Nothing Quite Like Boarding A Sinking Ship

October 25, 2008

So Freddie deBoer is off on another one of his gauntlet-throwing sprees. And he’s got a point. The conservative “movement”—whatever that means; I think it has something to do with those who are voting for the GOP come hell or high water—is nasty. Divisive. And, yeah, disgusting in its virulence.

But there’s no way I can get around the fact that I’m a conservative. I came late to the party, too (though I do have what might be an unconscious fetish for losing sides: I’m a Cubs fan by no geographical obligation, and Kentucky hasn’t been to the Final Four since I came of an age to really live and die by them). So yeah, after more or less a year of slowly realizing my views were shifting, I accepted where I was. And then I looked out and saw the shit flying through the air.

As I’ve already put it, I got to the gates of Conservative-Land, took a good look at the doorman, and told him to hold on just a little bit; I’m going to go sit on that bench over there with a drink until after the election.

I have the joyous task of not merely defending being a conservative at this time, but explaining that I have become a conservative. (At the moment, I’m in a coffeeshop—my favorite, where they start my drink when I walk in the door—but keep glancing over my shoulder to make sure no one’s reading what I’m typing and giving me nasty looks.) It’s not really easy—especially when the school paper was unaware until Thursday that there were, in fact, conservatives on this campus.

I’m easing my friends (those who haven’t been reading me ramble on, at least) into this knowledge. My Bob Barr vote was about as good a middle-step as I could get, but the response, at least a half-dozen times last night, was: “You did WHAT?” (And my Wendell Berry write-in vote for Senate would have gotten a similar response, if anyone else I was around had heard of him.)

But I’m pretty sure that John Schwenkler and Scott Payne are on target. The wild-eyed partisans may freak me out, and I may not want their company most of the time, but there’s not much I can do about their existence. The task is to make conservatism something better than what it now is. (And I’ll admit: as a political movement in this country, it’s more or less out of ideas. I’d have trouble naming a “leader” who could answer the challenges that Freddie throws down here—but seriously: aren’t gauntlets in limited supply or something? See, now, for the sake of my own self-respect, I have to try to answer him.  Just not quite yet.)

The best way to counter accusations of being a part of the “stupid party” (or ideology, or philosophy, or worldview, or whatever you want to call it) is to be an intelligent, thoughtful conservative. Not a conservative from unthinking, traditional reflex, but from reflection and intellectual rigor. If those of us who are appalled by the words and deeds of those who earn the epithet for us abandon ship, then that’s all it will be. And we’ll be floating in a nether-void while the left—the combined forces of their reflective and unthinking members, because we’ve all got both—does battle with the Dittoheads.

And there is always the possibility that it will get worse before it gets better. As Andrew Sullivan cautions:

“This is what happened to the British Tories after the Blair landslide in 1997. The rump was even more toxic after the defeat than before it. A decade later, and they still aren’t back in power, but they have managed the very difficult task of getting back to the center. It isn’t easy.”

Precisely because of the difficulty, thinking, intelligent conservatives are needed. If the only people left aboard are those peddling the “Real America/Fake America” bullshit, the ship’s going to go down, and while Scott Payne may be indulging in a touch of hyperbole, he’s got a point about what will follow:

“To simply give up on conservatism is to give up on a vital and historical element of the American psyche and identity. Without well meaning advocates, that element of the American identity will continue to rot and, whether liberals and independents like it or not, eat away at the fabric of American life as a whole.”

Or maybe I’ve just got too much affinity for Hektor than is healthy. We’ll see, I guess.

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