Monday, June 04, 2007


[posted by Callimachus]

Much is made this week of conservatives "abandoning" Bush. Some of what is said about it makes sense. Most of it is nonsense.

I'm not a conservative, so I can't speak for them. Who I can speak for are people who are not doctrinaire and locked into eternal opposition to someone or something or some party or some nation. People, in other words, who try to navigate the real world as it happens around them, guided by principles but not ossified by them, aware of ideologies and also of their limitations. Such a person's course of actions is bound to look like a drunken stagger when you only watch the walker, not the pitching deck of the world as it goes on around him.

In some sense, everything is a necessary evil -- from abortions to zoos -- with equal emphasis on both parts of the clause. Often you accept the bad for the sake of opposing the worse. And your rough measure of "bad" and "worse" is always being re-calibrated, unless you're stupid.

Bush and many of his inner circle were a bad lot I hated to see get power in 2000. But al Qaida, and the Taliban, and Saddam, were worse. The U.S. military rushing into difficult nations to fight uncertain wars was bad. But the failure to support them as they did so was worse. The temporary crippling of ancient civil rights and national ideals in the name of a fight was a short-term evil, not new in our history, and tolerable only in the light of the two above "worses."

Always it is a two-handed act. The easy-answer people never have to do balancing acts. Both hands grip firmly the sweat-soaked handle of the sledge they use to beat on their political or class enemies. They come at you like street gangs from both sides, Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

At various points for different people, the "this is bad" of the Bush Administration rose up and the "that is worse" of the Islamist threat subsided. The "this is bad" of battering the military against a hard job changed places with the "that is worse" of not giving it moral support in its work. The "this is bad" of getting our noses bloodied in Iraq for the sake of giving people a shot at freedom got overtaken by the "that is worse" of suspecting the whole region was playing us for suckers.

Which has the accidental effect of making some thinking people seem to agree with some unthinking extremists.

Who now proudly proclaim, in their unblinking puritanism, that they will never welcome or accept converts. They have an absurd tendency to see and write in terms of high school. I've seen the edgy, literate, articulate conservative blogger Jeff Goldstein derided in an extended metaphor as "the geeky kid who wants to sit at the lunch table with the artsy kids but they reject him, too," and so on and so on. Now Peggy Noonan is, I forget, "the intellectual girl who got to date the football captain but then he dumped her and now she's discovering she's not so special" or something. As though their opponents lived in the same juvenile "my parents and teachers suck" world as the fever swamp anti-war left.

News flash: Nobody wants to sit at your table. Nobody who wants to be part of your political psychodrama isn't there already.

Labels: ,