Last night, Joe Biden read a speech off a teleprompter. While no one has ever really denied his ability to read verbatim for a few minutes, this was treated as one of the greatest acts in political history. Many on the right proclaimed it a “home run” and said that he “far exceeded expectations.” This is, of course, misleading, as the claims about Biden’s mental prowess center on his abilities when he’s not being guided along by a speechwriter.
Past that, there were other claims from those ostensibly on the right that simply don’t begin to pass muster. In fact, it reveals a lot about how shallow conservative politics has been for so long.
I should go to bed, but it's really fascinating watching conservatives on this platform struggle to evade the fact that their movement has lost the high ground of values and character.
— Robert Tracinski (@Tracinski) August 21, 2020
What defines values and character? That’s probably a good definition to settle on. For this writer from The Bulwark, it appears to simply be flowery language and managing to stay married for more than a few decades. Sure, not having Trump’s sexual past is certainly preferable, but if morality on a political level is boiled down to just that, that’s an extremely narrow view of morality. As for the rest of us on the right, we actually care about positions, policies, and outcomes, along with the moral implications of all those things.
Of course, I’m not just cherry-picking here. David French also gave the thumbs up to the idea that Biden now holds the high ground via his great character and adherence to moral values.
It's inescapable at this point. And you forgot competence.
— David French (@DavidAFrench) August 21, 2020
Whenever you observe French on social media, what you’ll see is a man who claims to sit firmly outside the pressures of tribalism, simply calling balls and strikes. What you’ll actually get is constant lectures pointed towards conservatives (especially Christians) with little critique of the Democrat party or Joe Biden’s preferred plan for the country. But the point here is not to bag on French. He can write and say what he wants. The point is to use this as an example of how incredibly shallow conservative politics has been for so long.
Let’s take abortion, for example. To many of us on the right, killing a child in the womb is every bit as evil as slavery was. How does Biden’s support for abortion until birth line up with the proclamations about his character and values? It simply doesn’t. One’s possible qualms with Trump are irrelevant in this equation. For me to speak of Biden’s supposed decency would be like me saying how great of a man Jefferson Davis was if I were alive in 1860. Sorry, but I just can’t do that. A conservative movement that actually had any guts wouldn’t let Biden slide on such a literal life and death issue. Yet, for the most part, it’s being treated as a marginal sin by Biden, completely made up for by what a great guy he is and how much he “cares.”
There are obviously more examples, though. Is it moral to promote disastrous policies in the Middle East that have claimed hundreds of thousands of lives unnecessarily? Was it moral to make a deal with Iran which gave the regime a second life to continue their oppression? Was it moral to ignore China’s tyranny for decades for the sake of a buck, allowing them to become the second most powerful nation on earth? Are Biden’s economic policies moral? Is it moral to try to make nuns pay for things that go against their religious beliefs?
If you pinned some of those from the right who are currently praising Biden’s morality, character, and values, they’d probably admit that none of the above is, in fact, moral. But in our discourse, these things are just ignored in favor of an obtuse focus on soaring rhetoric and whether Trump had an affair 12 years ago.
The politician’s “family, faith and character” are considerably less important than the effects of policies they advocate on those things.
It’s silly that someone who works in politics hasn’t grasped that, but here we are. https://t.co/IqJQIz7UD1
— David Reaboi (@davereaboi) August 21, 2020
As I’ve said before, rhetoric can have moral implications. I’m not denying that some things Trump has said are wrong and that he shouldn’t have said them. But if one’s entire judgment of morality regarding a political figure is just focused on surface-level words and recriminations of what they did in their personal life decades ago (Biden has those skeletons in his closet as well), that’s in and of itself immoral. To do that is to ignore the vast immorality of what a political figure will actually do once he holds the office. A conservative should be much more concerned about babies being ripped apart in the womb or innocent people dying in another disastrous miscalculation like Syria than Trump’s latest mean tweet.
I’ll end by saying that I don’t mean that last statement in the sense that I’m demanding you make a binary choice. If you decide neither candidate meets your standards, this is America and your vote is your vote. I won’t disparage that. But do not gaslight people by ignoring the great moral evils Joe Biden has partaken in, and worse — promises to keep partaking in. Morality is not defined by a teleprompter. It’s defined by action. A conservative who believes Biden possesses superior character and values should rethink how they are defining those things.
(Please follow me on Twitter! @bonchieredstate)