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Mirror Mirror…


Are conservatives our new political idealists?
It’s not as odd a question as you might think. We on the Left have long associated youth and liberalism as a trope; been there, done that. But a look at the young, white and well, not exactly sophisticated, crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, is enough to make you wonder. Is them now us?
Lefties like to hold that the personal is political. That’s long been the mantra of the gay and women’s rights movements and it’s led to the belief among many (on the Left and Right) that “feeling good” is preferred to “doing good.” Of course, “feeling good” doesn’t necessarily a self-involved or selfish act. And no one need to be reminded of the sanctimony that can often accomplish the do-gooder, particularly at CPAC where at least one woman offered aloud to pray for me because I confessed to being a Liberal and a man reached over and patted me on the knee when I told him where the water cups were hidden (Patted me? On the knee…?).
But politics is often no good. It is fundamentally about persuasion and compromise. And the rhetoric of the far right is – startling so these days – contemptuous of anything that smacks of half-way measures. Over on the far Left the talk is almost always about just such measures, about strategy, messaging and “framing” – who can win and what should Democrats do to make that happen? The practical has long trumped idealism among Democrats and, no, that’ s not a good thing.
Last year at CPAC, the overwhelming sentiment seemed to be a joyous belief that the moral wrongs of the world – sex in the Oval office, choice for women, stem cell research – would all be swept away by newly-elected President Bush and his faith – literal and figurative – in the conservative agenda. Last year’s gathering was, in a word, nicer. Skinny Ann Coulter saved her venom for the recently dead Arthur Miller (or was it Norman Mailer?) not for “rag heads” and the conference’s energies were concentrated on the very real opportunity to reform the Supreme Court.
Now that the court has – to my mind, at least – been conquered by the Right you’d think there’d be joy to go around. Nope. This year, CPAC was filled with harsh talk about immigration. And it was harshly racist talk, too, mostly about deporting the estimated 11 million people living here without proper immigration documents combined with lots of rhetoric about how the Mexican government needed to secure an economic future for it citizens.

For CPAC, immigration is not about our borders, it’s about our border with Mexico. No one was interested in the Canadian border which is longer, certainly less well-patrolled and through which the Irish Republican Army (a terrorist group or a bunch of freedom fighters, I get confused) and its American supporters have long smuggled guns and money and the only place a known terrorist plotter was stopped and arrested. Of course, Canadians look like the CPAC crowd (or do in some kind of imagined world…). While Mexicans, they look like terrorist.
But isn’t it idealistic – or naïve, take your choice – to think that you can tell a terrorist by looking at him? That’s, of course, why Coulter makes her cracks about “rag heads” in spite of the fact that the men who flew planes into World Trade Center wore leather jackets and blue jeans. Those who look like us clearly hew to our beliefs, don’t they? Isn’t it also idealist to believe that a world in which there is no choice on pregnancy and abortion will create a world in which we are all loved from birth? That levees neglected for years will hold during a record storm and that the mess will be cleaned up by good-hearted citizens working together as neighbors? What about the belief that invading a Middle Eastern country will lead to spontaneous outbursts of democracy and that all voting will end with the election of leaders we in the west find palatable. Isn’t this, too, a form of wishing it were so? Or that banning gay marriage will cut down on the number of homosexuals living amongst us? Or that a woman in a vegetative state could – with “proper” medical care – live to a ripe old age?
It is the absence of talk about Terri Schiavo that sent me down this path, you see. Because no a word, not a peep, not a reference was made to the efforts that conservatives – including “keynote” speaker Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist – made to “save” her life. You see, Terri Schiavo couldn’t be – wouldn’t be – wished back to good health or even life as we know and experience it. It wasn’t just naïve to think so. It was irresponsible. And now that she is no more, the sanctimonious movement that kept her alive and her family at war has moved on to a new set of causes and concerns that are, in the long run, just as foolish and potentially more dangerous.
This isn’t terribly surprising. It must not feel good to suspect that doing good – having stuck to the most extreme and most hopeful version of Terry Schiavo’s medical choices and insisted on changing U.S. law to comport with that idealistic view of her fate and condition – led to the commission of a not-so-small wrong.

Share  Posted by Chris Nolan at 12:06 PM | Permalink

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