Jayne: Not toeing the line not grounds for party banishment

By Greg Jayne, Columbian Opinion Editor

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Greg Jayne, Opinion page editor

In the current political climate, it serves as an epiphany. As a glimmer of hope. As a hammer to break up conformity.

Yes, that is a sad commentary upon the state of our discourse, but sometimes you need to celebrate the small victories. So when David Gellatly, chairman of the Clark County Republican Party, channels his inner Ronald Reagan and says, “The person who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and an ally, not a 20 percent traitor,” you take note — and not solely because he pulled off the rare accomplishment of accurately quoting a historical figure.

Gellatly was speaking about a controversy surrounding conservative commentator Tomi Lahren, a 24-year-old rising star of the right wing who has garnered a massive following through social media and through segments on Glenn Beck’s conservative platform, The Blaze. Like all notable political commentators these days, Lahren has used incendiary partisan speech as the currency to purchase her fame.

She once, for example, said of young black men being shot by police: “The term unarmed black man may be literally accurate, but it doesn’t tell the whole story in most cases. In a number of cases, if the victim ended up being unarmed, it was certainly not for a lack of trying.” Which on the scale of racist dog whistles rates about a C8. Ah, who are we kidding? It’s not even a dog whistle; it’s a trumpet blast.

Lahren has generated many fans and just as many detractors, many of whom try to dismiss her as “white power Barbie” — which is just as sexist as some of her comments are racist.

Room for dissent

Anyway, Lahren has been tabbed as the keynote speaker at this summer’s Lincoln Day Dinner — an annual gathering and fundraiser for the local Republican Party. So it is no surprise that her recent comment about being pro-choice has caused many conservatives to clutch their pearls.

“I’m someone that’s for limited government,” she said on the TV show “The View.” “So I can’t sit here and be a hypocrite and say I’m for limited government but I think the government should decide what women do with their bodies.”

Now, you might disagree with that assessment. A good argument can be made that the issue of abortion is not about what women do with their bodies, but about who is protecting the most vulnerable of human life forms. But that is a discussion for another time. For now, we shall concern ourselves with the notions of ideological rigidity and uniformity of thought and our unquenchable thirst for burning heretics at the stake.

Lahren’s statement violated a basic tenant of conservatism. And it leads to questions about how much room there is for dissention within our political parties.

Goodness knows, the Clark County Republican Party has closed that door in recent years. Party leaders of the past have pulled out their pitchforks and torches when Republican congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler or Marc Boldt, now the Clark County chair, have violated doctrine. And this devouring of their own has marked the party as an inflexible and insufferable.

And, yes, Democrats often act in the same fashion. Rigidity is hardly the purview of a single party, leaving one to wonder if there is a place for somebody who, say, favors gun control and gay marriage yet is fiscally conservative and opposes abortion.

All of which brings us to the crux of the issue. While Gellatly said Lahren would not have been booked had the party known of her views on abortion — interestingly, they were publicized in December, indicating that conservatives should try reading the New York Times once in a while — she still will be invited to speak.

That doesn’t mean that conservatives have to agree with her. It doesn’t mean they have to spend money to hear her speak. But it does mean that maybe, for a change, there is room for somebody who disagrees with us on one or two issues.

And that practically qualifies these days as an epiphany.