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Saturday, January 27, 2007

Conservatism and Me.

According to Andrew Sullivan, I'm a conservative!

That is, I don't hold anything to be absolutely true regardless of evidence, and I go through the world with an empirical outlook. Funny, that doesn't describe "conservatism" to me at all. Could it be that "conservatism" is merely "whatever Andrew Sullivan agrees with at any given moment"?

No, that's probably unfair. It's more likely that, as a self-described liberal, I have a different outlook on conservatism. After all, for most of my political life, the primary conservative focus has been what Sullivan describes as "fundamentalism," which he defines as pretty much what you would expect, a belief that one has cornered the market on Truth, damn all evidence to the contrary. How else to explain the insane anti-Clinton juggernaut of the 90s, the desire to suppress the teaching of evolution, the rationalization of torture? (The last two, at least, I should note that Sullivan has strongly condemned; I don't know his thoughts on the first.)

Still, even if I feel that Sullivan's conservatism isn't really conservative, as I know it, that doesn't matter; the ideas should be judged as ideas rather than examining how well they fit into a certain box. Although I haven't quite finished the book, I think the ideas thus far are well worth debate.

That's not true with regards to a conservative thriller novel I just finished, Empire by Orson Scott Card, about a modern United States civil war. And here, I am going to show my angry liberal tendencies in full-blast.

Never mind that it's the right wing that has legalized torture and tried to claim that habeus corpus doesn't exist in the Constitution. Never mind that it's President Bush's political rhetoric which has claimed that a vote for Democrats is a vote for terrorists. Never mind the ridiculous number of laws that have been broken by this administration in the pursuit of "terrorists." No, in Card's world, it's the Left that disregards the Constitution and launches a civil war. Thanks, Orson.

He's a good writer and the yarn pulls you along. And it's not as though there aren't sympathetic liberal characters in his narrative. But there are no, repeat no, unsympathetic conservatives; the right-wingers are all sweetness and light, even as his characters compare Al Gore to the Unabomber (yes, really!). But there are plenty of insane lefties to be found in Empire's pages.

And the revulsion at the "liberal media"! Give me a frapping break, Mr. Card! Have you read the Washington Post op-ed page lately? Have you noticed that all the major news outlets are corporate? Yet, again and again, we're told that everyone but Fox is slanted to the progressive. (And lest you feel that I'm inferring Card's views from those of his characters, much of this comes from his Afterword, non-narrative and in his own voice.)

To Card's credit, his ending is much more subtle than this review might lead you to believe; I found it satisfying and plausible. But the notion that there is a Leftist Establishment, just waiting in the wings to overturn the United States' constitutional democracy, is utterly ridiculous--even more so now after the 2006 election (which, to be fair, did happen after Empire's publication).

After all, to paraphrase Digby, it's true that there are wackos on both the left and right. But it's only the right-wing wackos that actually make money at it. When's the last time you saw a best-selling book by Ward Churchill? And say what you will about Michael Moore, he's not encouraging people to take "head shots" at federal agents.

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