The term “politics of personal destruction” was coined back in 1987 during the Senate confirmation hearings of Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork.
Tapped for the high court by President Ronald Reagan, Judge Bork was by any objective standard an imminently qualified jurist, a former Yale law professor who had earned the American Bar Association’s highest rating. But Senate Democrats derailed his nomination by launching an unprecedented smear campaign, composed almost entirely of lies and innuendo.
Since then, personal destruction has become a favorite tactic of Democrats — and some Republicans, too. In fact, we might say it is now standard operating procedure for Washington politicians.
Far more disturbing, though, is the fact that such smear campaigns no longer target exclusively political figures.
Remember Brendan Eich? He was the CEO of Mozilla who was forced out in 2014 for supporting California’s Proposition 8, an amendment to the state constitution defining marriage as “only … between a man and a woman.” Essentially, the left destroyed this man’s career in order to send a message. Conservatives at the time decried the tactic, and rightly so.
Fast forward to 2017, when we find self-styled conservatives engaging in exactly the same behavior — except now, the targets are leftist college professors.
Admittedly, some of those profs placed themselves in the line of fire: calling for “white genocide,” implying that Otto Warmbier got what he deserved, suggesting that U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise should have been left to die.
Such rhetorical excesses led outraged conservatives to call for their heads. And to some extent they succeeded, as several of the offending academics were indeed fired or suspended.
No doubt conservatives felt justified, after all the times the left has destroyed its opponents. Turnabout is fair play, right?
What some seem to forget is that conservatism is fundamentally different from “progressivism.” The latter relies on activism to push its agenda, often against the will of the people, while the former takes a more laissez-faire, free-market approach. Let the markets decide, conservatives insist, which is really another way of saying let the people decide.
Why should that be any different in the marketplace of ideas?
If what those leftist professors said was truly repugnant, and I believe it was, then people will naturally be repulsed. Once those offensive views become public knowledge — as is bound to happen in this social-media-driven world — their course enrollments will suffer, and eventually the institutions that harbor them will feel the pain.
For a perfect illustration of this free-market principle at work, look no further than the University of Missouri. Since its controversial embrace of the radical Black Lives Matter agenda in 2015, Mizzou has seen freshman enrollment plummet by a whopping 35 percent.
Clearly, conservatives needn’t resort to the politics of personal destruction to defeat progressives. The markets will do it for us, as the left’s unsustainable ideology continues to be rejected by a majority of consumers.
Rob Jenkins is a local college professor and freelance writer. He is the author of four books, including “Family Man: The Art of Surviving Domestic Tranquility,” available at Books for Less in Buford and on Amazon. Email Rob at firstname.lastname@example.org.