I had to do some business in a nearby town this morning, and spent a couple of hours on the road tuned in to a local talk-radio program.
(It’s called The Morning Answer, and yes, I had to look that up. I don’t want to say I rarely – well, never – listen to it, because it’s got some great people on it: Brian Whitman, Ben Shapiro, and Elisha Krauss. But I just don’t listen to talk radio at that time of day. That said, it’s fun and you should listen if you’re in the LA broadcast area.)
There was a lengthy segment this morning on the dinner reception recently hosted for Ted Cruz by a pair of gay hoteliers in New York. The reception wasn’t a fundraiser; apparently it was just a dinner, accompanied by a “fireside chat” with Cruz on a variety of policy issues. I note, as an aside, that it’s nice to see someone keeping the fine tradition of salon-style political dinners going.
The New York Times was unable to process what it saw as the contradiction between Cruz’s policy views on same-sex marriage and his willingness to appear at this dinner, but without turning his appearance into a moral crusade.
Senator Ted Cruz has positioned himself as a strong opponent of same-sex marriage, urging pastors nationwide to preach in support of marriage as an institution between a man and a woman, which he said was “ordained by God.”
But on Monday night, at a reception for him at the Manhattan apartment of two prominent gay hoteliers, the Texas senator and Republican presidential hopeful struck quite a different tone.
During the gathering, according to two people present, Mr. Cruz said he would not love his daughters any differently if one of them was gay. He did not mention his opposition to same-sex marriage, saying only that marriage is an issue that should be left to the states.
I see no contradiction here. Cruz’s overall viewpoint is consistent and compatible. But it’s illuminating that the left (people whom we incorrectly refer to as “liberals”) sees Cruz’s differing emphases in different situations as contradictory. Brian Whitman, the “liberal” in the Morning Answer group, admitted to feeling viscerally like it was hypocritical of Cruz to oppose same-sex marriage and yet say in a venue with gay hosts that it should be left to the states.
Ben Shapiro and Elisha Krauss (the conservatives) went over all kinds of ground in the wide-ranging discussion. At one point, they got pretty close to what I see as the central insight here. But they didn’t focus on it.
That insight is that Ted Cruz was exercising tolerance, and speaking in both social and policy terms that are based on the premise of tolerance. Tolerance is what happens when you hold to your own beliefs, and they don’t give way under pressure, but you don’t go around busting everyone else’s chops and trying to rearrange the other people on the planet to suit you.
Tolerance is the basis for distinguishing between public policy and the proper methods of government, on one hand, and “what people should believe” about moral issues on the other. Being able to separate what we ought to believe from the powers government force should have over our consciences is a skill that can only flourish in a tolerant mind.
A tolerant man sees that it’s possible to believe one is right, and others are wrong, without wanting to have government enforce the particular opinions at issue. It’s the intolerant mind that insists conflicting opinions on difficult issues can’t coexist, and government must take sides.
Likewise, a tolerant mind can choose how much to prioritize amity and social peace in a given situation, versus moral trenchancy. If the elders of a church are sitting down to consult on a difficult point of doctrine, there is bound to be some moral trenchancy. The same is true of a policy bull session at the Center for American Progress, or a focused debate on a tough political issue.
In a social situation, on the other hand, a tolerant man has the confidence to look for points of commonality, or at least of potential compromise, and to not feel the need to declare himself with adversarial zeal on every aspect of a given topic. Of equal importance, he doesn’t demand ritual affirmations from others on every aspect of a given topic. He can interact with a group of people who disagree with him and not have tantrums or vapors.
This give-and-take goes both ways. The two gay hoteliers in Manhattan of course knew what they were getting into when they invited Ted Cruz to dinner. They invited him anyway, and apparently not in order to tar and feather him. Cruz’s outing with them wasn’t a freakish occurrence; rich people host politicians to dinner, and they manage to spend pleasant evenings together in spite of political differences.
This is not because they’re all hypocrites. It’s because politics has a particular place in human life that is best kept corralled by, precisely, tolerance, and a mindset that doesn’t overestimate what either politics or government is for.
The New York Times is frankly sophomoric and fanatical in its expectations about the cosmic urgency of moral positions in public policy. Moral positions are urgent – and cosmically so – but public policy is a blunt and stupid instrument that reacts with them badly most of the time. The tolerant mind gets that, and is willing to contemplate a lifetime of peaceful disagreement, percolating along beside a government of limited powers, rather than demanding, at gunpoint, orchestrated paroxysms of moral unity and affirmation from every person in sight.
But the modern left seems to have lost a sense of what tolerance looks like. What I recognize as tolerance, the left now calls hypocrisy. There’s only one mode for morality and politics – the two are one, in the left’s view – and that’s boots on and fingers on the trigger.
The left often accuses the political right of this very mindset. Yet it was Brian Whitman, the leftist, who saw a problem with Ted Cruz’s involvement with the hoteliers, and Ben Shapiro, the conservative, who didn’t. It’s also the left – let’s say the radical left – that has promptly attacked the hoteliers for being seen with Cruz. I haven’t seen any such attacks on Cruz from the political right.
“Getting” that politics is politics, and not religious faith, is a mindset of tolerance, and the foundation of limited government. The same is true of “getting” that government is just a mostly silly human institution, and not God.
America’s Founders hoped to foster a polity in which these distinctions were second nature. Unfortunately, the modern left won’t entertain that proposition even as a hypothesis now – and the modern right has largely lost the ability to articulate it. So we have some work to do, as we navigate the rapids to America 2.0.