: “Most people are bad at arguing;” here are some tips. (Read that article here.)

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