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The tyranny of (conservative) cliches


In his new book The Tyranny of Clichés: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas, Jonah Goldberg demonstrates how liberals hide their ideology behind over-used catchphrases clinging to the moral high ground.  Take for instance "violence never solved anything" -- an absurd notion that history and common sense easily debunk, yet anti-war activists love to repeat.

But in pointing out how liberals hide behind cliches, are we ignoring our own offenses as conservatives?

The Heritage Foundation's Julia Shaw points out that conservatives use cliches, but have ideology (or philosophy) to stand on.  Nevertheless, Shaw identifies a few select conservative cliches we should try to avoid using in the future:

“America Is a Christian Nation”

Yes, Christian morals and many biblical principles influenced the American Founders. And, yes, Christianity has thrived in America. But America is not a Christian nation in the strict sense of the term: Christianity isn’t the official religion to the exclusion of all others, nor is it the basis for membership in the political community.

The better way to defend Christianity’s place in the public square is by arguing for religious liberty. The Founders all agreed that practitioners of every faith have a right to the free exercise of their religion—in their houses of worship and in the public square. They enshrined that right in the First Amendment. Why use an inaccurate cliché when you have the original meaning of the First Amendment on your side?

“States’ Rights”

Nowhere in the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution are states or any other government—federal, state, or local—said to possess rights. Rather, states have powers. The much beloved, if often ignored, Tenth Amendment says that “the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

Not only is it incorrect to speak of states’ rights, but the expression was the rallying cry of segregationists. Since no right-thinking conservative abides such arguments, let’s just drop the term “states’ rights” once and for all.

If you’re concerned about federal encroachments on state sovereignty or the erosion of federalism—as you should be—then speak of federal encroachments on state sovereignty or the erosion of federalism. Or, of the need to restore limited constitutional government, reinvigorate local self-government, decentralize power, and check the growth of out-of-control government.

With so many great formulations to choose from, why weaken the case for liberty by relying on the phrase “states’ rights”?

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