So, lately I’ve been trying to branch out a bit more – to see what the movement conservatives have to say and pay it a little more heed (rather than focusing only on the really silly things) and not just wander about the realms of the dissidents and libertarians and localists (even though these are typically the more serious voices out there, and the only voices which I think promise any real reform agenda, any real possibility of limited government and liberty, and all that jazz).
The thing is, I sometimes begin to feel a little bit too contrarian, or as Kara Hopkins put it a while back: “I snipe much and affect little.” As easy as it is for the movement types to demonize and excommunicate the dissidents, it is just as easy for the dissidents to do the same. (Thus my post a while ago on ‘the big tent.’)
But a couple thing keep tripping me up in this quest to expand and broaden my horizons. A couple not-insignificant obstacles remain between any meaningful alliance of the dissident and movement conservatives. Probably the most glaring is the hawk and owl divide – or if you prefer, the realist/neocon divide. You see, to me no true conservatism can embrace the sort of hawkish, militaristic policies that the neoconservatives lay claim to. These are liberal internationalist policies sprinkled heavily with right-wing machismo. Conservatives are supposed to be wary of “statism” yet nothing says statist like a security or police state built on the back of the global war on terror overseas contingency operation. Nothing promises Big Government like a Really Big Military. (Well, except for maybe Really Big Bailouts and Really Big Entitlements…)
And yet, for some reason, all across the movement – from politicians to bloggers – very few seem to put these simple concepts together. Strong defense has become such a catch-all term, it now defines everything from preemptive war to “harsh interrogation techniques.” Once upon a time, conservatives believed that strong defense actually meant, well, a strong defense. Which included a defense of civil liberties, even at the expense of our total, all-encompassing security. Defense means we work to protect our country, with an army and a navy and a responsive Commander in Chief – it does not mean we work to erect a security state that is so flawless that nothing remains worth protecting, where words like “liberty” and “freedom” have become less concepts and more keywords, less actualities and more distant histories.
Nation-building and democracy spreading were always little more than post-Wilsonian pipe dreams. They were certainly not conservative ambitions. Even George W. Bush used to believe that, though I’m really not sure Dick Cheney ever did. (Why do they let him out of his cave, anyways? They never did before.)
So, this has been my difficulty. I have corresponded with some very reasonable people who I think are excellent thinkers and upstanding conservatives and everything (we often disagree on some social issues, but that is rarely and oddly not nearly as big of a deal as the national defense stuff) but there remains this divide. I have no idea how to cross it. When even the most reasonable movement conservatives – like Reihan Salam – are nonetheless “vanilla neocons” there is very little hope that a realist, or non-interventionist conservatism can truly take shape at least for a while. And this is a shame, because it would be politically very savvy I think. Almost as savvy as reviving fiscal conservatism again.