What is a Conservative?

I have written previously that the current mainstream of modern American conservatism lies with the religious, anti-science, fanatically pro-Bush folks. More evidence of that is provided by a recent spat between the National Review‘s Ramesh Ponnuru and Time‘s Andrew Sullivan. Writing at NR’s blog, Ponnuru said:

Since another panelist had quoted one of [Sullivan’s] sermons as evidence of intra-conservative strife, I also observed that I know no serious conservative who considers him a conservative. I am prepared to believe that there are a few misguided conservatives, unbeknownst to me, who do consider him a fellow conservative. But even if that’s true, it would not change the fundamental accuracy of my statement that Sullivan’s pronouncements are not good evidence of intra-conservative strife.

Sullivan replied as follows:

I’m for balanced budgets, low taxes, cuts in entitlements, welfare reform, more military manpower, privately run healthcare, free speech, religious liberty, a stronger commitment to Iraq, and gun rights. I’m against affirmative action, federally-funded abortion and embryonic stem-cell research, protectionism, hate crime laws, the Medicare prescription drug program, pork barrel spending, torture, an untrammeled executive, and censoring anyone anywhere to appease Islamist extremists. And, according to Ponnuru, no “serious” conservative regards me as a conservative any more. What does that tell you?

Why do no serious conservatives regard Sullivan as a fellow traveller? Because he has been very critical of the Bush administration’s handling of the war in Iraq and has consistently opposed the attempts by religious extremists to turn this country into a theocracy. But sadly, pandering to religious conservatives and expressing fanatical loyalty to Bush represent the sum total of Republican politics these days.

I frequently disagree with Sullivan, but I usually find him thoughtful and interesting. It’s unsurprising that people like him are no longer welcome on the American political Right.


  1. #1 Lettuce
    July 13, 2006

    I just find itinteresting that anyone finds Sullivan thoughtful and interesting. If the catastrophe of his tenure at the New Republic (wasn’t he the editor who managed to publish “No Exit” and the “Bell Curve” nonsense?)

    Maybe interesting in a can’t stop watching that car wreck sort of way; but thoughtful? I dunno.

    You’d think with credentials like his he’d fit right into the current conservative movement.

  2. #2 cfeagans
    July 13, 2006

    I seem to recall a chapter in a Sagan book (Billions and Billions?) that was titled, “what are the conservatives conserving?”

    I don’t think there are any true conservatives anymore. As a 40-year old, I remember conservatism as being careful on government spending but strong on defense. It seems now that those that call themselves “conservative” have the I-still-have-checks-in-the-checkbook mentality and seek only to benefit the pocketbooks of the few at the expense of the many.

    These are “conservatives,” they’re kleptocrats.

  3. #3 cfeagans
    July 13, 2006

    “are” in the last sentence above should be “aren’t,” of course.

  4. #4 richCares
    July 13, 2006

    John Dean’s new book “Conservatives Without Conscience” is currently number 1 on Amazon. It has many answers to what is a conservative or at least the 23% that drink Kool-Aid. This book is dedicated to Barry Goldwater. I saw Goldwater’s last press conferenace where he was ashamed of the cuurent crop of so called conservatives.

    The far right will hate this book, in fact the far right has a lot of hate, that’s there only emotion. They fail at marriage, fail as parents, and fail as Americans.

  5. #5 Dan R.
    July 13, 2006

    John Dean’s quote from The Daily Show 2 days ago.

    “I’m a goldwater conservative, which today puts me slightly left of center.”

  6. #6 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    July 13, 2006

    Beyond his criticism of the penchant for spending, attacks on civil liberties, and the overall “biggness” of our current Republican rules government I can’t help but believe there is one very particular reason that many on the right wing don’t like Sullivan.

  7. #7 Left_Wing_Fox
    July 13, 2006

    Dan, he might be joking, but he’s absolutely right.

    In 2001, I was arguing with a moderate conservative whom I respect about just how radical Bush is. When he used Goldwater as the gold standard of radical conservatism, I did a little research. Goldwater’s positions on the environment (member of Sierra Club), Abortion (supported a woman’s right to choose) and gay rights (Supported gays in the military and equal protection under the law) are seen as “radically leftist” views today by the modern conservative movement.

    As of 2001, George Bush was already far to the Right of Goldwater on Abortion, Environmental issues, and Separation of Church and State, and largely in line with him on military issues.

    The few areas where I felt Bush was more “liberal” than Goldwater (specifically Racial issues, antagonism toward labour, and he destruction of the New Deal), have disappeared with the aftermath of Katrina, realignment of Department of Labour priorities and gutting worker protection regulations, and the attempted privatization of Social Security. In the areas he was to the right of Goldwater, he’s mover further still with the appointment of Anti-Roe judges, Partial Birth abortion bans, and attempted Gay Marriage amendments to the constiitution.

    Honestly, I don’t consider Bush’s Budgetary priorities to be either “left” or “Right”; merely corrupt and incompetant.

  8. #8 Jason Rosenhouse
    July 13, 2006


    You’re right about Sullivan’s sordid past. He pretty much ran TNR into the ground (in addition to the articles you mentioned, he also published Camille Pagila’s cover story psychoanalyzing Hillary Clinton). He also went crazy during the build-up to the Iraq war, writing some vile stuff about people who opposed the war being fifth columnists, and accusing anyone who thought the war was a bad idea of not getting it.

    My respect for him is a pretty recent phenomenon. Since the 2004 election, where he endorsed Kerry, I’ve been impressed by his willingness to attack the Bush administration. His writings about torture and the poor conduct of the Iraq war have impressed me. As I said, I still disagree with him about a great many issues. But I think his recent blogging has been well worth reading.

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