Conservatives have had good reason to cry foul in recent years about the way liberals and Democrats have treated them. Though liberals still speak as if incivility in politics is a Republican invention as well as something they have a monopoly on, the instances of Democratic demonization of their opponents are numerous. Liberals such as Democratic National Committee chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz blamed conservatives for the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords by an apolitical lunatic on a climate of right-wing intolerance. Liberals have likened the Tea Party to Hezbollah, opponents of new gun-control measures to murderers, and reform-minded governors like Scott Walker to Hitler. They also demeaned 2008 GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin in a sexist manner that would have been considered a hate crime had it been done to a Democrat.
So when Democrats cry foul over attacks on their leaders, most conservatives are inclined to ignore it or to merely say something about hypocrisy and payback. That’s a mistake. Call me old school if you like but I’ve always felt that part of being a conservative was an expectation that those who take part in public life should behave like ladies and gentlemen. So don’t count me among those who are snickering at the outrage being expressed by some liberals about a Breitbart ad campaign that superimposes the face of Nancy Pelosi on a photo of Miley Cyrus in a bikini doing her twerk thing. I think Pelosi represents just about everything that is wrong about the contemporary Democratic Party and its congressional leadership, but the picture is vulgar and crosses a line that serious people shouldn’t approach let alone leap over.
Though this hardly rises to the level of a national crisis, I’m always troubled when conservatives succumb to the temptation of sinking to the level of their opponents because of the way it lowers the tone of our already vulgarized popular culture. But it is also a mistake for anybody on the right to feed into the Democratic playbook about sexism and the faux “war on women” they have used successfully to scare female voters into opposing the GOP.
One can defend the Breitbart ads, which also spoof Jerry Brown and Mark Zuckerberg with similarly foolish photoshopped images and are intended to promote their new West Coast politics site, as being all in good fun. The site’s founder, the sorely missed Andrew Breitbart, sought to boldly challenge the left on its own cultural turf with envelope-pushing work that sometimes raised eyebrows but always had a strong political point. Moreover, as many on the right have pointed out, a similar and perhaps even more vulgar depiction of House Speaker John Boehner and Rep. Michele Bachmann was used in a “Saturday Night Live” sketch last year lampooning the government shutdown starring none other than the same Miley Cyrus. The silence from the left about that travesty was deafening.
The impulse to fight fire with fire with such things is understandable, but if conservatives wish to preserve what is good about our society and to turn back the efforts of the left to further degrade our culture and civilization, it’s hard to see how putting Pelosi’s face on Cyrus’s body advances that goal.
As for the political impact of any efforts by conservatives that feed into the false narrative of a Republican war on women, there’s no doubt that a double standard is at play here. The same people who think nothing of degrading Palin or Bachmann immediately shift into full outrage mode when someone does the same to Pelosi. But that doesn’t give anyone on the right license to behave in a similar fashion. Respect for women and disgust at attempts to demean them with highly sexualized images should be integral to the conservative worldview.
Efforts by conservatives to compete with the left for the hipster vote are bound to fail. Even worse, they feed the same cultural trends that conservatives should be resisting rather than mimicking. As Fox News’ Greg Gutfeld points out in his new polemic Not Cool: The Hipster Elite and Their War on You, the impetus to be “cool” undermines the conservative values that are the foundation of American greatness. He’s right about that. Call me square if you like, but I think conservatives should be equally appalled about trashing Pelosi in this manner as they were about the liberal assault on Palin.