The Right Coast

May 04, 2004
Now is the time for all pompous conservatives to puff themselves up like toads and bloviate
By Tom Smith

You've seen them, at least if you frequent conservative gatherings. They sport blue blazers that might have fit them at Andover or Yale, but not anymore. They seem never to have understood that ties can be drycleaned, or even replaced. If you want to talk dirty to them, you say "Princeton." There comes a time in every fight when this sort of conserative puffs himself up, like the pompous toads we have out in East County, and burps at the top of his little lungs "me too! me too! me too!" It happens out in Jamul in springtime, when you get rain and warm weather. It's happening now in Washington, now that it looks like we might have a fight on our hands in Iraq.

You can tell someone is losing their nerve when they start quoting people. George Will really breaks open the Bartlett's in this morning's screed. Time for another lesson on what is true, old-fashioned, no-ice-with-that, let's-give-Chip-a-wedgie, conservatism. Professor Will intones: "In "On Liberty" (1859), (did everybody get that? 1859! Them were the days!) John Stuart Mill said, "It is, perhaps, hardly necessary to say" that the doctrine of limited, democratic government "is meant to apply only to human beings in the maturity of their faculties." One hundred forty-five years later it obviously is necessary to say that." Or, as they say in East County: Errrrrrrrp! Errrrrrrp! Me too! Me too! Me too! And just as you are trying to digest that gobbet, Will lays this out for us: "Ron Chernow's magnificent new biography of Alexander Hamilton begins with these of his subject's words: "I have thought it my duty to exhibit things as they are, not as they ought to be." That is the core of conservatism."

Oh, how magnificent! How core-like! How very Hamiltonian! Where did I put those silk knee-breeches! Look, it's Mr. Jeremy Fisher himself, come to offer us a magnificent butterfly sandwich! How utterly refreshing and relieving for Will to let us know wherein lies the core of conservativism. We can never be reminded often enough. It is opportunism disguised as a reversion to old-fashioned, if obscure principles! Am I getting that right? And thank goodness those core principles are so obscure. Otherwise it would be hard to bug out when the going got rough, and still have something to justify it with. How very sad, how poorly it reflects on us, that Will had to remind us of that when, perhaps, one should have thought it should hardly have been necessary for one to say it to one. In my Disney infected mind, I see Will as a plump rat, decked out in 18th century finery, poised on the rail of the ship, which he fears is sinking, pausing to lecture us before he scurries overboard: "And let me say finally, that it is alwaysdiscretion, my friends, discretion and prudence, that is, or rather, are, the better part of valour! And with that, I bid you, Adieu!"

And what has motivated these nervous conservatives to hop to the edge of the water and puff themselves up with quotations, before they disappear into the waves? It is that, suddenly, things look rough in Iraq. American soldiers have been humiliating Iraqi prisoners and the press be goin' wild. What is going on in Fallujah doesn't look like the sort of victory political pundits can understand. I say, it's all rather confusing, what, what?

So, if you are the careful, cautious, old fashioned sort of conservative, it's time to start quoting dead liberals, such as Daniel Patrick Moynihan, about such completely unfalsifiable entities as "culture" and "maturity," which sound so much more profound than "exit strategy," and so much less cowardly than "quagmire." We wouldn't have left Iraq in such a mess, but their "culture" just wasn't "mature" enough. And so, we abandoned them to the mercies of die-hard Saddamist fascist thugs, theocratic neo-Nazis, and international terrorists searching frantically for WMDs. We did, in short, the mature, old-fashioned conservative thing. The traditional thing.

George Will should join the ranks of Maureen Dowd and other columnists who have said what they have to say. This is the stage of the Iraq conflict when we need cowboys and Marines a lot more than we need preppies or New York social x-rays. The core reality is that this is the time to cowboy up. One should hardly have thought that necessary to say. We need to find the rest of the so called "militants" in Iraq, and their various al Queda helpers, and kill them. We need to set up a functioning army and police force. We need to install a regime that is not founded on terror. We need to convince nuke-crazy Iran that we mean business. We need to punish the soldiers guilty of torture, compensate the victims and move on. Last I checked, the US Army didn't rape any children in front of their parents, feed anybody into a wood chipper feet first, or let their dogs eat them, so everybody, especially you really old fashioned conservatives, should just calm down and realize it's still the first quarter.

Yes, it's too bad George Bush can do such a credible imitation of a tounge-tied knucklehead when ever the press asks a tough question. We knew that already. That does not mean George Will should panic. It's a vision thing. Old fashioned conservatives, or some of them, think democracy came over in a boat from England. New conservatives think it can grow anywhere, even such God foresaken places as Texas and Iraq, because it springs out of the human heart, not Harvard politicos, English philosophers or magnificent biographies, or, as it should not be necessary to say, meterologically sensitive Washington pundits. We also have a moral obligation to try far past the point where the old conservatives scurry to their books looking for excuses to flee. We need to stick with the stubbornness of a cowboy who is too dug in to do anything but fight until he dies, if he has to. As that great philosopher said, like a tick on a dog. We owe it to the Vietnamese people, whom we betrayed, and to the Iraqi people, whom we betrayed once before. That's the core reality. That's true conservatism. That's the way things are. The "faculties" of the Iraquis trying to build a new state may not be the generation that gathered at Philadelphia, but they are "mature" enough to figure this reality out, and so is everybody else in the watching world.