I was recently surprised to learn that the Duggar family, while campaigning in Virginia for the conservative gubernatorial candidate, were engaging in dishonorable campaign tactics. Their mistake is one that conservatives easily fall prey to.
The Word Opponents Almost Never Use
One important aspect of honorable campaigning is being able to take attacks. There are unfair, dirty tactics which should never be used, but there are also completely legitimate attacks and counter-attacks. Politics is war, and the guy who can thrust and parry best wins.
This is difficult, because it takesÂ humility to recognize that your opponent legitimately got in a good shot. It’s so much easier to say that if it was against you (being called of God and the only conservative in the race and all that), it was an unfair shot. One of the most telling marks of honor in an activist is the ability to sayÂ “TouchÃ©!” to an opponent.
But, even among conservatives, not many will do that.
What the Duggars Did Wrong
The Duggars called for Cucinnelli’s opponent, Terry McAuliffe, to drop out of the race due to his involvement in a scandal. Nothing unfair about that.
In response, the McAuliffe campaign called for Cucinnelli campaign to ask the Duggars to leave Virginia. Nothing unfair about that either – in fact, that was the natural and equivalent response to the Duggars’ statement.Â The proper response would have been to recognize that and stay focused on their original message.
Instead, the Duggars indignantlyÂ asserted that he was attacking their First Amendment rights of free speech by calling for them to leave the state. Well, frankly that’s hogwash. McAuliffe didn’t try to use legal force, and he has a right to free speech too.
But, let’s assume for a minute that the Duggars were correct and that he was indeed attacking their First Amendment rights. In that case, they were attacking his Fifth Amendment rights (not to be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law). Terry McAuliffe has a right to run for office just like any other citizen until found guilty of crime and sent to jail.
McAuliffe never said the Duggars didn’t have aÂ right to be in his state campaigning against him. And the Duggars never said he didn’t have a right to run for governor. They simply said he ought not to run, and he replied that theyÂ ought not to be in Virginia campaigning. Both are completely fair game.
The Duggars’ reaction is a bit like that of a little girl watching the boys wrestle. She insists on getting in the game, but starts crying when she takes a tumble and accuses them of being mean to her.
What Honor Looks Like
Rick Green tells the story of his first significant debate as a freshman legislator on the floor of the Texas House of Representatives. His bill had easily passed first reading the day before, because the opposition was late to the chamber.
The next day, the bill came up for second reading and the liberal heavyweight debater was at the back mic to oppose it. The debate started with a question for Rick asking about a bit of related history. Rick parried with a joke about how young he was at the time of the circumstances, but his opponent pressed the attack, saying that “you’re a big boy now!”
Rick’s reply? “Yes, sir, and big boys show up to debate on time.” The opponent’s face broke into a smile and he replied “Touche, Mr. Green, touche.” Then the two of them began a verbal fencing match that kept the chamber spellbound.
Honor Isn’t Tied to Political Positions
No one has a monopoly on honor by virtue of what they believe. Honor is who you are, expressed in how you behave. An honorable opponent is one who will recognize your wins, press your losses, and shake hands with you at the end of the day.
One of the most dishonorable tactics you can use is to call your opponent’s legitimate tactics illegitimate.