Join the fight or lose

CHAUTAUQUA–When you hear Ben Domenech speak, you can hardly help wishing the press had more people like him.

He speaks at a higher level than many others in this sense: Listening to him is less like watching television news and more like attending a good seminar at a Washington think tank.

He simultaneously manages to talk with–not down to–his audience.

Domenech, a Fox News contributor and the publisher of The Federalist, spoke at a June 26 Advocates for Balance at Chautauqua event as the organization kicked off its series of summer programs at Chautauqua Institution.

That Domenech speaks at a higher level doesn’t mean he stays above–or encourages others to stay above–the fray.

In fact, he good naturedly notices that some people pretend to get along and call that “civility.”

And this son-in-law of 2008 Republican presidential candidate John McCain challenges his audience to find a way to debate what’s grounded in faith, science, knowledge, and truth.

“Unless you join the fight,” he says, “you’ll lose.”

While the fight pertains to so-called “culture-war” issues, he says, the “culture war” can extend to such issues as law and order, prosecuting criminals, and school curricula.

And as Domenech says, quoting Calvin Coolidge’s last major speech as vice president: Unless we preserve liberty, little left is worthwhile.

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Some of Domenech’s philosophical soulmates have a tendency not to “join the fight” but instead to avoid those who don’t wish them well, whatever that may mean.

In a sense, that’s understandable.

After all, isn’t it often easier and less stressful to avoid them, stay above the fray, and seek higher ground?

Yes, it is. And seeking higher ground can work, or at least appear to work.

Eventually, though, those who seek higher ground, and then seek even higher ground, and however many times seek still higher ground run into a problem: They run out of higher ground.

Once they’ve reached the peak of the highest mountain, where it can be both cold and lonely, there’s no higher ground to reach.

And then they really can be surrounded.

Besides, by putting off the day that one addresses challenges, the challenges themselves can get worse. Much worse.

To put it another way, ask any school teacher this: Is it easier to call a halt to children’s bad behavior the first time it occurs? Or is it easier to wait until such behavior becomes really bad and then try to call a halt to it?

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Since its inception, ABC, now in its fifth season at Chautauqua, has in effect followed much of Domenech’s advice.

ABC was formed in 2018. Its mission is “to achieve a balance of speakers in a mutually civil and respectful environment consistent with the historic mission of Chautauqua” Institution. ABC is its own Section 501(c)(3) organization, legally separate from the institution.

Speaking to a Western New York press organization just before the 2023 Chautauqua Institution season opened, a person from Chautauqua Institution shared a vision for the institution.

“So if you’re a liberal person and you hear a progressive speaker on Monday and you’re delighted by that, if we do this right, you’re going to hear a conservative perspective on the same topic or similar topic the next day that may push your buttons a little bit,” the person said. “And maybe in the middle of the week, we have a centrist viewpoint that pulls those two things together.”

This vision sounds like some of what ABC and its supporters have been saying since 2018. In that sense, this vision is encouraging “if we do this right.”

Indeed, as an ABC supporter told the ABC supporters at a June 25 season-opening reception at the Chautauqua Women’s Club, Chautauqua Institution has made progress since 2018.

This progress can continue “if we do this right.”

Dr. Randy Elf’s Aug. 20, 2020, ABC presentation, on “How Political Speech Law Benefits Politicians and the Rich,” is at https://works.bepress.com/elf/21.



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