Where I’m Coming From

October 30, 2008

This isn’t meant to be any sort of political autobiography, but a commenter on this post at The Confabulum (part of a longer series between Freddie deBoer and—mostly—Conor Fridersdorf) set me to thinking, and it gives me the chance to salvage a formerly abandoned paragraph I wrote a few months ago. Anyway, on a minor digression, LarryM says:

“[I]ronically, the horror of the Bush administration is another [reason I no longer identify as a liberal] – not that I buy for a second the absurd idea that he governed as a “liberal,” but because his administration did so much to discredit big government generally, of whatever variety.”

It was much the same for me. I’ve gone from being one of a handful of liberals in my high school (not that the non-liberals were all “conservative”—there was a weird authoritarian streak there, I thought) to one of a handful of conservatives among my friends here. And I’d be wrong if I said it didn’t have a lot to do with waking up too many mornings to read Andrew Sullivan linking to and ranting about the Bush Administration’s abuses—torture especially.  (Pictures of dead torture victims coming onto the screen just as Dianne Reeves singing “Who’s Minding the Store?” [the Good Night and Good Luck soundtrack; it’s wonderful] can only set you up for a really cheerful day, you know.)

It was exceptionally shocking and disturbing to see just what abuses centralized power could cause, even in the United States. To be cliché, I guess a little bit of the shine came off; it took the better part of two decades to realize that there was no divine mandate or natural law saying that we were an inherently non-totalitarian state; that Franklin was really, truly right when he said, “A republic, if you can keep it.” My views have always been informed by a need to avoid and halt evil—I think that’s just natural for a modern Jew (though by no means exclusively, but the words “Never Again” have a certain constant insistence, and a level of constant and nervous sadness)—but now there is a distinct flavor of fear: of what, exactly, centralized power can lead to. Not that it will, of course—but for every Cincinnatus, there’s at least one Antony.

So when I’m skeptical of the federal government getting more involved in health care, or telling Northwestern they’re required to spend at least 5% of their endowment a year (though I wish they would spend more on student aid), or prefer decentralization and talk about how federalism is a wonderful experiment–yeah, this is informing it in part.

There’s a good deal more to it, of course. But what I really wanted to do was bring up this discarded sentence I wrote a while back:

“I don’t know whether to say ‘because of’ or ‘in spite of,’ and there isn’t enough room here to fully explain it, but the truth of the matter is that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney turned me into a conservative.”

(And in case you care, I’ll link to the finished column that came from, which has nothing really to do with conservatism anymore, once it’s online.)


4 Responses to “Where I’m Coming From”

  1. “…the truth of the matter is that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney turned me into a conservative.”

    That was certainly on the list of sentences I never thought I’d read. But good job explaining it: what you say makes sense.

  2. Will Says:

    I’ve always thought that conservatism (or libertarianism, for that matter) requires an appreciation of our institutions’ inherent fragility.

    I’m also glad to learn I’m not the only one to have drifted right as a result of Sullivan and the Bush Administration. What an odd pairing.

  3. JL Wall Says:

    I know. But it was a pretty potent one-two punch. And I think Sullivan’s sort of idiosyncratic, British flavored conservatism helped make it more palatable to me, initially.

  4. […] Wall’s “Phaidimoi Logoi”. (And see this post in […]

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