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"America has two great dominant strands of political thought - conservatism, which, at its very best, draws lines that should not be crossed; and progressivism, which, at its very best, breaks down barriers that should never have been erected." -- Bill Clinton, Dedication of the Clinton Presidential Library, November 2004

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Saturday, February 16, 2008


Starbucks TWISI #258: George F. Will

posted by Aziz P. at Saturday, February 16, 2008 permalink View blog reactions
I usually don't pay much attention to my Starbucks TWISIs (though I do occasionally document the ones I receive on my twitter). Today's triple venti latte, though, had quite an interesting TWISI on it, which I found highly relevant to the political drama of the times. The author? George F. Will, "Pulitzer-Prize winning author and columnist" (the cup reminds us helpfully). The topic? "true" conservatives. (and, of course, liberals, because how else do they define themselves?).

Here's what TWISI #258 says:

Because true conservatives are pessimists, they are happier than liberals, for three reasons. First, pessimists are rarely surprised. Second, when they are wrong they are delighted to be so. Third, pessimists do not put their faith in princes - in government. They understand that happiness is a function of fending for oneself. Happiness is an activity; it is inseparable from the pursuit of happiness.

Deep thoughts indeed. I am fascinated by the compulsion that conservatives have to define "true" conservatism. It's impossible to deny that (at least for the present) liberals have a bigger "tent" than conservatives do; our tent spans the range from deep-blue to purple - and if Obama wins the nomination, might even creep towards a tinge of red. Meanwhile, conservatives are factionalized, with the warring clans of theocons, fiscons, and neocons all succeeding in taking each others' princes out via attrition, leaving only one candidate, whose only claim to concensus is that everyone hates him about equally.

But more to the point, does Will's definition have any relevance to today's politics? Consider the points in turn. First, are conservatives (sorry, true conservatives, or TCs for short) really pessimists? Even if we grant them this, arguing that they are happier than liberals is pretty obviously nonsense. Being an unhappy sourpuss is practically the definitive mark of modern conservatism, because for them everything sucks and it's the liberals' fault (I note that Will didn't list taking responsibility for one's own actions as a fundamental TC tenet).

Second, are conservatives delighted to be wrong? This requires that conservatives ever admit to being wrong. George Will comes close to admitting being wrong in his (to his credit) numerous critiques of the Bush Administration, but these are lukewarm ("the rhetoric of unreality"?). Will was effusively pro-Bush at the outset (I assume, without citation, though I invite fact-checking and will indeed be delighted to be proven wrong) and yet has to state how wrong he was. Is he delighted at how wrong he and the rest of the conservative class was about Bush? Is he delighted about how, in his own words, "all three components of the 'axis of evil' -- Iraq, Iran and North Korea -- [are] more dangerous than they were when that phrase was coined in 2002." ? It seems to me that conservatives are wrong quite often, with far greater negative impact (usually because a war is involved). Presumably, then, conservatives should be delighted all the time?

As for faith in princes, well I have three letters in rebuttal: F. D. T. 'nuff said.

Though I can't let rest unchallenged Will's implication that liberals (and false conservatives) put their faith in government. Two words in rebuttal: Hurricane Katrina. Again, 'nuff said.

Incidentally, I am quite glad that conservatives like Will and Jonah Goldberg (TWISI #22) are participating in the Coffee Cup Debate. For one thing, transparency of their ideas is the best route to delegitimization.

One final (unintended) irony, Goldberg's TWISI includes this comment:

Clichés begin arguments, they don’t settle them.

True indeed. We may safely relegate any comment a conservative has about a liberal to this category.

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About Nation-Building

Nation-Building was founded by Aziz Poonawalla in August 2002 under the name Dean Nation. Dean Nation was the very first weblog devoted to a presidential candidate, Howard Dean, and became the vanguard of the Dean netroot phenomenon, raising over $40,000 for the Dean campaign, pioneering the use of Meetup, and enjoying the attention of the campaign itself, with Joe Trippi a regular reader (and sometime commentor). Howard Dean himself even left a comment once. Dean Nation was a group weblog effort and counts among its alumni many of the progressive blogsphere's leading talent including Jerome Armstrong, Matthew Yglesias, and Ezra Klein. After the election in 2004, the blog refocused onto the theme of "purple politics", formally changing its name to Nation-Building in June 2006. The primary focus of the blog is on articulating purple-state policy at home and pragmatic liberal interventionism abroad.