Thursday, April 19, 2007

Refusing to Defend the Indefensible

No reader of this blog will be surprised to hear that I consider myself to be a political & cultural liberal. Still, it's easy for me to identify a handful of conservative voices whom I treasure. Leading the pack are David Brooks (presently/formerly referred to as "every liberal's favorite conservative," NY Times columnist) and Andrew Sullivan (former editor of The New Republic, blogger, author of The Conservative Soul: How We Lost It, How to Get It Back).

Other than strong writing, the thread linking Sullivan & Brooks in my mind is a capacity to be critical of the broader political & cultural conservative movement. Surely part of the attraction of having a conservative criticize conservatism is that it saves liberals from doing all the work, but that's not the half of it.

A larger part of my attraction to these writers' work is their refusal to close ranks and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with other self-identified conservatives when doing so would require them to compromise their views. After what this country has recently been through, this is a trait all liberals should value.

I say nothing controversial at all when I say that many of the self-inflicted injuries wrought upon this nation during the past 6+ years have been exacerbated by dissenting or skeptical members of the controlling party/ideology either supporting or refusing to oppose decisions made by other party/ideology members. Fortunately for us, as frustrating and painful as this past historical period has been, it appears we're entering a new era with a different set of rules regarding toeing the ideological line.

The American voter's rejection last November of the conservatives-united-will-never-be-divided approach is starting to bear fruit, and public dissent among conservatives has returned to the public forum. Although this public conservative dissent is now no stranger to the airwaves, I wanted to cheer you with a less-known bit of conservative dissent that cheered me today.

A bit of back story: The Corner is a blog run by the National Review, a magazine founded by William F. Buckley in 1955 and lately accused by voices on the left of chickenhawking — that is, offering civilian commentary (from commentators who have never served in the military) in strong support of an aggressive interventionist military strategy. Of late, I've become a bit addicted to The Corner, if for no other reason than to learn more about how the current crop of neoconservatives see the world.

On the day after the Virginia Tech tragedy, and in the spirit of a true chickenhawk, one of the National Review bloggers, John Derbyshire, wrote a post blaming the victims of Monday's attack for the enormity of their own suffering. "Where was the spirit of self-defense here?" asked Derbyshire, wondering how a lightly armed person could kill so many. Apparently, Derbyshire was certain of his own courage when similarly situated.

Over the past four days, me-too conservative pundits have tried to reframe the debate about Derbyshire's words, engaging in all manner of apologetics and trying in vain to turn blaming the victims into something other than blaming the victims. Finally, today, another National Review blogger, John Podheretz, stood up to Derbyshire's accusation. "I have to dissent, in the strongest possible terms, from John Derbyshire's shocking posts on Virginia Tech," Podheretz began, launching into a blistering critique of his colleague's view.

I'm not accustomed to National Review writers dissenting amongst themselves in the "strongest possible terms," and I was well pleased — not pleased that I found one more conservative voice to consistently enjoy (JPod's not really my cup of tea), but that I witnessed a conservative voice stand up to another conservative voice when it would have been easier for him to attempt to excuse his colleague's poorly-conceived comments or just to look the other way.

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