By David Beilstein
I could not help but give a chuckle reading Bob Capehert’s piece on Rod Dreher’s column (Mister Dreher On Fire!), in reference to Patrick J. Buchanan’s digs, The American Conservative, where Mr Dreher is a contributor.
My guess is similar in tone to Capehert’s: Mr Dreher is too concerned with maintaining tactical criticism on Republicans; he often forgets when to lay off the gas pedal.
To begin, The American Conservative magazine and website debuted in 2002 (roughly), and was a rebuke to Bush administration internationalism aimed at Iraq before the invasion of 2003, from a paleo-conservative perspective.
Therefore, contributors tend to stress localism and Federalism (all good) and a healthy dose of conservative principals often watered down in the mainstream conservative movement’s more populist currents within ‘pop’ political discourse.
Some of the more thoughtful conservative journalism takes place at TAC. Often employing richly diverse writers, it’s erudite journalists have done an apt service connecting American conservatism to its rich intellectual heft; something badly needed in our time of intellectual impecuniosity, especially on the conservative side of the political ideological spectrum.
Certainly, there is often more intellectual depth and interaction with the intellectual history of American conservatism over at TAC than many another populist conservative blogs and ‘bergs on cyberspace.
For example, the best criticism of the Iraq War based upon conservative ideology up and against the inherent Wilsonian internationalist tendencies of Bush administration policy in Iraq, spirited from folks who write at TAC, not the anti-war left.
The anti-Iraq War gyrations at TAC were ideologically driven, not circumstantial, like many on the left were.
In short, those paleo-conservatives and libertarians opposed to the Bush administration’s Iraq policy did so because of classical liberal foundations (conservative ideology) – whereas the statist left simply wanted to destroy a Republican president they did not like.
Still, bare reaction-ism often filters onto the glittering webpages of TAC – and Mr Dreher’s recent column reeks of it.
One of the problems with TAC, however, since it’s moniker contains jeremiads about attacking Republican Party “conservatism” it finds shallow, and hardly conservative – it often gives voice to contributors who simply blast Republican conservatives in a vacuum – or as in the case of Dreher’s latest – seem to miss what it means to be a conservative altogether, or holistically.
Part of being a conservative, and I would argue a libertarian as well, is the enrichment which comes from being a happy warrior.
Dreher’s latest column, err, plaint panegyric, seems to want to retreat at the exact time in the fight one had better give the battle his or her all.
As the first Negro American to become heavyweight champion, Jack Johnson once observed, “Gentleman, I never stopped stepping.”
There is no question the popular conservative movement takes many a position it need not in opposition to a strict constructionist perspective of Constitutional fealty.
Moreover, much of the miasma on the American right can be blamed on the populist conservative movement, mistaking fundamentalism (religious and cultural) for conservative principals, concerning secular governance.
At the same time, Dreher’s notion that the government shutdown is to be laid at the feet of “mad-barking” Republican ideologues cannot be taken seriously as strong conservative criticism, with the facts on the ground as the are.
Almost without exception, GOP policy errors in the last 25-years have been almost the exclusive result of a negation of robust conservative ideology.
Likewise, Dreher’s own criticisms against the Iraq War from an isolationist-non-interventionist perch are fundamentally ideological in spirit.
To be sure, Dreher’s criticisms of Mitt Romney’s smoldering campaign for the presidency in ’12 would be ideologically based.
If I am wrong – I apologise. But I can presume I am not.
Similarly, Bush administration overspending – which Dreher and other conservatives (paleo and otherwise) wisely opposed – was ideologically based.
I would gather with Bob Capehert that Dreher uses ideology the way conservative thinker Russell Kirk did, which, denied American conservatism was indeed, ideological.
In the manner the late Mr Kirk meant, I am in agreement. I would throw out there Jonah Goldberg of NRO fame did an admirable job intimating that the way most people mean “ideology,” Kirk would therefore concede the language being apart of conservative principals.
But what does a conservative or in the case of myself – a libertarian – do with written statements by Dreher, such as,
Guess what: the 2012 elections were their [Republicans] last, best chance to overturn ObamaCare, and the country didn’t go for it.
Dreher appears to have borrowed a premise from the left – at least when it comes to ObamaCare. And so, the crunchy-con Berry-ian opens himself up to salient criticisms on the libertarian right for such nonsense.
