Posts Tagged ‘silly debates’

Tough Times for a Vague Concept

November 12, 2008

People simply won’t stop writing about what has happened to conservatism, and what, if anything, should be done about what has happened to it. Almost all of it is extremely tedious, horribly mixing up a number of distinct questions, each of which would be boring enough on its own. Many of the people who are ostensibly worried about conservatism are in fact worried about the word ‘conservatism’. Specifically, they wonder how it came to refer to what religious wackjobs think rather than what they think. Others talk about conservatism as if it is a real object out there that needs to be watered and turned toward the light from time to time, and fear that its nature is somehow being altered.

These are both incredibly stupid things to worry about, and it is only by conflating the two that they can be rendered so murky as for their irrelevance to be made undetectable. How else could Andrew Sullivan write an entire book about conservatism being “hijacked by Republicans”? Have neocons infiltrated the OED? Are they tinkering with Platonic forms?

Republicans aren’t fucking up conservatism, they’re fucking up our country. Whatever set of beliefs or attitudes you want to label ‘conservative’, it’s as easy to believe or hold them now as it has ever been. I’m just as convinced that heroin should become legal, and that public funding for the arts should become illegal, as I was eight years ago. I think most people would agree that those are some crazy conservative beliefs I hold; the fact that a bunch of jerks who don’t hold them are also considered crazy conservatives doesn’t mean anything has been hijacked. It simply more evidence of the fact that in a country where every conceivable political philosophy has to be hammered into a one-dimensional scale that goes from liberal to conservative, the terms ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ are always going to be ambiguous, and that discussions about the nature of liberalism and conservatism are always going to be inane.

The one good article I have seen on this subject comes from PJ O’Rourke. He clearly takes the fact that both he and the people who have been running the country have the term ‘conservative’ applied to them a lot more seriously than I do. What he sees as a missed opportunity, I see as evidence that most Republicans never cared about the conservatism to which PJ subscribes as anything more than a talking point. But, leaving that aside, it’s good stuff, and, as always, he’s very funny. Some excerpts:

To go from slime to the sublime, there are the lofty issues about which we never bothered to form enough principles to go out and break them. What is the coherent modern conservative foreign policy?

We may think of this as a post 9/11 problem, but it’s been with us all along. What was Reagan thinking, landing Marines in Lebanon to prop up the government of a country that didn’t have one? In 1984, I visited the site where the Marines were murdered. It was a beachfront bivouac overlooked on three sides by hills full of hostile Shiite militia. You’d urge your daughter to date Rosie O’Donnell before you’d put troops ashore in such a place.

The left has no idea what’s going on in the financial crisis. And I honor their confusion. Jim Jerk down the road from me, with all the cars up on blocks in his front yard, falls behind in his mortgage payments, and the economy of Iceland implodes. I’m missing a few pieces of this puzzle myself.

Under constant political pressure, which went almost unresisted by conservatives, a lot of lousy mortgages that would never be repaid were handed out to Jim Jerk and his drinking buddies and all the ex-wives and single mothers with whom Jim and his pals have littered the nation.

Wall Street looked at the worthless paper and thought, “How can we make a buck off this?” The answer was to wrap it in a bow. Take a wide enough variety of lousy mortgages–some from the East, some from the West, some from the cities, some from the suburbs, some from shacks, some from McMansions–bundle them together and put pressure on the bond rating agencies to do fancy risk management math, and you get a “collateralized debt obligation” with a triple-A rating. Good as cash. Until it wasn’t.

Or, put another way, Wall Street was pulling the “room full of horse s–” trick. Brokerages were saying, “We’re going to sell you a room full of horse s–. And with that much horse s–, you just know there’s a pony in there somewhere.”