Louisiana State Senator Elbert Guillory is rapidly gaining public exposure – and popularity – after his recent switch from the Democrat party to the Republican party. Not only was this a historic move for Louisiana (he is now the first black state senator in LA since Reconstruction), but in making his switch he released a very passionate video online that explains the reasoning behind the move.
Please, if you haven’t seen this video, go watch it. Seriously, right now. It’s worth it.
Back now? Excellent.
One of the reasons that Guillory’s video is so good is that he argues his case entirely from philosophical and historical grounds, which is very refreshing at a time when so many political moves are highly calculated and come off as disingenuous. He has switched parties before (as the above news article mentions), but his voting record in the Louisiana legislature and the positions listed on his web site seem to be in line with consistent conservative principles: gun rights, family values, low taxes, and other generally conservative positions.
For the moment, Mr. Guillory seems to be the genuine article. That’s really good to hear.
His party switch has drawn a lot of ire from the left (one particularly harsh critique by the Louisiana Young Democrats is dissected here), and a lot of praiseworthy support from conservatives. Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and tons of others have all publicly stated their support for him and his message.
I’m just worried that this is all too much, too fast.
Conservatives as a movement have been desperately searching for strong voices to represent them. When these voices pop up, especially when they demonstrate how universally conservative principles can be applied across ethnic and racial boundaries, it is easy for conservatives to latch on. This is one of the reasons that Dr. Ben Carson gained popularity so quickly: he was an articulate, successful, and intelligent man who was able to passionately defend and express conservative principles, and who did so in the face of the very political leader who seems to be their antithesis. His popularity wasn’t necessarily because he was conservatives’ “new black friend” as Touré argued; rather, the fact that Carson was black was simply an added bonus on top of the fact that he was so publicly defending conservatism and proclaiming truth to power.
But then conservatives pilloried him.
A pillory was a medieval device similar to the stocks (allow Sir Patrick Stewart to demonstrate) that would lock a person’s head and arms into position for public viewing, usually as a form of punishment in the public square. People who were locked into the pillory were generally humiliated or ridiculed by their neighbors, pelted with objects like foods and rocks, and were sometimes even killed during the time they were locked into place there.
Needless to say, being locked in the pillory was not an experience the average person wanted to go through. But that’s exactly the kind of treatment that conservatives have started to give to their champions in the media. The conservative movement has become so starved for high profile, vocal leadership figures that it has begun to latch on to new faces, forcing them to stay in the spotlight through sheer force of public will and support.
Again, look at Dr. Ben Carson. After his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast, he was invited to speak on dozens of major TV, radio, and public venues for weeks on end. Dr. Carson is a very smart man with a very moving story, but that doesn’t make him infallible. Being kept in the spotlight for that long was bound to make him slip up, and eventually Dr. Carson did when he brought up NAMBLA and bestiality on Sean Hannity’s radio show during a discussion about gay marriage. Dr. Carson was subsequently lambasted in the media and was forced to step down as the commencement speaker at Johns Hopkins University, his alma mater.
I don’t think that this incident completely killed Dr. Carson’s public image. But it sure as heck didn’t help, and conservatives to some extent have themselves to blame. By latching on to Carson too quickly, and by lionizing him too rapidly, they forced him into a position of perpetual public spectacle and scrutiny. In other words, conservatives pilloried him by loving him too much too quickly. In doing so, I think they positioned him to fail.
This is my warning to conservatives nationwide: we all may want to jump on the Elbert Guillory bandwagon right away (I sure as heck want to), but as the national media goes he’s a novice at best. If we do this the wrong way, we’re actually going to hurt him in the same way we hurt Ben Carson by over-exposing him. A few TV appearances or a few radio interviews is one thing, and we should sure as heck need to make his video go viral. (Seriously, go work on that now.) But asking if he is “the next conservative superstar” as The Daily Caller has done is entirely premature.
For now, let’s accept Mr. Guillory for who he appears to be: a strong, passionate conservative with what will possibly be an excellent future ahead of him in national politics. But for heaven’s sake, let’s show some restraint. Don’t inadvertently pillory Elbert Guillory!
David Giffin | Emory University | @D_Giffin