I’ve participated in a few initiated measure campaigns over the years, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned from them, it’s that you must engage your critics. In fact, as an observer of North Dakota politics for more than ten years now, I think that’s pretty much a written-in-stone rule.
You must engage. You must be “in the arena,” to paraphrase Teddy Roosevelt.
Unfortunately, the group formed to oppose the pro-life amendment on the November ballot – North Dakotans Against Measure 1 – have decided they don’t want to be in the arena.
All next week I’ll be guest hosting the 9-11am timeslot on WDAY AM970 in Fargo. I thought Monday would be a good day to have a debate about Measure 1, so I reached out to both sides.
The pro-Measure 1 people – ND Choose Life – were happy to oblige and put me in touch with Christopher Dodson from the North Dakota Catholic Conference to represent their side. Dodson is booked, and I’ll be interviewing him tomorrow.
For the anti-Measure 1 people, I reached out to Steven Morrison, an assistant legal professor at the University of North Dakota who wrote a letter to the editor recently arguing that Measure 1 is “scary” from a legal perspective. Morrison struck me as an articulate spokesman for the other side and, what’s more, according to the UND website he is on the committee for North Dakotans Against Measure 1.
Unfortunately, Mr. Morrison had another commitment. So I sent a message to the North Dakotans Against Measure 1 Facebook page thinking they could locate someone from their group to engage in the debate.
What I received in response was this:
I have never concealed the fact that I am a conservative, and while I lean toward the libertarian end of the spectrum on most social issues, on abortion I’m pro-life (though not above criticizing the pro-lifers when I feel they deserve it). As it stands, I support Measure 1.
But is that really an excuse for the anti-Measure 1 people to avoid me?
I’ve interviewed a lot of people I disagree with on the radio over the years, including Democrat Agriculture Commission candidate Ryan Taylor a few weeks ago who agreed to an interview despite calling me a “knave” at the bitter end of his unsuccessful gubernatorial run in 2012.
My point is that while I am an outspoken conservative, I have no problem engaging with folks I disagree with. And most of them are honorable enough people, confident enough in their convictions, to want to engage me as well.
Some will say I deserve this, because I’m biased. But would those people feel the same way if pro-life groups or conservatives in general avoided left-wing talk radio hosts? I think not.
We should, at a minimum, expect those operating in the political sphere to be willing to engage those with whom they disagree. And when they won’t, they should be criticized, like when the White House press corps rallied around Fox News when the Obama administration tried to freeze the right-leaning cable news network out of coverage.
So shame on the anti-Measure 1 folks. What WDAY listeners will get tomorrow is a one-sided debate (though I will be reading arguments from Mr. Morrison’s letter to the editor for Dodson to answer because I think Morrison brought up valid arguments which should be answered), because the cowards on the other side of this issue wouldn’t even show up.