No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. – Matthew 6:24

President Richard Nixon once observed, “Flexibility is the first principle of politics.” But that brings up something I notice about some right-wing antagonists: how lithe they are in debate.

It is behavior progressive talk show hosts know well, particularly when it comes to hot-button social issues. Right-wing callers dial in hoping to score a few on-air points against the liberal. If one tack isn’t working, they quickly pivot and launch into another argument they hope will get more traction – the first was disposable. And then another, almost as if they are getting paid by the talking point. These exercises are not about the truth, or even about being right. This is about winning.

There is something else that enhances their flexibility: the unholy marriage of Christianity, libertarianism and Austrian economics. What the latter two have to do with Jesus is beyond me, but the order of argument depends on the particular bent of the person doing the arguing. It goes something like this:

When it is convenient to argue from Christian morality, they argue morality. If that isn’t scoring points, they change the subject and argue personal freedom. And if that isn’t getting traction, they switch to free-market economics. And if that isn’t working, it is back to morality, or else cry socialism. This is the rock-paper-scissors of right-wing rhetoric.

I got into an online debate with a tea party supporter over the proposed Arizona law allowing employers with moral objections to opt out of offering employee insurance plans that include contraception coverage. I asked, as an employer, how it is any of my business how employees spend the compensation they’ve earned and, in a contractual arrangement, I agreed to pay? Well, first it was about freedom, then it was about morality (and hair-splitting about whether employer or employee buys coverage with the employee’s earnings), then it was about how the government offering employer tax benefits distorts the free market.

For all the moral posturing, why is it that economics dominates right-wing debates about values?

As a businessman, I am also free today not to have any employees or to offer any benefits besides cash if my morality is that big an issue. Just because there is a tax advantage doesn’t mean the government is holding a gun to my head to take it. If I have moral qualms and will lose sleep over it, I am free to drop the health benefit altogether – and if I am a free market supplicant, let the free market have its ever-lovin’ undistorted way with me. But by my choices people will know which I value more, my morals or my money.

That sort of world exists, you know. The Amish eschew electricity and automobiles out of their sense of morality. They freely choose to limit interactions with the rest of society and with the government, and that’s just fine by them. And they freely accept the consequences for their lifestyle and their bottom line. They don’t need to spout off about their values on TV and talk radio because they are too busy living them and letting the “English” live theirs. They refuse to compromise their beliefs to improve their social status, or to gain political power, or to impose their views on others, or to build their portfolios and boost the bottom line. Because their beliefs are their bottom line.

So, you want a society as free as possible from government interference – a real one, not a fictional one? (And with less anarchy than Somalia?) Where families are stable, where everybody looks like you and shares your Christian faith, where peer pressure, not law, keeps people in line, and where the government pretty much stays out of your business? Well, there it is, not in some Randian fantasy, but in Lancaster County, PA and Holmes County, Ohio.

Go for it. Show us all what you really value.

And that’s my sermon.

(Cross-posted from Scrutiny Hooligans.)

About the Author

Tom Sullivan

One Response to On Winning and Values

  1. LarryE says:

    Came here via a blogroll link at I think it was Urban Guerrilla. I thought you might enjoy my old post on “The Rules” of right-winger debate.

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