Friday, January 23, 2009

Conservative, adj.

I have been forced to conclude that I don't know what conservatism is, in large part because of the political times I have grown up in. To me, "conservative" has been loosely identical to "Republican," and almost certainly identical with "opinions I don't agree with." Because of the way public Republicans have been comporting themselves over the past ten years or so, that in turn means that I associate racism, aggressive religiousness, global warming denial, anti-choice attitudes, neocon-style foreign policy bluster and aggressiveness, anti-regulation dogma, ridiculous tax policy, and anti-gay attitudes with the word--though all of these attributes might not be present in a given individual, a good sampling was likely to.

But as I've explored the blogosphere, I keep running across these people who are "conservatives" but who have removed themselves from the Republican party because they can't stand it, and I don't know what to make of them. They're very brilliant, very knowledgeable, and very serious. In many respects they are more radically outside the Washington mainstream than any Democrat or progressive when it comes to foreign policy, a quality I value immensely in these men. In that realm, I find myself agreeing with them.

On social issues, they fit the profile somewhat but they do it differently. Which is to say, I haven't encountered racism, and the anti-gay and anti-choice stuff is at least deployed with actual arguments. That is to say, it's not stupid, blind bigotry. It's the kind of disagreement I feel I could stand to maintain with a friend, rather than the kind of disagreement that tells me that this person is a useless human being (for that, see Sadly, No).

But generally speaking, they really don't fit the profile. And if that's what conservatism is, then I've been torturing the word for years along with all the wingnuts and congressional Republicans, and I owe it an apology.

The prompting for this post was Greg Djerejian's foreign policy manifesto for the new administration. That, and Eric Martin's remark in passing it along:

Sometimes I think to myself: what if most conservatives were like Djerejian, Larison, Bacevich and Joyner, and the outliers were Douthat and Salaam. And then I go and read Sadly, No! and am reminded of the strength of the Palin/Neocon factions.

Oh, well.

It would be an entirely different universe, and I can't get my head around it.

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