Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Conservatives Debate as Liberals March Lockstep

Jeff Jacoby's column today over at the Boston Globe notes that those on the right of the political spectrum are engaged in a vigorous debate over concepts and ideological direction, while liberals differ only on the purity of one's antiwar position:

WHAT DO liberal Democrats think about the war in Iraq? That's easy: It was a blunder that has become a debacle, and it should be brought to an end as soon as possible.

What do conservative Republicans think about the war? That's not so easy.

The right has been fighting over the war since well before it began. The American Conservative -- a biweekly magazine launched in 2002 by Pat Buchanan, a former aide to Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan -- has vehemently opposed the Iraq campaign, regarding it as the worst kind of nation-building, a squandering of blood and treasure for no vital American interest.

By contrast, The Weekly Standard -- a conservative journal edited by William Kristol, an influential Republican strategist -- was among the earliest advocates of invading Iraq, and continues to defend what it calls "The Right War for the Right Reasons."

Tune in to a Republican presidential debate, and you'll hear views on Iraq that range from John McCain ("if we fail and we have to withdraw, they will follow us home") to Sam Brownback ("we've got to put forward a political plan to create a three-state solution") to Ron Paul ("it was a mistake to go, so it's a mistake to stay").

The Democratic candidates debate only the purity of one another's antiwar stance: Whose denunciation of the war came first? Whose goes the furthest? They squabble over style, but when it comes to substance, as Hillary Clinton said during a recent debate, "the differences among us are minor."

Iraq is not an anomaly.

On one important issue after another, the right churns with serious disputes over policy and principle, while the left marches mostly in lockstep. Liberals sometimes disagree over tactics and details, but anyone taking a heterodox position on a major issue can find himself out in the cold. Just ask Senator Joseph Lieberman .

In the liberal imagination, conservatives are blind dogmatists, spouters of a party line fed to them by (take your pick) big business, their church, or President Bush. Yet almost anywhere you look on the right these days, what stands out is the lack of ideological conformity.
Jacoby cites as an example the dust-up between the editors of the National Review and those of the Wall Street Journal over immigration reform. But vigorous disagreement exists over a range of issues among those on right of the political spectrum:
From school vouchers to stem cell research to racial preferences to torture, the American right bubbles with debate and disagreement, while the left, for all its talk about "diversity," rarely seems to show any. As National Review's Jonah Goldberg points out, that may be because "liberals define diversity by skin color and sex, not by ideas, which makes it difficult to have really good arguments."

Good arguments are no bad thing. They energize political parties and put convictions to the test. They illuminate the issues. They make people think. The debates on the right enliven the marketplace of ideas and enrich the democratic process. Some debates on the left would, too.
I agree. I've found this particularly true in the immigration reform debate, where I've noticed quite a bit of dissension among conservatives over the current Senate reform bill (see here, here, and here, for example).

Further, in my recent post, "
The Poverty of Paleoconservatism," I made the case for the healthy mental stimulant of difference and debate among conservatives.

In that post, I upbraid the extremely doctrinaire paleoconservative Mike Tuggle for his intolerance, simple-mindedness, and rank name-calling with reference to my positions in support of Iraq and the global war on terror. Tuggle's hung-up on Burkean purity, and he never fails to distort my positions on the issues -- as he did again in his own self-important post pronouncing his sacred duty to protect the blogosphere against "
the wrath of the neo-cons." Perhaps old Mike Tuggle will take a lesson from Jeff Jacoby that there is, indeed, a variety of good, legitimate differences among those of conservative convictions on the right. It's hard, though, for Tuggle to see beyond his narrow frame of reference, so I won't hold my breath!

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