Significance for the Long Run: Developments Last Week

Every now and then, George Will tries to be funny. And when he does he usually convinces readers that comedy doesn't inhabit his soul. On Sunday, his column lightheartedly tried to explain why conservatives are happier than liberals -- the conclusion of a Pew Research poll. His main premise was that conservatives expect everything to be bad, so when, occasionally, it isn't they're happily surprised. That might not be an altogether foolish conclusion if we were sure who Will thinks conservatives are -- he excluded angry talk show hosts, who are placed in the front ranks by other commentators. And perhaps Will is onto something by assuming that now  conservatives can be whomever one defines them to be. Will perceives them as people who don't think about anything very much and, therefore, aren't troubled by thoughts. They vote for the party that doesn't ask them to think -- in fact, that discourages them from thinking -- but they do it without much thinking about it, hence Republican majorities. One might be excused for the silly thought that there are now so many definitions of "conservative" circulating among the punditry that the word has lost most of its meaning. Some journalists even apply the term to George Bush, which come to think of it, really is funny.

Justice Antonin Scalia spoke at a conference hosted by the American Enterprise Institute and said that he is is neither a strict constructionist nor a loose constructionist but that legal text should be interpreted "reasonably." Who could be against that? "Reasonable," according to the American Heritage Dictionary, means "governed by or being in accordance with reason or sound thinking." And "reason" itself means "the capacity for logical, rational and analytic thought, intelligence." So, there you have it. Justice Scalia believes in an intelligent reading of the U.S. Constitution. What he, along with most other political figures, seems unwilling to admit is that when human activity is concerned intelligence alone doesn't tell us what to do. We have to know what we want before we can decide how we're going to act. Then, of course, we can ask ourselves if what we want is intelligent or if we're going about getting it reasonably. If we could all admit to ourselves that politics is not some pure pursuit governed by logic but is mostly about human desire, we could speak more intelligently to one another. Posturing about purity  is the main rot at the core of American political debate. If we would cut it out, then we might actually give intelligence and reason the secondary place they deserve.

Rod Dreher is an editorial write for the Dallas Morning News. He rather loudly advertises himself as a conservative and is generally supportive of Republican policies. Yet, he has just published a book titled Crunchy Cons which seems to put him rather seriously at odds with himself. Here, for example, is a manifesto for crunchy cons he includes in his treatise:

  • We are conservatives who stand outside the conservative mainstream; therefore, we can see things that matter more clearly.

  • Modern conservatism has become too focused on money, power, and the accumulation of stuff, and insufficiently concerned with the content of our individual and social character.

  • Big business deserves as much skepticism as big government.

  • Culture is more important than politics and economics.

  • A conservatism that does not practice restraint, humility, and good stewardship-especially of the natural world-is not fundamentally conservative.

  • Small, Local, Old, and Particular are almost always better than Big, Global, New, and Abstract.

  • Beauty is more important than efficiency.

  • The relentlessness of media-driven pop culture deadens our senses to authentic truth, beauty, and wisdom.

  • We share Russell Kirk's conviction that "the institution most essential to conserve is the family."

We need for Rod, or any of his supporters, to tell us how anyone who believes in these things can support Republican candidates any time, anywhere. His manifesto sounds more like an anti-Republican battle cry than anything else. Goodness knows, the Democrats are far from perfect and may well run up against some of these principles. But, the Democratic Party could at least coexist with them. By contrast, Republican policies would banish them from the human psyche.

David Ignatius of the Washington Post was right to say that the great hubbub over foreign ownership of warehouses at American ports is missing the point of what's really happening. The issue is not whether port security will be weakened. Members of Congress should be far more concerned with whether the financial policies of the Bush administration are selling all of America to the world. We can scarcely expect foreigners simply to hold the dollars they are acquiring because of U. S. deficits. They are going to invest them somewhere, and where better than in buying up America? It's impossible to say what the consequences of increased -- and eventually dominant -- foreign ownership will be. But it's pretty clear that the principal interest of foreign governments and foreign corporations will not be the well-being of the American people. And their sympathy for us will not be strengthened by the current popular delusion that the U.S. owns the world. Who benefits from all this selling? That's clear. The people the Bush administration has sought to serve since January 2001. And they certainly don't constitute a majority of the American people.

The recent outbreaks in Iraq ought to remind us that war is a matter of spending lives. It's hard to know, though, how many Americans see it that way when the deaths are merely brief lines on newsprint or flashes on a TV screen. There can be little doubt that the lives spent in Iraq over the past several years have mostly occurred because of the invasion the United States launched against that country in March of 2003. If you believe that something is precious and you spend it, then it's natural to ask what you got in return. It begins to be increasingly apparent that we have got nothing for the tens of thousands of lives we have spent. Nothing. So, what does that mean? Does it mean that we the people are responsible for anything? Is it our fault that we allowed ourselves to be taken in by false arguments and trumped up evidence? I suspect that most of us would say it's not. And in saying so, we wouldn't stop to think what a complete denial of democracy that is.

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