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Hardly A Conservative Model

Angle has managed to embrace the one Founding Father with a disturbing tolerance for the political violence of the French Revolution. “Rather than it should have failed,” enthused Jefferson, “I would have seen half the earth desolated.” Hardly a conservative model. ~Michael Gerson

Perhaps Gerson remembers the following words:

So it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.

This is hardly a conservative idea, either, and it is even less so when Bush said later that “we have lit a fire as well as a fire in the minds of men,” which is eerily enough the same phrase Dostoevsky used to describe the destructive power of revolutionary ideas in The Possessed. A little later, Bush said, “It [the fire] warms those who feel its power; it burns those who fight its progress. And one day this untamed fire of freedom will reach the darkest corners of our world.” Bush didn’t exactly say that half the earth would be desolated, but untamed fires tend to destroy everything in their path. How exactly was any of that conservative or responsible?

Of course, all of these pyrotechnics are supposed to happen elsewhere in the world. Even when constitutional liberties are infringed and undermined in the name of security, as they were repeatedly by Gerson’s former boss, we are supposed to pretend that the threats to liberty are all external and far away. Now the man who helped craft some of the most dangerous revolutionary rhetoric in recent American history wants to lecture others about an excessive fondness for the same. What’s more, Gerson wants to pose as some sort of dour, “responsible” skeptic of violent political change when he helped author many of the speeches that justified a war for regime change in Iraq! The speechwriter for the neo-Jacobins wants us to believe that he is horrified by the excesses of the Jacobins.

Jefferson’s support for the French Revolution is certainly one of the darker blots on his reputation, and it is one of the things that keeps conservatives sympathetic to the Jeffersonian persuasion from being stronger admirers of Jefferson himself. What is remarkable here is that Gerson is pretending that he is some latter-day Burke expressing revulsion at violent revolution when he happily served in an administration whose practical policy and stated goal was to try to export revolution all over the world. Perhaps the most important point to be made here is that Gerson worked alongside the people who ushered in violent political change that devastated an entire country, and they also trampled on the rights of American citizens and subjected suspects to indefinite detention and abuse. For her part, Sharron Angle has indulged in some careless and probably ultimately meaningless rhetoric about resisting tyranny at home. Angle’s rhetoric may be reckless or it may be empty, but so far she has not used her rhetoric in the service of an administration given to starting wars and violating the Constitution.

Of course, the encroachments that prompted the Founders to rebel against their government were incredibly small compared to the intrusions and violations Americans accept every day as a matter of course. What they counted as tyranny, almost all of us regard as the normal operation of a modern government, and some such as Gerson tolerate an even greater degree of government outside the rule of law. Had Gerson lived at the time of the War for Independence, he would probably have preferred remaining part of a centralizing empire, since that is clearly what he wishes for the United States today. His “responsible, governing agenda” will inevitably involve concentrating more power in the capital, expanding the reach of the state into the lives of citizens and entangling our country even more deeply in conflicts around the world for the sake of our “global commitments.” Whatever their mistakes or flaws, the people Gerson has targeted for condemnation are unlikely to do these things, and if they are sincere they will resist them most or all of the time. We had eight years of Gerson’s sort of “responsible” governance, and it was a period marked by unnecessary war, illegal surveillance, detention and torture, executive power grabs, centralization of power, and the creation of staggering unfunded liabilities. The Republican Party was a captive of Gerson’s wing for almost all of the Bush administration’s tenure, and it continues to be defined by the extremism that prevailed during that time.

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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