Jonah Goldberg Waxes Flatulent About "True Conservatism"

…at America’s Shittiest Website (h/t Sadly, NO!). Essentially, Goldberg whips out the tired old saw that true conservatism can never fail, it can only BE failed. That, and liberals should apparently never talk about the coming civil war in the GOP. Or something.

I reply:

Dear Jonah,

Off the mark, as usual.

Though you make some decent points regarding Bush’s in-practice deviation from doctrinaire, textbook conservatism (“true conservatism,” by your lights), you fail to note two things. First, this is neither the first/only time – nor will it be the last time – that self-identified “true conservatives” have lined up behind a GOP President or influential legislator even while that official substantially violated the tenets of “true conservatism.” Ronald Reagan implemented what was at that time the largest tax increase in history. He tripled the national debt. George H.W. Bush broke his former boss’ record for largest tax increase at the same time he broke his (in)famous “read my lips” campaign promise. There are plenty of other examples.

Why have GOP Presidents and legislators tended to break these promises or at least violate the canons of conservatism so regularly and so egregiously? Because they’ve had to. Once elected, they’ve realized that in some cases, there was literally no other way forward, or out of the morass they found themselves in, while still hewing close to “true conservatism.” At least, no way which wouldn’t bring about results even worse than the likely outcomes of violating conservative dogma.

I have never run for elected office myself…but then, I don’t get paid handsomely to pontificate about the virtues of applying textbook theories about “true conservatism” (or true liberalism, for that matter) to the actual, real-world body politic. However, neither have you or many of the people currently bleating about “true conservatism,” either. And it’s amusing to me to note that the more removed from the actual drudgery and weight of having to perform that accompanies the power of elected office, the greater the tendency to wax flatulent about the glories of theories.

Ronald Reagan and H.W. Bush and Dubya didn’t do those things you find heretical because they were defectively conservative, they did them because they believed those choices – at the time – to be the least-damaging way forward. Yet, every election season, the increasingly moldy chestnut is trotted out in conservative circles, that TRUE conservatism can never fail, it can only BE failed. The only new wrinkle in your current lamentation of the lack of true conservatives of stature at the national level is your either disingenuousness or ignorance about the frequency and severity with which previous avowed conservatives engaged in similar – or worse – practices to those of George W. Bush.

In reality, of course, W. was as conservative as they come, on issue after issue. He may not qualify as a 100% score of perfect conservatism on your own personal scorecard, but then, if I’m not mistaken, there’s no actual manual for what perfect or “true” conservatism looks like on every issue, either – and if by some chance there IS such a manual somewhere, I’m pretty sure that not only were you not the author, but that some of your own positions might be anywhere from slightly to significantly at variance with what’s written in The Conservative BIble™.

So, while it’s amusing to watch you use 9/11 to make apologies for how much the entire GOP – literally, almost without exception (and most of those were Ron Paul libertarians who were probably not registered as Republicans anyway) – not just excused but full-throatedly supported Bush during his entire reign, it’s simply not accurate, and even a brief glance at the precedent of GoOPers falling dutifully in line behind the man of the hour (and yes, it’s virtually always a man, on the GOP side), reveals that fact.

Dede Scozzafava’s “surprise” support of the House’s newest Democratic representative, after she dropped out of the race, had less to do with some pre-existing condition of liberal-ish perfidy and insufficiently stiff dedication to “true conservatism” than it did with the way national conservative figures parachuted into the district with little to no understanding of – or desire to understand – the concerns of the residents of the district, at least in comparison to abstract ideological principles of “true conservatism.” And ultimately, Scozzafava’s endorsement of Owens – as uncomfortable as it must have been for her to make – was likely based upon the knowledge that, like the out-of-town conservative media hogs who shepherded his campaign, Hoffman was at base a carpetbagger who didn’t even live in the area, much less understand or care about its concerns. So Scozzafava acted with the same trait that I, for one, would hope all elected officials put at or near the top of their motivating concerns: a genuine desire to do right by the people she hoped to represent. Faced with a certain loss, she realized she could help one of the other two candidates get elected. And from there, I’m betting the choice wasn’t hard, based upon a genuine desire to benefit her putative constituents. This is the same trait – a genuine, honest realization that the lives of real people are affected by virtually all of an elected official’s public acts – that motivated George H. W. Bush to raise taxes enough that, combined with the cyclical recession that occurred on his watch, was enough to keep him from a second term. Or caused his son to enact the initial TARP bailouts instead of allowing the US economy to collapse altogether – and potentially take the rest of the world’s economy with it.

