In Search of Soul-Searching

January 7, 2009

In the aftermath of the multiple conservative-engineered disasters on the financial, moral, military and electoral fronts that we are now struggling with, there was a great deal of talk about “soul searching” among “thoughtful” conservatives, who would try to find ways to bring right-wingers back to “true” conservatism.

It’s a laudable goal, but from where I stand, most conservatives seem less interested in coming to grips with their failures than in redefining them so that actions undertaken by Dubya with the enthusiastic support of conservatives suddenly become examples of liberalism, the sort of thing the sainted Ronald Reagan would never have dreamed of doing.

On the local front, Star-Ledger columnist Paul Mulshine has been forlornly trying to redefine Bush’s invasion of Iraq as “liberal do-gooder internationalism,” while railing against “the essentially left-wing views of Bill Kristol, John Podhoretz and the Fox News crowd,” thereby giving us a taste of what might have resulted if George Orwell had offered Groucho Marx a chance to rewrite Nineteen Eighty-Four.   

Now I see that one of Andrew Sullivan’s readers has decided to see Mulshine on the Iraq War and raise him:

A reflexive abhorrence of violence of all kinds (war, torture, even the death penalty and abortion) is inherently conservative – part of any meaningful definition of conservatism. 

Having spent the last couple of decades hearing conservatives grunt about liberals being a bunch of pacifist hippies, and the last few years being called all kinds of nasty things by drive-by wingers with “Whack Iraq” and “Kick Their Ass, Take Their Gas” bumper stickers, I can only laugh at this attempt to retrofit conservatism with dove’s wings, much less the notion that Bush has somehow degraded the Reagan legacy.

For the overwhelming majority of conservatives, and middle-of-the-roaders who never offered more than token objections, Bush’s invasion of Iraq was going to be Reagan’s invasion of Grenada writ large — a little dodgy in moral terms, sure, but hey it was all going to be over quickly and once the smoke cleared we’d have loads of oil to burn.

When it came to running up huge deficits, undermining public safety through deregulation, packing government positions with cynical operators and using American might to stomp on ninety-pound weaklings, Bush and Reagan were and are more alike than different.

Face it, wingers: When you got Bush, you got everything you’d ever dreamed of having, and the result was poison. Now be a bunch of dears and go play your word while the rest of us try to restore a measure of sanity and stability. Hey, why don’t you check in with Jonah Goldberg? He’s been redefining words in all kinds of interesting ways.

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