Something that interests me a lot in political debate is the framing of arguments. Within the political zeitgeist, right-created and left-created nomenclature have become standard terms of discussion. “Death tax,” “pro-choice” and “partial birth abortion” are all terms that were heavily pushed by different sides of debate and have now become standard political language. We’re seeing the same happen with “card check” and a fight between “universal healthcare” vs. “socialized medicine.”
Perhaps more importantly, though, are the frames in which we argue. Rod Dreher, one of the heralded reform conservatives, has a great piece today called “Secular Liberalism as Consensus.” In it, he argues that traditional-values conservatives have had an increasingly more difficult time making strong arguments because a secular liberal standard of debate has become the norm in our society.
The liberal speaks from what he presumes is a position of neutrality, even though his views are every bit as dependent on axioms as the conservative’s.
But that does the traditionalist no good. The broad liberal view is the consensus in American establishment, a social and political fact that conceals – especially from liberals – how much power liberalism exercises in determining not only the parameters of discussion but also the outcome.
Conservatives find it hard to articulate a case for traditional marriage in terms acceptable in liberal rights discourse, as well as in the shallow rhetoric of contemporary debate.
This is one of the great sticking points in our odd American conservative-fusion. I, as a libertarian-leaning-conservative-guy, accept and embrace what he calls the “liberal rights discourse” which is, compared to the traditional-style conservative disposition, an idealistic and maybe even utopian stasis vision of society. In this discussion frame, traditional values conservatives sound more and more like crotchety old men who the world has passed by. Not that I don’t think there’s merit to their arguments (from where I sit, humble and in-omniscient, there’s merit to almost every argument). But I and many other conservatives subscribe to what he calls the liberal rights discourse and truly do have a hard time understanding where he’s coming from. And, unsurprisingly, he has a difficult time understanding where the liberal-rights side of the argument comes from.
His greater point, though, is an interesting one. When a side loses out on what terms are applicable to an argument, it’s nearly impossible to win the greater cultural argument. Many conservatives have disparaged Ramesh Ponnuru amongst other traditional-values conservatives because they try to win the cultural argument on liberal-rights terms. A lot of conservative political commentators have been attempting to make a non-faith-based argument on cultural issues like gay marriage and abortion. According to the Drehers of the world, this makes no sense and will by definition be a losing battle. I’m not sure if Dreher wants to change the cultural frames via which we argue over these issues, but he acknowledges that it’s not possible to win in the liberal-secular-rights frame of reference.
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