Slavery, as Capehert pointed out, was the law. It was also extremely antithetical to Constitutional law, as was forced segregation. Prohibition too, was once the law of the land.
It goes without saying. I hardly think that if Republicans passed legislation as tyrannical, as severely oppressive on individual liberty as the ACA legislation (ObamaCare), Dreher would call his own rightful animus toward such ill-conceived “laws” as barking mad ideology.
Neither have I myself come across a column written by Mr Dreher criticising those who fought to have the Volstead Act (Prohibition) repealed, called a pack of ideologues.
The reason being is based upon either constitutionality, or 18th century liberalism, many former laws were bad laws, and their overturning animated individual liberty and the sovereignty of the citizen in the eyes of the government.
To be sure, the presidential election of ’12 was not based upon ObamaCare. In fact, the nomination of Mitt Romney assured ObamaCare would not be attacked constitutionally during the campaign, as Romney himself passed a similar healthcare albatross in Massacheuttues.
Election ’12 was about personality at the top, and recent governing incompetence on behalf of Republicans, where, the Grand Old Party found itself with no legitimacy when it came to wiser spending proposals, and a principled, but differing foreign policy posture for America.
It was likewise based upon the inability of Republican nominee Mitt Romney to convince large swaths of voters, the unpopular decisions of the Bush administration would not be repeated by a potential Romney administration.
ObamaCare was one of the most singular, partisan pieces of legislations. Its popularity continues to plummet the more Americans hear about it.
Moreover, the more Pres. Obama and the Democrats try and sell the healthcare provision (even with detractors in their own party cabal), the more the increase of large sections of unions, individuals, businesses, try to find exemptions from the law for themselves.
The Supreme Court did not recognise ACA to be Constitutional based upon the grounds the law was argued. It was made law so long as it was a tax, and a tax was exactly what Pres. Obama and his minions swore the legislation was not.
Dreher himself would argue many so-called conservative postures, like anti-same-sex marriage legalisation, to be misguided because of conservative fealty to individual liberty.
But same-sex marriage is against the law in many another state. How come those issues aren’t settled? After all, they are, to use Dreher’s own bull
sh*t, the law.
Again, should the Civil Rights movement packed it in, retired Scotch and cigar in hand, because segregation was the law?
Just because one is more consistently conservative and stresses a more fulsome grasp of political priorities on the right than much of what drivels out of so-called “conservative” ‘bergs, does not mean everything libertarian or conservative Republicans do is therefore suspect.
In which case, Dreher and TAC’s best criticism of the Republican establishment and the mainstream conservative movement is not because of an absence of ideology, but it’s anaemia from political discourse – and its replacement with bare political expediency.
The government shutdown is a result of Pres. Barack Obama’s political and ideological radicalism. The shutdown is, frankly, a reality because of Pres. Obama’s stiff ideological posture, not Republicans.
Republicans stand opposed to funding a law which will impoverish healthcare for hundreds of millions of average citizens; which will raise costs exponentially, on more and more financial strapped Americans, and force individuals into becoming subjects of their government, rather than sovereign, free, individuals.
The Republican response, while late, while often clumsy, is hardly “mad-barking” ideology, but simply common-sense governance. It is a reaction, a just one, based upon our Constitutional social contract, but also are financial well being.
Paleo-conservatives like Dreher have been rightly screaming about government spending for generations. And when a chance presents itself to cap a piece of legislation which increases federal spending into the stratosphere, which also contains immense tyrannical edges, Dreher’s best punch is reserved for Republicans?
Something is wrong. Dreher is either seriously unserious, or simply confused as to the parameters of limited government.
There comes a time in life where one has to throw punches. Lots of them. Mr Dreher strikes this libertarian as thinking paleo-conservatism – since it so often attacks Republican establishment types and mainstream conservatives – is beneath such rhetorical and political pugilism.
But true classical liberal reform (as with the contemporary victories of the statist left) do not arise out of retreat, because, well, err, it’s the law.
To be sure, it has been political expediency, which has most watered down robust classical liberal expression in the GOP and caused the Party of Lincoln to govern unwisely within a short-term perspective, which continues to accelerate long-term social and fiscal dislocation, and electoral collapse.