Everywhere we turn today we are confronted with some protest. If it is not the left with their signs and bullhorns, it is the right with their public resolutions and boycotts. Protest is one tool that transcends all party lines. However, I wonder each time I see or hear of a protest if such measures are being used appropriately, particularly by conservatives. I do not disapprove of the various protest methods at all. I question the protests not on objectionable grounds, but rather, on the premise that they lack wisdom in many instances.
Conservatives tend to come across to outsiders as actively opposing anything and everything and have even earned the title "the party of no" by the left. Of course, the left's accusations target the core principles of conservatives and not their actual methods. Nonetheless, why do people and more specifically social conservatives protest everything?
A clear example is The American Family Association. I generally support their mission, but they are consistently finding some reason to boycott a business. They will blacklist anything from a furniture store to fast food. The same holds true with similar groups and even governments. When I opened my email this morning, right there in bold letters read “Egypt recalls ambassador to protest Pope comments”. I am not questioning or invalidating their reasoning, only their chosen tactics and strategies.
Lately, many bloggers have been having heated discussions about the welcoming of GOPROUD to CPAC 2011. Some groups have chosen to boycott in order to express their displeasure with the direction CPAC seems to be heading. I understand their position, their perceived obligations, and the philosophy behind their boycotts, but I ask: is a boycott the best form of protest for this event?
Another recently announced challenge comes from the group American Principles Project which is targeting Indiana Gov. Match Daniels' CPAC invitation. Back in June 2010, Gov. Daniels spoke with The Weekly Standard “and said that the next president 'would have to call a truce on the so-called social issues. We’re going to just have to agree to get along for a little while,' until economic issues are resolved.” If his original statement seemed too vague to have any real meaning, Gov. Daniels later appended his statement which muddied the waters even more regarding what exactly he meant. I think his use of ambiguous language opened the door for interpreters to run with it. They ran right to the protest bag of tricks.
Think about what the purpose of a protest (any form) is. It is a tactic used to make beliefs, opinions, and desires known with the purpose of influencing another person. In the political arena, it is used to influence public policy, public opinion, and in the case of CPAC and similar outfits, organizational direction.
Protest's comes in many forms. I guess what troubles or annoys me the most is the 0-10 approach used by the larger watchdog groups. At least publicly, very little in between exchange is taking place. It seems the doctrine of the day is "if you don't agree, then we're going full throttle on the offense". There are many middle ground methods for showing dissatisfaction without compromising moral integrity. Additionally, not every point of contention warrants the same level of counteraction. By analogy, it is like striking a man with your fist for only giving you a thug's stare. The offense does not justify the response. I think the same holds true with protests.
Let's consider two examples. Is a group of fiscally conservative gays attending a semi-closed door conference as egregious as a public gay pride event? Are the ambiguous words of a governor of equal value and importance as the activities of planned parenthood? The answer is no to both.
I fear that with each protest, if not judicially minded, social conservatives will lose credibility in the court of public opinion. I would like to see them move toward a more principled protest approach. One that is more discerning and selective in the choice of tactics and strategies. Unnecessary tension attached to subordinate issues can get dicey quickly, resulting in declining support in the long run. What we need is a principled policy of protest that recognizes the hierarchical order of concerns. First, it must acknowledge that all social issues are not on equal footing. Second, neither are the protest responses.
*A definition for primary and secondary issues was deliberately omitted.