When President Biden and the Democrats raise the subject of white nationalism and white supremacy, many conservatives immediately lurch for the “pivot” — a technique of bridging to another topic.
That’s a mistake.
While many on the left have made it a habit of painting anyone and anything they don’t like as racist, it’s a mistake for conservatives to fall into the trap of conceding leadership on issues of racism to the Democrats.
True conservatives can — and should — be bold and clear on this subject, not reach for the escape hatch.
White supremacy, anti-Semitism, and all other forms of racism are fundamentally incompatible with conservatism. Someone who is a racist cannot be a conservative. The former disqualifies one from being the later.
Conservatism holds each person should be judged on their own conduct, behavior, and character. This is what we mean when we talk about “personal responsibility” — people should be responsible for their own actions, and judged on their own character as an individual.
Yet white supremacy, anti-Semitism, and every other form of racism judges people by the racial or religious group to which they belong, or are perceived to belong. It is, literally, the antithesis of personal responsibility. Racism in all its forms represents condemning every member of a group, regardless of their individual conduct, or character.
Racism is not only at odds with personal responsibility, it erodes it. If people are to be judged based on to the group to which they belong, why should people behave responsibly? Why aspire to good character if the die has already been cast? By disconnecting conduct from consequence, replacing it with group punishment or reward, racism destroys the foundation of the core conservative principle of personal responsibility.
Conservatism generally, and American conservatism specifically, is not about a race, a religion, a national origin, or a native language. Conservatism in America is not about “identity politics.” Conservatism is a philosophy — a set of ideas, the application of which leads to an improvement in the human condition.
Precisely because conservatism is not about an identity, it is open to anyone. Anyone, of any race, of any religion, born in any country, speaking any language, can be a conservative. As a set of ideas — and not an identity — conservatism is a natural platform on which to build a majority, while identity politics, practiced by those on the “left” or “right” is not.
Political scientists and reporters tend to use shorthand when writing about politics — including a serious over-reliance on the left-right “political spectrum.” The very precept that the entirety of a human being’s philosophy, outlook, and conduct can be distilled down to a flat, one-dimensional left-right plane is absurd. Where does the citizen ambivalent about politics fall on the left-right spectrum? How about a person who is anti-tax and pro-gun control, where are they on the spectrum?
And yet, when a white nationalist group called “Patriot Front” had 100 of their members, all white males marching around in identical outfits, faces covered, reporters dutifully described the group as “far right.” I have been in the conservative movement for 32 years, and have nothing in common with such people, yet there’s the news media lumping this group of weirdos in with every other conservative on the planet, who are also deemed on the “right.”
Republicans and conservatives have a duty to make clear what we stand for — and against. White supremacy, anti-Semitism, and all forms of racism are intrinsically at odds with conservatism, regardless of what flags and banners such people choose to wave around.
Of course we must be mindful there are plenty of activists on the left who have taken to calling anything they don’t agree with “racist.” And we should not adopt their definition of what is racist, and what isn’t. Yet, when we see racism and anti-Semitism in the public square, we should be first, bold, and clear in condemning it. Silence in such matters only creates a vacuum for others to fill.
“Whataboutism” is another escape hatch we should stop relying upon. “Whataboutism” is a clumsy pivot to turn the conversation to another topic to avoid confronting the issue at hand. Yes, our friends on the left have plenty of problems with racism and anti-Semitism on their team, and there are plenty of “whatabout” opportunities to invoke, but the stronger argument is to make clear how conservatism and racism are fundamentally incompatible, and why.
Personal responsibility and judging individuals on their conduct and character, not their race or some other grouping, is so central to conservatism — why should we cede the leadership role in condemning it to Joe Biden and the Democrats? We shouldn’t. We should take every opportunity to call it out, making clear why racism and conservatism are incompatible.
Failing to do so allows leftists to continue define where conservatives are on matters of race and equality.
Ron Nehring served as Chairman of the California Republican Party from 2007 to 2011, and the Republican nominee for Lt. Governor in 2014. In 2016 he was Presidential campaign spokesman for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).