The Washington Post‘s online headline really grabbed my attention this time:
My immediate, involuntary reaction was, “How would he know?”
To be fair to the President, there is currently no consensus on what conservatism is all about. I’ve tried to suggest a few important elements of authentic conservatism on this blog from time to time, including
- an ability to see (and a desire to hear) the principles at stake on both sides of a contested issue without feeling compelled to follow one set and discard the other;
- a healthy skepticism about utopian worldviews;
- a deep-seated humility about the limits of our knowledge at any given time;
- an appreciation for the hundreds of years of human experience embedded in our constitution;
- a fundamental commitment to the rule of law; and
- a preference for incremental responses rather than abrupt departures from tradition.
Of course, I very much doubt that President Bush reads this blog so it would certainly be unfair to assume he’s ever heard much about this brand of conservatism. In addition, some of these points are a little abstract, and I don’t think Mr. Bush does very well with abstractions; I sense a need for something more concrete with this president. So, with apologies to Jeff Foxworthy, here are a few ways for people who don’t read much to figure out whether they’re conservatives.
If you’ve ever wanted to borrow $152 billion just so you could give it away . . . you might not be a conservative.
If you’ve ever wanted to launch a preemptive strike against an impoverished, overseas nation with no armed forces to speak of, on the ground that it constitutes a grave threat to our security . . . you might not be a conservative.
If you’ve ever been willing to put a U.S. citizen in solitary confinement without charges for three years . . . you might not be a conservative.
If you’ve ever pushed for a tax cut, a gigantic new entitlement program, and two foreign occupations at the same time . . . you might not be a conservative.
If you think tort reform and job training are such important federal issues that they belong in a State of the Union speech . . . you might not be a conservative.
If you’ve ever said that you intend to rid the world of evil-doers, and you meant it . . . you might not be a conservative.
If you’ve ever supported warrantless executive-branch wiretapping in direct contravention of a federal statute . . . you might not be a conservative.
Is McCain a conservative? It seems to me mavericks are by definition not conservative. There have been times in the past six years when McCain has seemed to me to take the conservative position against Bush (on torture, for example), but if there has been any unifying principle that explains when he departs from party orthodoxy, I have not yet discerned it. No hurry; there will be much more time to figure out how conservative McCain is, if indeed he is the Republican nominee. Right now all I know is that I’m certainly not going to take President Bush’s word for who counts as a conservative.