Commentary: Reagan Reed
By now most of you have probably seen the viral video clip of a girl attacking the faith of Congressman Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) at a Montgomery County Tea Party meeting over past comments he had made referring to Jesus Christ as a hero archetype. Crenshaw’s response of, “Don’t question my faith,” was met with loud boos and heckling from a large segment of the audience.
However, the rowdy heckling and yelling on display in the viral clip was not the only instance of intemperate behavior on display from the certain audience members that night. You can watch the entire meeting here, courtesy of MCPLive.TV.
My first reaction to watching the meeting was that it reminded me of leftist agitators. It only confirms my observation that the populist right has in many ways adopted the tactics and behavior of the more radical elements of the left. We’ve all been seeing videos for years of far left agitators hijacking town halls and other political meetings and shouting down the speaker. Crazy activists kayaking up to Senator Joe Manchin’s (D-WV) yacht or following Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) into the restroom are only a couple of the most recent examples of this. As a Republican, one of the most concerning trends has been how much the populist right has started to mirror the radical left in tactics and disposition, and that was on full display the other night.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about holding elected officials accountable. However, there is a correct way to respectfully hold politicians accountable and speak truth to power. You absolutely should go after politicians when they vote the wrong way, however, it should be done in a calm and respectful manner. You can still be assertive without being disrespectful. You can even vote them out. But boorish heckling is not the right way. Whether you like him or not, Crenshaw is an elected representative of the people. If you don’t respect the person, at least respect the office. Heckling is also counterproductive to your own cause. The longer I’ve been involved in politics, the more I’ve come to realize that yelling and screaming at politicians is incredibly ineffective, and if anything it only causes them to dig in their heels even further on their position.
Crenshaw probably didn’t do himself any favors at the meeting, and probably could have handled the question better. He could have explained to the girl (who is a volunteer on his opponent’s campaign) what a hero archetype actually is, because the way she asked the question revealed that she obviously was not familiar with the hero archetype, the hero’s journey, the monomyth, etc. If she understood what a hero archetype actually was, she would not have taken offense to Crenshaw calling Jesus one, as calling Jesus a hero archetype in no way diminishes his historicity, and in fact it exalts him. Instead of getting defensive, Crenshaw could have given the girl a brief lesson in literature and comparative mythology, and it could have been a learning experience for her. However, even if Crenshaw handled the question poorly, it in no way excused audience members booing and heckling him.
An unfortunate casualty of the populist era has been civil discourse in politics. Populism is far more characterized by raucous rallies and mindless chanting than by calm discussion of policy and ideas. Politics should be about policy and persuasion, rather than slogans and personal attacks. I’d be the first to admit that I have fallen short of this ideal, but civil discourse and respect for other viewpoints should be the goal towards which we all strive.
Besides the principle here, boorish antics are just bad optics. There are some good people involved with the Montgomery County Tea Party, and the organization stands for good things. Most of the people in the room were respectful, and the MCTP leadership admonished attendees to show respect to their guest. However, for the millions of people who have now seen the infamous clip, their first impression of the group will be characterized, however unfairly, by the loudest voices in the room. To people outside looking in, raucous shouting is not a good look. That’s why it’s important to come down really hard on the bad apples and make it clear that such behavior is not going to be tolerated and those who engage in it will not be welcome back.
Perhaps there were people who came to the meeting for the first time the other night. Maybe they wanted to get more involved in the political process. Maybe they just wanted to hear what their new congressman had to say. However, if the unruly meeting was their first exposure to local politics, there’s a good chance they may never come back. The same idea applies to Republican County Executive Committee meetings as well. Attendance at the CEC is lower than perhaps it has ever been, and that is probably because people have better things to do with their evening than sit through several hours of bickering and shouting for the most part devoid of any real ideas. The rowdy nature of CEC meetings is partly why the Montgomery County Republican Club had to be formed to create a positive space to draw in new people.
If ordinary, decent people are driven out of politics by the boorish and divisive nature of the current discourse, only the most radical and unreasonable voices will remain. It then becomes a vicious cycle, the trajectory of which is not going to be pretty.
I’m writing this article as a call for more civil discourse. I write this very cognizant of the fact that I haven’t always lived up to this standard, and I hope people will hold me accountable when I fall short. However, I believe it is important to strive for it. The meeting with Crenshaw was an embarrassment for Montgomery County. We can do better. We must do better.
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