February 12, 2006

The Conservative Pledge of Allegiance

Glenn Greenwald, drawing on some personal experiences and observations, claims that in order to be 'worthy' of the conservative tag today, you don't need to hold to any traditional conservative beliefs or values. All you need to do is pledge unswerving allegiance to George W. Bush and back up every single policy decision, action, and word and berate, smear, and vilify every single person who may be on his notorious shit list.

Greenwald says,
People who self-identify as "conservatives" and have always been considered to be conservatives become liberal heathens the moment they dissent, even on the most non-ideological grounds, from a Bush decree. That’s because "conservatism" is now a term used to describe personal loyalty to the leader (just as "liberal" is used to describe disloyalty to that leader), and no longer refers to a set of beliefs about government.
Greenwald points out the irony here, given the many aspects of the Bush Administration that are not in the least conservative (e.g. spending policy). Not only that, he says, but political conservatism has long been predicated on a sincere distrust of federal power, which simply doesn't square with blind loyalty. Add in the unitary executive theory, and you have not just a deviation from the conservative tradition, but its antithesis. Greenwald also speculates about the motivations behind this "authoritarian cultis[m]" and finds its origin in nothing more complex than rage and fear.

Greenwald concludes:
The rage-based reverence for The President as Commander-in-Chief -- and the creepy, blind faith vested in his goodness -- is not a movement I recognize as being political, conservative or even American.
Edit: Sort of serendipitously, today I pulled off my reading pile Richard Hofstadter's book of essays, The Paranoid Style in American Politics. It addresses this problem directly, and it's a little uncanny how well much of his reasoning translates into today's political climate, though he was analyzing McCarthyism and Goldwaterism, and not Bushism. I may post some random thoughts once I get done with the other essays in the book.


  1. Anonymous4:46 PM

    Many self-described conservatives are unhappy with many Bush policies, especially spending and entitlements. But they're driven to support even these positions by the blind fury many on the left have even for the President's solid stances on defense and national security.

    Bush is no conservative, but he's better than any liberal, so in the face of vehement liberal smears conservatives will stand by the president.

  2. Greenwald is ridiculous to suggest that John Hinderaker and Alexandra von Maltzan have singlehandedly changed the meaning of the word "conservative" in modern usage.

    This is exemplary of part of the downside to the "blogosphere." You get a few bloggers whose only contact with the world is a handful of other blogs, and they think that that is all there is.

    There's definitely a disturbing pattern lately of Republicans suppressing dissent, but not in the way that Greenwald says it's happening. It's most prominent in Congress, where a GOP that holds a slim majority in both houses is able to get its legislation passed by enforcing "party discipline." And that attitude has translated into a general political ethic of putting the party's goals over one's individual preferences.

    But this is about what it means to be a Republican, not what it means to be conservative. The party's leaders are screwing up the country and the party, and that should be fixed.

    Aside from that, Greenwald is in a bit of a snit, and can't seem to handle a bit of name-calling. Most of his post is just "oh yeah? I'm a sellout? Well, you're an authoritarian cultist!"

    He's perfectly right that being conservative doesn't mean blindly following the President and that some people out there seem to disagree. But he takes it beyond that to write the kind of self-important persecution complex type of post that seems to be all-too-common in the blogosphere.

  3. bmc,
    I thought he was principally addressing the way "conservative" is used in the blogosphere. I guess he does mention Voinovich as an example in the "real world" and Coulter as an example of a non-blogger pundit, but there is an undeniable animus on the part of many bloggers (PowerLine, LGF, Malkin, Hugh Hewitt, Captain's Quarters) toward anyone who questions Bush, and generally that does take the form of nominal expulsion from the conservative community.

    I agree that he seems to be more personally offended than ideologically shocked, but there is a history of pseudo-conservative authoritarian cultism running parallel to genuine conservatism in this country. The same can probably be said of liberalism, but right now, I think we have the genuine article present in people like Hinderaker and Malkin.

  4. You're probably right. I should have read Greenwald's post a bit more closely.

  5. He followed up here, and actually it does seem like he's not focusing his attack on the blogosphere. I don't know. I guess I assumed he meant the blogosphere because that's where I've noticed it, but he seems to have more in mind. I think your objection still holds.