I encourage everyone to read Michael Brendan Dougherty’s piece on the Obamacons four years later. If I have any complaints to register about it, it’s that it should be longer – I’d have liked to hear in even more detail from Bacevich, Bartlett, Hart, etc. on where they’ve been and where they are. I’d also have liked to hear from former movement conservatives like David Frum who supported McCain but have gotten more disenchanted with the GOP over the course of the Obama years.
As for myself, I could possibly be classified as one of the group Dougherty treats, depending on whether I counted as a conservative in 2008 and whether I still count as one today. I was eager to see Obama prevail in the 2008 primaries, and voted for him in the general election as well, and I’m perfectly happy in retrospect with that preference and that vote. At the time, I described myself as an “Obama-skeptic for Obama” and that is still how I would describe myself. While I haven’t decided how I will vote, it is vanishingly unlikely that I will vote for Mitt Romney, for the simple reason that on most of the matters where I am most disappointed with President Obama – his overly Wall-Street-friendly response to the financial crisis, his militarized foreign policy, and his embrace of unchecked executive power and disregard for civil liberties – Mitt Romney promises to be worse. And on areas where I think President Obama has accomplished things – the health-care bill, fuel economy standards, an improved diplomatic environment internationally – Mitt Romney also promises to be worse.
There are ways that I dissent from the Obama Administration from the right. I’d like to see a reconsideration of disparate impact litigation. I wish the stimulus funds that supported state payrolls were linked to givebacks by public-sector unions on benefits, so that they looked less like pure giveaways. I think Wyden-Ryan is a starting point for furthering the goals of Obamacare rather than a rebuke to it. I’m sure there are other such issues. But on the most important questions of the day, I’m dissenting from what is conventionally classified as the left.
Does that mean my views are irrelevant for conservatives? There are plenty of writers affiliated with this magazine who would say that this construction is incorrect. That, in fact, a quasi-imperial interventionist foreign policy is the antithesis of conservative. That the conservative fiscal position is to oppose structural deficits, not to oppose any and all tax increases. There is a deep strain of conservative thought that appreciates the need to restrain the operation of finance in the economy; there is a conservative Hamiltonian tradition that sees the state as playing a vital role in economic development; and both Hayek on the libertarian side and the Red Tory tradition on the statist side appreciated the need for an effective social safety net and solidarity between classes.
I’m not wedded in general to calling myself a conservative (and some of my views I’d have to call liberal), or to debating whether or not something is authentically conservative. Heck, Burke himself never classified himself as such. But to be conservative is not the same thing as to be right-wing. “Conservative” and “liberal,” describe temperaments more than anything. And it is vanishingly unlikely that either political party can achieve a monopoly on a temperament.