2007 July 26 Thursday
Daniel Larison On Lessons Learned About American Politics

Daniel Larison looks back over lessons he's learned watching the American political scene.

On conservatism and American politics:

1) First among these was my assumption that most Americans who called themselves conservatives distrusted government and feared the expansion of government power. That was the conservatism I had been raised with, and it seemed to be the one that had a visceral appeal to a large number of conservatives during the ’90s. Obviously, this conservatism is held by only a fairly small number of conservatives, and, as wiser people than I have known all along, the popularity of a “roll back the state” message is extremely superficial.

2) One of my other false beliefs connected to this was that most conservatives were conservatives first and GOP partisans second (if at all), and would therefore be just as outraged by GOP government activism and overreach as they had been in the 1990s. This was the worst sort of naivete on my part, and it was repeatedly shown to be false. To point out that some of the same people who wanted to attack Iraq opposed aggression against Yugoslavia was almost useless–partisans are well aware that they use a double standard, and they have no problem with it. Again, I mistook the attitudes of conservatives whom I knew for what was true for “conservatives” generally–this was just sloppy analysis.

3) Another false belief that I held was that most conservatives were conservative as a result of custom and reflection, with rather more emphasis on the latter, and to discover that most conservatives were such on the basis of little more than visceral dislike of various hate figures was something that took some time to accept.

Larison makes still more excellent observations in the full post.

I'd add another: The big name supposedly conservative commentators, like most of their liberal counterparts, aren't terribly empirical. Their analyses aren't weighted down by well vetted evidence. But the commentators are a reflection of the population that listens to them.

It occurs to me that the reason why antiwar activists are so strongly attached to the mantra of “Bush lied” (besides the reality that he and his officials did lie on numerous occasions) is that they are attempting to square a nation that embraced a manifestly unjust, unnecessary war with their confidence in the functioning of our system of government.  In this view, if people will so easily embrace such an obviously wrongheaded policy, sane foreign policy will not be possible in a democratic system.  The government’s deceptions (which absolutely did occur) help to bear a lot of this burden, since they allow the majority of people to use the old “he tricked us” excuse to cover up for their own failures.  Absent those failures, however, no deceit would have been sufficient to propel a country entirely against its will into such a war. 

I've had to lower my expectations about what we can expect in terms of quality of elected officials, quality of pundits, and quality of thought in the general public. The continued defense of the Iraq war by too many commentators demonstrates the tribalism and poor quality of thought which characterizes major US political factions.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2007 July 26 11:17 PM  Elites Betrayal And Incompetence

Stephen said at July 27, 2007 1:14 AM:

I think that 'Bush lied' is primarily heard as a response to someone who has recycled the lie and presented it as fact in support of their position.

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