Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Jonah's roadmap for conservatives has a few gaping holes in it

-- by Dave

Jonah Goldberg was part of a panel discussion broadcast on CSPAN this weekend put together by Commentary magazine titled "The Future of Conservatism."

Goldberg, as is his wont, tried to explain the need to humanize conservatives by whining about how tough it's been to get people not to see them as humorless, out-of-touch whiners:

There's a lot to be said for sort of -- David Brooks came up with a great anthology of conservative writing. And a huge chunk of it was just trying to remind people that conservatives are in fact people. You know, that we're nice people, that we are -- with human ambitions and human desires, and compassion and all of the rest. Because we already had the arguments about economics and all of that, and foreign policy pretty well nailed down when this book came out, it was to convince people that you were not a bad person to be a conservative.

Now, I think in some ways that fight has kind of been won, or at least we've made a lot of progress in that fight. The problem is that in the process, we are now going back to New Deal economics and all of the rest, and all of the other issues, on foreign policy we're sending out lovely videos to Iran and that's about it. And so the job for conservatism is again to go back to these arguments that we thought we had won a long time ago, and that's a worthy fight to have.

These sorts of ruminations tell us a great deal about how conservatives see themselves, which (as is usually the case with conservative self-mythology) has the cognitive-dissonance-producing problem of not being particularly well grounded in reality. Indeed, as in Goldberg's peroration here, it's practically an alternative-reality fantasy, a distinctly backward-looking one that refuses to acknowledge current realities on the ground.

Conservatives indeed had economic arguments won for much of the past thirty years -- Reagan's "small government" ethos was present in Bill Clinton's administration as well, embodied by his willing signature on the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act back in 1998.

What Goldberg and his fellow conservatives are loath to admit is that this approach to economics and fiduciary responsibility has been proven irrevocably to be an unmitigated disaster, and a return to FDR-era regulation is not only warranted but necessary for our economic survival.

This reality on the ground changes the arguments for conservatives in fundamentally profound ways -- which they, in their ongoing state of denial, stubbornly refuse to acknowledge. One of these is that the old, stale argument about whether conservatives are nice people or not is rendered utterly useless.

It is, in fact, quite possible for perfectly nice people to believe things that produce perfectly bad outcomes for the rest of society. That's as true of liberals as it is of conservatives. And what's become clear is that movement conservatism produces all kinds of bad outcomes. Those nice people make for really bad governance.

Indeed, those nice people can even politely applaud while real evil proceeds. Torture, anyone? Katrina? The list of actual evils produced by conservative governance is quite long.

Sure, we can acknowledge that most conservatives are in fact nice people. But they're nice people who have nearly ruined the country. That's an argument conservatives can't really engage, though, without losing -- because they've already lost it.

Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.

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