Both liberals and conservatives recognize that society’s problems have root causes. Conservatives tend to believe that these problems arise out of individuals and their poor choices. Liberals, on the other hand, believe that individual actions are a result of their social climate. Thus, even though our goals–the ends we seek–may be the same, the paths we would take to get there–the means to those ends–are drastically different because the perspectives are so different.
Consider the issue of crime. Crimes occur frequently in our violence-saturated culture, and news about them often scrolls down our computer monitors and blares out of our television screens. Every time we see a crime happen, we want a nice, heaping pile of smoked justice delivered to the perpetrator of the crime, and rightfully so. But why, then, do liberals and conservatives remain divided against each other on issues such as gun violence or violence against women? After all, don’t both groups seek the same goal? Don’t both groups want as little violence in society as possible?
You would think these issues would unite us; however, the two parties bicker over two very different sets of means to the commonly desired end. The differences in the means that conservatives believe in are what set them apart from liberals on the issue of law enforcement, and those differences are what cause almost every debate about criminal justice in America to become the same argument played on repeat.
Liberals understand the differences in our means as well, and they do an amazing job of mobilizing their means to better accomplish their ends. Just look at some examples.
After a violent crime or a mass shooting, both sides ask the question: why do people go crazy and shoot up a whole crowd? It’s something horrific, and both sides want it to stop. That’s the common ground both sides seek, but both sides are often too blind to realize that they are both simply looking for a common means to a shared end. We spend too much time bickering over the means: are we as a society to blame, or is the shooter to blame?
Sound familiar? Let’s look at one more example. Last Thursday, Caroline Kitchens of the American Enterprise Institute penned a fantastic piece in TIME Magazine titled “It’s Time to End ‘Rape Culture Hysteria.’” The argument she makes is the exact same one conservatives have tried to make during gun control debates: the individual who commits the crime is at fault. Kitchens makes the argument that, when ‘Rape Culture’ advocates proclaim that rapes happen as a product of the culture at large, they only end up masking the problem of individual rapists, punishing the innocent, and harming those who are already suffering under the tyranny of these heinous crimes.
Kitchens articulated the position conservatives ought to be preaching on justice issues, but don’t. In fact, she’s one of the very few who have articulated any type of substantial conservative viewpoint on this issue. That lack of conservative viewpoints has caught my eye–and it’s a huge problem.
The dilemma conservatives face when it comes to justice issues will harm them in the long run. When society does not see action on a particular issue, and that issue is causing harm to society, then society will predictably put those with solutions in power over those without. This is where conservatives lose: we have solutions, but will these solutions to problems (the means to the end) allow us to mobilize movements?
The reason the left wins these types of debates is because they know how to mobilize. “Ending Rape Culture” and “Ending Gun Violence” are catchy movements to be a part of, and are easy issues for campaigning. Changing the “culture” always sounds much sexier than simply enforcing laws and making sure the individual is held to a uniform legal standard.
When the means we seek to achieve society’s ends are so drastically different, and have such starkly different receptions in society, we have to ask ourselves a question: will the same party that was capable of unprecedented mobilization in 2010 be able to mobilize around society-altering causes in 2014?
Tanner Brumbarger | @Brumbarger