A reader writes a long email on the strange overlaps and confluences of this moment in American and global politics. My own thoughts and allegiances are in transition, which can make for some provisional confusion. But I'd rather foster confusion on a real-time blog than a clarity that is based on refusing to see all the options before us. My reader makes one central claim that I endorse completely:
Conservatism isn't about being rich - it's about being free.
We may be on the verge of a real realignment. I'm a refugee right now, the kind of refugee who sees Ron Paul and Barack Obama as the harbingers of a new politics. I'm not the only one:
I've met a fair number of people who would ordinarily be pretty far to the left who are fans of Ron Paul. They love his opposition to the war. I've been trying to think about what that means.
In our system, any party that wins is necessarily going to be built on coalition. And for a long time, the components of the coalitions that the two parties have tried to put together have been pretty much fixed. I think that what's going on, really, is that the old coalition blueprints are falling apart.
You're a great example of this. You're a certain kind of conservative, and traditionally, guys like you have felt most at home in the GOP. But the coalition doesn't work for you any more -- the Christianists and the torture enthusiasts make it more or less impossible for you to stay in the party.
You've been orphaned -- the coalition that's been your traditional home has become inhospitable, but guys like you haven't yet been integrated into a new coalition. There's nowhere for you to go, really. I didn't really read you before your blog, but my impression is that you circa 1994 would have been dead set against a guy like Obama. So this is what it's come to.
I'm in the same boat. When I hear Hillary talk about torture or the war, I know I can't stomach her.
I like what she says about a lot of things, but there are core issues for me upon which the Democratic party simply isn't acceptable. My situation is a little different -- my traditional home, the Democrats, are winning by default because the Republicans are so bad now. Hillary is bad on the war, but I'd vote for her over Guiliani who would be worse.
But if the old coalitions don't work, what will the new ones look like? Eventually someone will put together something that holds together with a reasonable amount of internal consistency, and which can win.
I have a pretty vague idea of where you stood on things before the blog started, and I might be wrong about some of what I'm going to say. But my impression is that you were a big Reagan supporter, and that you backed his administration's support of the Contras.
That's interesting to me, because it seems to be incompatible with where you're at now, with the guy who rails against torture. I don't know if we have different ideas of what happened in Central America during Reagan's years -- I suspect we do. But I wonder if maybe you weren't able, in those days, to turn a blind eye to some of the problems with our policies in that region in a way that's similar to what so many of your former conservative compatriots are doing now.
Someday I'd be interested in what you have to say about that -- if you stand by what you thought then, or if what has happened recently has changed your views.
Which is a roundabout way of saying that the coalition I'd like to see now would have two or three main pillars.
One piillar would be rooted in the idea that less is better than more when it comes to government -- that less regulation is better than more regulation, that decisions ought to be made by people close to problems, that markets ought to sort things out when possible.
Another pillar would be rooted in the traditional processes of our constitutional system, It would be based on an appreciation of the wisdom built into our system -- the value of checks and balances, the necessity of spreading power around, the importance of oversight, and even a real commitment to collegiality and a rejection of smears and ad hominem attacks in political discourse.
The third leg of the tripod, though, is the interesting one, because it's something that comes out of the far left. In fact, it's so far to the left that it wouldn't fit into today's Democratic party. I'd like to see an acknowledgment and rejection of some of the brutality of American foreign policy. I'd like us to explicitly own and reject what we did in places like Iran before the Shah, and in Guatemala.
We have a choice now, and it's an echo of one we've made over and over again, and always the wrong way. We can try to reduce our dependence on oil, or we can use our military to try to guarantee easy access to oil at favorable prices. Your answer to this has always been the proper one -- let's tax oil, and use bikes, and mass transit, and everything else. But the answer that will carry the day is going to come out of the military.
And really, it's out history of making that same choice that's at the heart of our problems in the middle east today. It's why we have to prop up a fairly brutal saudi government that exports extreme wahhabist islam throughout the world. And it's why monks can be killed with impunity in Burma. That and our economic dependence on China.
Your traditional home coalition has always included people on the opposite side of that issue -- people who want our gunboats to protect the oil companies. But really, if you think about it, it's the other side that's more in line with what you believe -- in freedom, and in the value of letting local people make their own decisions, and so on. Conservatism isn't about being rich -- it's about being free.
So maybe if we didn't have the oil, and we needed to use mass transit, we couldn't have as many McMansions. Maybe those neighborhoods don't make sense in a world with fewer SUVs. But it would be more in line with that old fashioned Yankee self reliant freedom -- something that's not so fancy, but which is solid and substantive, and genuinely infused with a spirit of liberty. And a genuine desire to share that liberty with others.
I know this sounds crazy -- that some new conservative coalition would incorporate this radical left wing view of cold war american foreign policy. But really, I don't know if it's any crazier than some of the lefty types I know swooning over Ron Paul. I think these are strange times, and that interesting things are possible now.
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