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“Centrists” Aren’t Conservatives

Noah Millman writes:

Beyond Friedman’s deadly familiar wish-list, the Obama Administration has been a quintessentially small-”c” conservative one, in that it has tried its best to preserve the status quo in just about every area.

If we define conservative simply as preserving the status quo, Noah is right, but that isn’t how contemporary conservatives of any stripe define the word conservative. Preserving the status quo would mean rejecting all of the following things: breaking up the banks, significantly scaling back the warfare state, reducing overseas commitments and deployments, curtailing the power of the executive branch, and practicing fiscal responsibility in budgeting. That is far from an exhaustive list. Most or all of these are among the more important priorities for many traditional conservatives. Judging by what he has done, Obama doesn’t support doing any of these things. (A lot of self-described conservatives don’t support any of these things, either.) Like a lot of “centrists,” Obama has accommodated existing powerful interests in domestic and foreign policy. That doesn’t make him a conservative. It just makes him a conventional center-left Democrat.

We all understand that Friedman’s column had almost nothing to do with conservatism. This was just another rehashing of Friedman’s usual lament that the preferred agenda of “centrists” is being neglected, which conveniently ignores the fact that all of the items on the “centrist” agenda are unpopular and most of them are politically radioactive to one degree or another. For example, if the GOP’s immigration position followed the lead of Mike Bloomberg, Republican voters would desert the party in droves. Except for his nod to Sen. Coburn on fiscal issues, Friedman wasn’t referring to conservatives at all. He was praising relatively moderate and “centrist” Republicans (or former Republicans in Bloomberg’s case) as the true conservatives, which is a role some of them wouldn’t accept and at least one (Bloomberg) would correctly find absurd.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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