In Iraq, “the Surge” managed to finally defeat the enemy forces and yet upon our departure Iraq has turned into a hot mess. We won the Cold War and defeated the Soviet Union and yet except for somewhat altered rhetoric, Russia today looks an awfully lot like the USSR of yesteryear. On a trip to Germany a few years ago I learned all too dishearteningly that while we roundly defeated the Nazis and forever altered the map of Europe anti-Jewish sentiment remains quite real in Germany and Austria. Defeating an enemy and changing political control of a nation or region does not necessarily mean the war is over.
I have been reminded of the now almost cliché idea of “winning hearts and minds,” or the old standard, “After winning the war, you have to win the peace,” as I have read through the post-Indiana RFRA commentary. Not that we were on the winning side of that one, but as we strategize how to continue the war, and I freely admit this is cold, culture war, we have to think about more than simply prevailing in the political/legal arena.
Some of the rhetoric has grown quite combative. Indeed, thinking of the continuing cultural battles in military terms has produced some very smart thinking. Both Mark Bauerlein and Kurt Schlichter have pointed out that we need to be far more on the offensive than we are. This is especially true of people of faith that believe they are acting in accordance with the desires of the Almighty. Why play defense with that kind of power on your side?
As I watched the battle in Indiana unfold, I was stunned at how many people that I know do not support same sex marriage folded in the face of “the economic argument.” (With Final Four in Indy only a week away, the debate was unseemly and would drive people away.) To be sure the hospitality industry is a big part of the Indianapolis economy, and there is a particular Hoosier distaste for public conflict (I grew up there and know this from personal experience), but is that argument really strong enough to set aside religious convictions? One must question the depth of the conviction if that is the case.
Schlichter’s thesis about going on the offensive is based on knowing where our strengths are and playing to them. He has a number of good ideas in that regard. But if we consider that this battle is in more than the political and legal arena, we find some battlegrounds we have not previously considered. Last Sunday, David Brooks posted an amazing piece on “The Moral Bucket List:”
When I meet such a person it brightens my whole day. But I confess I often have a sadder thought: It occurs to me that I’ve achieved a decent level of career success, but I have not achieved that. I have not achieved that generosity of spirit, or that depth of character.
A few years ago I realized that I wanted to be a bit more like those people. I realized that if I wanted to do that I was going to have to work harder to save my own soul. I was going to have to have the sort of moral adventures that produce that kind of goodness. I was going to have to be better at balancing my life.
Brooks then goes on to list experiences that help build the kind of character he seeks. As I read it, it occurred to me that in the realm of character, we should have it all over our opposition. After all, God is all about building our character. We believe that the point of all the religious rules and regulations are to help us develop a godly character; they are not there simply to impede our “fun.” Think about it, in everything the Obama administration has done that we disagree with so deeply far more objectionable than the policy itself has been his haughty, dismissive attitude. His lack of character makes the policy loss that much more objectionable. We can make our policies that much more acceptable by developing character and using it in our pursuits.
When it comes to petty little fights that they pick, we need to stick by our guns, but with a gentility that they cannot muster. Civil disobedience is indeed an option, but if we do so, we must do so with the grace of a Martin Luther King, not the boisterous protesting of the angry Indiana mob. If we go to court, we must do so with civility and dignity, and without the vitriol that marks their actions. And we must find a way to publicize our victories without unsportsmanlike celebration. With such an approach we will win the hearts and minds of the people, even if we eventually lose the political/and legal battles. And such positioning makes continued resistance and resurgence much easier.
The WSJ posted a blistering Bret Stephens piece, “Hillary and the Liberal Way of Lying:“
Sometime in the 1990s I began to understand the Clinton way of lying, and why it was so successful. To you and me, the Clinton lies were statements demonstrably at variance with the truth, and therefore wrong and shameful. But to the initiated they were an invitation to an intoxicating secret knowledge.
What was this knowledge? That the lying was for the greater good, usually to fend off some form of Republican malevolence. What was so intoxicating? That the initiated were smart enough to see through it all. Why be scandalized when they could be amused? Why moralize when they could collude?
I understand precisely what Stephens is driving at, but does it not strike you as more than a bit juvenile. I am reminded of an old Wayne’s World sketch from SNL where Bruce Willis defined the “cool” word of the year for the school. The liberal lies are “cool,” but they are still lies. Lies do not last. They work in the moment, but they do not work forever. When we play with character, we play for the long term.
WWII remains the United States greatest military victory. But there were non-military victories that were a part of it that loom even larger. Imagine being one of the first soldiers into a Nazi concentration camp. The temptation to line up every German soldier you could find and gun them down would be extraordinary, and arguably even just. But that did not happen, and the world is a much better place for it. We are not them, and to allow that temptation to win over would be to make us like them.
We claim the moral high ground in the current fronts of the cultural war. But our claim to it does not rest on our legal standing or our political power. Our claim rests on the evidence of that high ground in our personal lives and how we conduct the war – in our character. The legal and political are but battles. Character is the war.