Short version: because we’re the party of forgiveness, reconciliation, and second chances.
By now, everyone has heard of Roseanne Barr’s offensive tweet about Valerie Jarrett. I’m pretty sure everyone understands Barr wasn’t likening Jarrett to “Planet of the Apes” in a good way.
Barr has apologized, with apparent sincerity. But ABC has canceled her wildly successful TV show – just as apparently, because ABC and Disney were waiting for a pretext to cancel a product their executives find politically distasteful.
The distaste was about Roseanne showing a certain level of support for President Trump (if by no means sycophantic or full-throated support, from what I could tell), as the outsize political phenomenon he undoubtedly is.
Meanwhile, equally offensive comments by other celebrities, about political figures on the right (or, more specifically, figures associated with Trump), have no such consequences.
So: yada yada yada. Another day, another political morality play according to the script of the modern left.
Should Barr have tweeted what she did? Of course not. That should go without saying, but we’ll say it to put the stake down. And I would also say Valerie Jarrett did fine with her public comments on it. She spoke in a gracious tone and without rancor.
There’s been an awful lot of tut-tutting and finger-pointing from some conservatives in the aftermath, however: not directed so much at Barr, as at Trump supporters who showed a surge of enthusiasm for her when she started making more libertarian-Trumpian noises.
“Don’t jump on trains for [Kanye West, Roseanne Barr, name your celebrity here],” is the warning. Which is perfectly good advice, if you think you see someone jumping on a train whose destination he can’t really predict.
But a lot of people – even people on Twitter who set Guinness records for typos – already know better than that. They’re not deceived. They know what they’re witnessing. There are a whole lot of Americans who simply welcome the apparent opening of other people’s minds. And, yes, especially the minds of influential celebrities.
I’ve had my reservations from the beginning about where people like Roseanne and Kanye West are going with their philosophical awakenings. But it’s an absolute good that they are having them. They should get to have them without being snarled at and eaten alive at every step along the way. A little space, for crying out loud. Are we a human society, or a pack of jackals out here?
The whole thing looks so unsightly not because of them, but because our cultivated reflexes today are so heavily politicized and scripted. That’s the case even when the exhorters are well-meaning folks acting according to principle. No, conservatism is not about making offensive remarks about political opponents. No, we don’t want to be associated with that.
But I don’t think we are associated with that. I don’t think showing mercy to Roseanne after she’s apologized (or even before) associates us with that. If someone else is determined to think conservatives are associated with that, the rest of you have a choice. You can let the fear of that act as a veto over all your choices. Or not. Either way, the person who thinks for herself is the one who is free.
Conservatives can’t distinguish themselves from the progressive left by trying not to ever be something the left can criticize. For one thing, the left can criticize anything, and has no problem with being wildly inconsistent in order to exploit opportunities for criticism – and criticism as lethal as possible to other people’s reputations and livelihoods. The right does this too, but only as a pale copy, and — ironically — mostly against itself.
But for another thing, criticism isn’t a way to live. Notice I didn’t say it’s not a way to get votes. I said it’s not a way to live.
A culture of constant criticism, rebuke, and fault-finding is a death wish. If you want people to hate each other and have a bad attitude about life, harping incessantly on what everyone is doing wrong is a really good way to bring that about. That’s living by criticism. That’s what it means. Just trying to stay on the right side of the relentless criticism machine becomes a prison you carry around with you 24/7, hobbling your spirit and sapping all your energy.
Conservatives differ from the progressive left in having an actual vision for a good life, and not just anger about what they think is bad. So we should act like it, and prioritize the things – like mercy, large-mindedness, and tolerance – that actually enable people to live together in peace, and enjoy comity and prosperity.
I don’t feel the need to ritually repudiate Roseanne for the same reason I don’t have any urge to smack Bill Kristol or Bret Stephens around, even if I think they’re headed the wrong way: because mercy triumphs over judgment, and freedom of thought is messy and noisy, and it’s nobody’s place but God’s – and maybe my mother’s – to let me know what someone else is doing that reflects badly on me.
None of that means I want to vote for anyone mentioned here as president. But really, should one even have to say that? How have we regressed into juvenile dementia, if we equate having a positive, merciful attitude toward our fellow men with wanting to follow their lead and crown them king or queen? “All men are created equal” is about something more basic than leading or following, ranking ourselves, or evaluating power dynamics. Before everything else, it’s about standing shoulder to shoulder as our natural, God-given state.
There’s a moral alternative to vigorously repudiating people, whenever they do something we don’t actively endorse. We shouldn’t let the left tell us there isn’t. Conservatives need to be the place where getting back on the horse is the priority – not preserving the scene of the accident in amber and rehearsing faults and grievances until the end of time. The paralysis of condemnation is not our end-state.
Defending Roseanne as the victim of an institutional double standard isn’t defending her ugly tweet. That distinction is something not one of us — not a single one — can have life and hope without. If you sell it down the river, there will never be space again for any of us flawed humans to rethink our bad, socially-enforced ideas – usually a messy, stumbling process – before it’s too late.