'Honest Conservatives': Oxymoron?

Rick Perlstein

Brad DeLong, the remarkably erudite and morally penetrating blogger and economics professor, has been writing some very useful things about the question of "honest conservatism"—the understandable, if problematic, quest of liberals to find a conservative worthy of intellectual respect.

Here, he quotes the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek who speaks of "a witty formula of life under a hard Communist regime: Of the three features—personal honesty, sincere support of the regime and intelligence—it was possible to combine only two, never all three. If one was honest and supportive, one was not very bright; if one was bright and supportive, one was not honest; if one was honest and bright, one was not supportive. The problem with Dreyman is that he does combine all three features."

And here he reflects that the old Eastern Bloc jape " applies just as well to the Bush regime. Sincere conservative supporters are not bright. Bright conservative supporters are not honest. Bright and honest conservatives are not supporters...."

He proposes, thereby, a taxonomy. You might find it handy, too. I leave out the names. The names are not important.

Class of 2000: People who in 2000 said, "George W. Bush is not qualified to be president, and we should be really worried about this."
Class of 2001: People who in 2001 said, "I supported Bush in 2000, but George W. Bush is not listening to his honest conservative policy advisers, and we should be really worried about this."
Class of 2002: People who in 2002 said, "I supported Bush in 2000 and 2001, but 9/11 has unhinged the administration; its detention and other policies are counterproductive; it needs to be opposed."
Class of 2003: People who in 2003 said, "I supported Bush over 2000-2002, but enough is enough. That's it. I supported the invasion of Iraq because I was certain there was evidence of an advanced nuclear weapons program--otherwise invading Iraq was just stupid. Well, there was no advanced nuclear weapons program. Invading Iraq was just stupid. Plus there's the Medicare drug benefit. These people need to be evicted from power."
Class of 2004: People who in 2004 said, "I've been a Bush supporter. I'm a Republican and a conservative, but I've had enough: I'm voting for Kerry."
Class of 2005: People who in 2005 said, "I voted for Bush in 2004. But I made a mistake. A big mistake."
Class of 2006: People who in 2006 said, "I know I supported Bush up to last year, but that shows I'm not the brightest light on the clued-in tree."
The class of 2007--people who are now opposed to Bush only because they think Bush will drag the Republicans down in 2008--doesn't count. Dead-enders who are still claiming that Bush is Teddy Roosevelt don't count. They aren't honest conservatives. They are only worth scorn, and fit objects for nothing but mockery. One just doesn't joust with them in honorable intellectual combat. It's not done.
I say divide "honest conservatives" into the classes of 2000 to 2006, rank them by seniority according to the date of their public honesty, and use that as a ranking for who to read, who to respect, and who to promote as worthy intellectual adversaries. Refer to them using this citation form:
Brent Scowcroft, Honest Conservative Class of 2004...

Finally, Brad runs a brilliant rant by John Emerson on the moral cunning of conservatives that eloquently expresses why we call conservatism "the big con." He explains how "honest conservatives of the class of 2007"—the ones who only thought to turn away from Bush when it became obvious he was both destroying the Republicans and the conservative project and empowering the Demorats and the liberal project —will use the public's memory of Bush's disasters to, well, destroy the Democrats and the liberal project. Most importantly, he points out that the media will let them get away with it.

Read it, tuck it in your memory file, and, two years hence, when President ClinEdwardsObamaTon finds him/herself forced to govern with his/her hands tied behind his/her back, remember you read it here (or, if you're smart enough to read Brad, there) first:

I think that when the "honest conservatives" reject Bush they're just setting up their assault on the Democratic president they expect to see elected next year. Their way of digging themselves out from under the Bush disaster (and obscuring their own massive role in that disaster) will be to swear that "Never again can an American President be allowed that kind of free hand!" This will justify their fighting the new Democratic President tooth and nail for every inch of ground.
For example, Bush's politicization of the career staff in Justice and elsewhere was a very bad thing, no? And certainly this kind of thing has to stop, no? So we will forbid the new Democratic President to interfere with career personnel, with the result that all of the political hacks Bush put in civil service positions will be untouchable. (When that happens, can we expect the media to understand what's going on? No, of course not....)
Now that they've stolen the horse, they're going to lock the barn door. It's just like January 2001: once Bush was inaugurated, the media and the Republicans decided that sabotage by impeachment and Gingrichian nastiness are really very bad things after all.

© 2007 TomPaine.com

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