Speak Softly, Conservatives

Speak Softly, Conservatives March 12, 2014

I’ve become a friend and collaborator with the Values and Capitalism project at the American Enterprise Institute.  They have a terrific team there, and no team member is more terrific than Tyler Castle, a promising young man who can do some great things with his career. I’m really pleased to offer this guest post from Tyler Castle:


Speak Softly, Conservatives

By Tyler Castle

For the second time in as many weeks, I attended a conference and left with a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach. I also left with an awesome Ron Swanson T-shirt (featuring this quote) — but that’s beside the point.

The first was the Christian, politically left-leaning Justice Conference in Los Angeles a few weeks ago. This time, however, I sat at the back of a massive ballroom at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). As I walked in, I heard thundering applause as Wayne LaPierre, the CEO of the National Rifle Association, was introduced.

I should perhaps preface this by saying that I come from generations of NRA members and am in full support of Second Amendment rights. But, while I sat and listened to the speech, I imagined myself as a liberal — or even moderate — outsider and was honestly taken aback. At one point, LaPierre yelled, “Will the government protect us??” He was answered with a raucous, “NOOOO!!!” from about 5,000 strong.

LaPierre was followed by Donald Trump, who touched on various topics of foreign policy, including a defense of his belief that the U.S. should have been more forceful about taking control of oil production in Iraq. “We shouldn’t have been there, but if we’re there, take the oil,” Trump said.

The whole event must be a nightmare for anyone who seriously cares about conservative PR. As I listened, I was reminded of Theodore Roosevelt’s famous proverb: “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” Based on my experience at CPAC, it seems conservatives have the stick part down. But speaking softly? Well, not so much.

Of course, lest I sound too judgmental, I must admit that I am often guilty of this same offense.

I tend to get carried away in policy debates. “My logic is undeniable. How could you not see that,” I exasperatingly declare. Though many times — yet less than I will ever admit — although my argument is sound, this way of engaging with others is hardly ever effective. It is more likely to alienate and harden the heart of my opponent than actually persuade them of anything.

This was especially true during a recent conversation that I had about social welfare programs and the minimum wage. I passionately blabbered on and on about how the minimum wage leads to increased unemployment, how welfare programs can disincentivize people from working, and how entitlement spending is out of control.

Then I stopped…and had an epiphany of sorts: I realized I was speaking to a person, with a story. Just following my monologue, she tearfully shared that her husband suffers from premature Alzheimer’s and is no longer able to work. As a result, she is the sole provider for her family, which now depends on disability payments to get by.

Whoa. Hearing her story changed everything. I backpedalled and apologized for being brash. I kicked myself for being so insensitive and foolish. Moral of the story: speak softly.

Since then, I have come across this lesson in several places. In “The Brothers Karamazov,” Alyosha (one of the most beautiful characters in all of literature) says, “Let us be, first and above all, kind, then honest…” Kindness comes first — even before honesty, he convincingly suggests.

Likewise, the Apostle Paul tells the Ephesians to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). In other words, the two must be closely intertwined. Without love, truth can be selfish, harsh, and unproductive — like it was for me in that conversation.

Over and over again, the God of history calls us to be gentle: “wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, then gentle…” (James 3:17); “be gentle, and…show perfect courtesy toward all people” (Titus 3:2); “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience…” (Colossians 3:12).

And yet, consider this thought-experiment: If you asked someone on the street to describe conservatives with a single adjective, what would you expect to hear? My guess is that you’d need to search for days, weeks or even months before you’d find someone who would answer with “gentleness.”

I understand that there are times to “fire up the base” and times to “speak to the world,” but my point remains: No matter how right our position; it’s time to turn down the volume — at least a notch or two.


Tyler Castle is the program development associate for Values & Capitalism at American Enterprise Institute. He is a graduate of Westmont College and a former John Joy Institute fellow.



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