First, I want to welcome Michael back to TAC. It’s a pleasure to have him at the magazine again, and I look forward to working with him over the next few months. His first new article for the August issue of the magazine is worth reading. I spent a fair amount of time during the 2008 campaign following (and criticizing) the arguments of various “Obamacons,” so I was interested to read about their current views. One part of Michael’s article caught my attention:
Why not go left? After all, the experience of the Bush era seemed not only to dislodge commitments to the conservative movement, but also to loosen the convictions that went with membership in it. Bartlett is open to the idea, but he finds the prospects dim. “I think one of the things liberals could do for dissident conservatives is what the right did for dissident communists and dissident liberals,” he says. “They nurtured them. Those conservatives understood that these apostates were powerful allies. But the left is too stupid to recognize the opportunity that is there.”
Bartlett isn’t entirely wrong here, but I take a different view. “Going left” would almost certainly mean giving up some (or maybe most) of the principles that caused dissident conservatives to become “dissidents” in the first place. I would say that the experience of the Bush era didn’t “loosen the convictions” of dissident conservatives. On the contrary, it clarified and sharpened them, and it reminded us that so much of what made the Bush era a disaster was the indulgence of ideological fantasies of one kind or another. One of the main arguments that dissidents conservatives have made for at least the last ten years (and some for much longer than that) is that movement conservatism and temperamental, philosophical conservatism are not at all the same thing. “Going left” grants that movement conservatives have essentially been right that conservatism in this country is whatever they pretend that it is for the current election cycle or presidential administration. It would create the impression that dissident conservatives were ultimately the crypto-liberals that the enforcers of movement ideology claimed that we were. It would be a serious mistake to give that impression, since nothing could be more false.