09 February 2010

Conservatism, redux

How to balance civil liberties and national security in the age of global terrorism is a question of great national importance. Unfortunately, much of the rhetoric surrounding this issue is accusatory, hyperpartisan nonsense (see: Bill Kristol or Dick Cheney on one side, or any ACLU attorney or Keith Olbermann on the other). The neoconservative movement, in particular, which has latched onto Cheney, Kristol and the American Enterprise Institute as its ostensible opinion leaders, seems collectively incapable of handling disagreement or dissent, which is perhaps the most disappointing element in this debate.

There are a number of internet sources for right-of-center persons, such as myself, who are looking for thoughtful opinions on striking the appropriate balance between liberty and security -- chief among them, Cato's "At Liberty" blog, former civil rights lawyer and Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald, and former Buckleyite Andrew Sullivan. Given what we conservatives generally profess about the effectiveness, utility and propriety of government action in any area, the amount of noise coming from the hardcore right of the blogosphere -- particularly Right Wing News, Kristol disciple Robert Stacy McCain and Michelle Malkin chief among them -- is disappointing, not to mention somewhat baffling.

The bottom line is that you can be a conservative and disagree with Dick Cheney's conception of civil liberties in the global war on terror.

Stories like this one should make any American shiver.

The traditional Republican coalition is often described as a "three-legged stool," made up of social conservatives (Mike Huckabee; Tony Perkins), national security conservatives (Kristol, Rudy Guiliani and yes, perhaps even Joe Lieberman) and economic conservatives (Grover Norquist; Steve Forbes). I disagree with the conception that each of these three groups is somehow inherently "conservative," however. There is nothing "conservative" (in the William Buckley/James Madison/Edmund Burke sense of the term) about banning gay marriage. Likewise, there is nothing inherently "conservative" about a sitting American president deeming one of his fellow countrymen an "enemy combatant" and holding him without charges or access to any attorney. At the end of the day, conservatism has -- and always will -- be most focused on limiting the reach and influence of government and maximizing individual liberty. This is the hallmark of what it means to call oneself "conservative."

What's important to note is that whether the modern Republican party reflects these values is another matter entirely. The GOP is not an ideological movement, but rather a political vehicle to further the aims of American conservatives. It has deviated from these conservative principles many times in recent years -- wasteful corruption at the Department of Defense; an unfunded prescription drug benefit; and outlandish deficit spending, for instance -- and ergo, the officially espoused position of the Republican Party as dictated by Cheney, McConnell, et al., cannot possibly be viewed as the true "conservative" position on any particular issue.

This is the problem I have with many conservatives such as Sean Hannity or the reflexively partisan John Hawkins of Right Wing News, who so deify the likes of Cheney that they are unable to think critically about their arguments' ramifications on individual liberties. However, as has been noted here ad nauseum, the likes of Hannity and his ilk are far too dense to recognize these contradictions.

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