I don’t think George W. Bush WANTED to look for a reason to engage in massive fiscal engineering like that, just as I don’t think Dede Scozzafava WANTED to withdraw from contention for the NY-23 seat and endorse a member of the other party for it instead…I think they both believed – as have many conservatives before them, that doing so under the particular set of circumstances with which they were confronted, was in the best interests of the people they represented.

And it’s that, at the end of the day, that separates the elected official from the armchair warriors and the gasbags: the former feel the weight of decision upon them, the latter never do. And, while that alone isn’t enough to invariably compel any particular behavior, it does have the predictable effect upon people who actually do care about people more than abstract theories to sometimes act in ways which not only violate “the canons” for reasons which seem to have completely eluded you.

That’s why I’m glad you’re never likely to run for office (I’m sure if you thought you had that sort of temperament, you already would have): because although I suppose that there might be some surprises if you were ever forced into such high-stakes decisions involving the lives and fortunes of others, I’m pretty sure that you entirely lack even the most basic ideological flexibility which would be required to choose real individuals over pet theories. There are indeed some conservative politicians (and gasbags – mostly gasbags) on the scene today who seem to share your dedication to the precepts of “true conservatism” as much as you. Mrs. Palin is one. Jim DeMint is another. There are a few other examples. However – and I can’t believe I’m actually having to say this to you OR that it’s in fact true – when conservatives are publicly pillorying NEWT FREAKING GINGRICH for his lack of resolve over the NY-23 endorsement matter (and the strategies behind it), it ought to tell
you something’s gone desperately wrong.

Fortunately, for my own personal sake as well as the health and well-being of my party’s electoral fortunes, however, I don’t think you possess the self-reflection necessary to absorb anything at all from that statement. Last night, the voters rejected Jon Corzine, a governor in a state plagued with scandal (even though he himself was not involved) who is ALSO a former Goldman-Sachs millionaire (not an easy pitch right now), whose approval ratings had been in the 39% area a couple of months ago. And they also rejected Creigh Deeds, a Democrat who took the Joe Lieberman, Blue-Dog “lessons” about always needing to move to the right, and wound up rejecting the “Obama Democrat” label, opposing cap-and-trade, and publicly disagreeing with congressional Democrats initiatives in any respects. You’d think that by moving rightward, the race would have tightened. Instead, with every rightward lurch, Deeds fell further behind. And, in the races which really reflect how voters approach national races a year into the Obama administration, John Garamendi and the aforementioned Mr. Owens each scored victories.

That ought to worry you, even if it doesn’t (and don’t get me wrong, I’m GLAD it doesn’t – think me a liberal nut all you wish, it’s great that you can’t grasp this!). Parts of New York’s 23rd district have been more recently represented by a member of the WHIG party than it was by a Democrat (no really, look it up!)…and yet, due entirely to the intrusion of out-of-state Hoffman and the conservative teabag storm which accompanied him, a large chunk of red is now wiped off the electoral map. It was going to be thusly wiped anyway, because of the 2010 census….but it’s nice to have it in Democratic hands prior to that time. Think about that: even with only one officially conservative candidate in the race for most of the last week – as well as the tons of money poured into the district by teabag activists and the endorsement of Hoffman by high-profile conservative media-darlings like Palin and The Army of Dick, your guy still lost. That means, writ large, that even in reliably conservative districts, people ain’t buying what the teabaggers – er, excuse me, the “true conservatives” are selling. Chew on that for a while.