Over the last few weeks as the crisis in Syria has come to a head, I’ve found myself in nonstop arguments about what, if anything, to do. My own opinion started fairly emotionally. I saw dead kids, knew we had bombs, and was fine with dropping bombs on the heads of the people that killed the kids. However, I knew that was probably not a very well thought out position given the complexities of the middle east and that most of what goes on over there sails right over my head.
What I did know, was that throwing my hands up in the air at that moment was unacceptable to me. From where I stood, we should be trying to figure out if there’s anything we could do before declaring something “none of our business” and walking away. I’d heard too often about the genocides in Darfur and Rwanda and been told so many times through the movies & documentaries about those tragedies that we can “never again” allow that to happen. I believed we would be the height of hypocrites to now ignore a potential genocide as it unfolds before our eyes.
To be clear, I don’t believe we should invade or bomb Syria, yet. I say “yet” because I can’t know what risks the future may reveal, but as of now, I believe that we would end up making things worse for the very children upon whose deaths I found myself outraged. What I eventually had to accept was that this meant more children would die and there wasn’t a thing I could do about it.
Furthermore, I believe we should be viewing the situation in Syria as a crisis for which the world community must attempt to apply pressure to put an end to even as we, for now, hold off on sending in any military response.
The problem with Syria is that both sides of the conflict are our enemies and by stopping one, you by default help the other. This means that the only appropriate military action would be to invade, kill both sides of the conflict, install a government, rewrite their constitution, and occupy their country for several decades with permanent bases in the long run. Whether or not this would save more lives is debatable. What’s not debatable is that the people of the United States are far too war-fatigued to even consider such an option.
So, clearly I don’t have all the answers about what if anything to do, but I do feel confident that an immediate military response is not a good idea. As Brady Cremeens put it at Conservative Intel last week, “There’s a stark difference between a justifiable war and a wise war, and it’s not an easy line to toe.”
But in a world with twitter, I sometimes found myself working out all of these questions in real-time with over 20k followers potentially watching. This resulted in quite a few arguments with others who had already reached their own conclusions about what action we should take. It was through these arguments that my own opinion as it currently stands was eventually formed, but it was also through these arguments that I recognized a fundamental weakness on our side of the aisle: we lack empathy and compassion with our words.
Barack Obama’s presidency has been, mostly, a presidency of words. As he had no actions or experience to point to, he ran on words and talked about how important those words are and how they had meaning. Once elected, and after several years of observing his tenure, his dependence on words over action became the hallmark of his presidency. We mocked his use of teleprompters. We made videos using his own words to show his hypocrisy. And as the world became increasingly aware that we had elected “President Words” our enemies became bolder and enjoyed more freedom to defy international norms. This is, in many ways, how we got here. It was President Obama’s “red line” comments that cornered America into considering action in Syria. For all of our dismissivness, words may very well have brought us to the brink of World War 3.
And yet, as I discovered through discussing or debating Syria, words are something that our party has put so low on the scale of importance that we toss them out with reckless abandon and with little consideration for how they are received.
For instance, a few weeks ago, an 11 year old girl asked a sitting Congressman what would happen to her father who had been in America illegally since before she was born. To many conservatives, the answer to this 11 year old girl is easy: “he’s here illegally, he has to leave, sucks to be you.” The Congressman said “the law is the law” and the crowd cheered his resolve. In front of the 11 year old girl who, despite likely being used by liberals to make a point, probably is just scared.
Even as clearly as this was a setup to get him to say that, our side celebrates our willingness to give the left exactly what they hoped we would. Words that hurt our cause. This Congressman did not make efforts to secure our border any easier, he simply made himself and the crowd look uncaring and lacking in empathy.
Often, the response to that concern is something along the lines of “truth is truth.” True enough, but the brutality of truth is not the only way to convince someone or to make a point. Certainly there are times when brutal truth is the answer, but it is foolish of us to make it our default position. No matter how much you believe that Mitt Romney was correct in his statement about the 47% of American “takers,” he won over no hearts, changed no minds, and impacted no votes with the way he said this. He had a 69% likability deficit and lost the election. Don’t tell me they aren’t connected.
But, in spite of our continual reputation of callousness and the negative impact it has on our ability to articulate our arguments (much less explain how what we want is ultimately for good) we still seem to relish the opportunity to smack those in pain across the face with our righteous truth. So those we wish to impact are left with two choices: the party that doesn’t care, and the party that does. The falseness of this dichotomy is irrelevant as for many uninformed voters, this is all they need to hear.
And Syria is a perfect example of this problem with words. Over and over the talking point most bandied about on our side is that “it’s none of our business.” Increasingly, and in the face of more photos of dead children being released and a school being bombed, we are told that we should measure our desire for the safety of our own children over others. Many even going so far as to claim those children are not innocent.
Certainly I’d protect my own children over a strangers, that’s reality. But there is no reason for me to express indifference or even worse, contempt for another child. I can protect mine and have empathy for theirs. I can be against war and not phrase my opposition in a way that lends credibility to a false narrative about myself or my party.
To believe that opposition to war requires a detachment from or animosity towards the well being of others is not only destructive, it is counter-productive to the effort to find a solution. In this very article, I was able to make the case against war without once seeming indifferent to their suffering. Too many on our side dismiss themselves from the consideration of onlookers who see a party and an ideology more obsessed with borders than humanity. It doesn’t matter if it’s not true, perception is reality. And, whether or not we want to stick our chests out and feign indifference to that fact, perception does matter.
We have had to fight tooth and nail as a party over the decades against what Andrew Breitbart called the “Democrat Media Complex.” A power structure comprised of like minded individuals at news agencies, celebrities and politicians all working separately and together to create a view of conservatism that is so counter to reality that no one will ever vote for our beliefs or give our ideas a chance.
During President Bush’s presidency, Compassionate Conservatism was the answer to this problem. It was a dud. It was a dud for the simple reason that it was a lie. It combined liberal actions with conservative words and only grew government. Empathetic Conservatism must find its way into our consciousness. If we don’t learn how to speak to people in a way that is optimistic and helps people see a brighter future while never abandoning our principles or compromising our beliefs, we are destined to continue losing.