Blood of the Lamb (I)
June 23, 2008 - 12:31pm ET
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A big part of how I understand the American right—it's lurking behind most of what I write, though I rarely discuss it explicitly—is the concept of innocence. Most conservatives I've met and corresponded with can be most usefully taxonomized, not according to whether they're "theocons" or "neocons" or economic conservatives or whatever else, but by the particular routines by which they wash themselves in the blood of the lamb—in other words, how they pronounce themselves and those they class themselves with to be without sin: conservatism never fails, it is only failed. The conservative African American thinker Shelby Steele has borrowed a concept from Soren Kierkegaard to describe what he sees as black Americans' tendency to bad-faith excuses that exempt themselves for any possibility of owning their own failures: "seeing for innocence." Myself, I've found this an indispensable concept for understanding how contemporary conservatives assess the past, present, and future of their movement. Conservatives are really crappy at personal responsibility.
I reviewed a fascinating recent iteration: the book by former American Conservative Union head Mickey Edwards defining conservatism as a philosophy reverent toward the Constitution and distrustful of executive authority; so thereby any Republicans who profane the Constitution and abuse executive authority can't be conservative. Here's an even blunter strategem: that, despite the successful decades-long conservative crusade to take over the Republican Party lock, stock, and barrel, if a Republican does something bad, it has nothing to do with conservatism. This version comes from Jonah Goldberg:
I agree with most folks quoted as saying that the GOP is in deep trouble and that conservatism is something of a mess these days as well. But for Packer, these terms — conservative and Republican — sometimes seem like interchangeable terms, while for me they are not. I think this may be one of the reasons why I thought the piece was so structurally flawed. He begins by arguing, asserting really, that conservatism begins with Nixon in the late 1960s, when Tricky Dick crafted a strategy of exploiting resentments, which any student of intellectual conservatism knows is simply wrong. Nixon did not like or trust the Buckleyites and the Buckleyites were hardly wild about Dick either. This fact should help one keep in mind that treating conservatism and the modern GOP as interchangeable is an analytical error of the first order.
Let he who is without sin cast the first stone: if Jesus had uttered his admonition at a CPAC conference, you'd have to duck for all flying rocks.
I got that Goldberg quote from Kevin Drum a month ago, who ably debunks it here.
(Ten...nine...eight...seven...six...five...four...: I'm counting down until the first conservative responds by pulling out another of my favorites. I've written it down and placed it in a sealed envelope, to only be opened once this particular protestation of innocence starts gushing forth, to prove how predictable our friends on the right are.)
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