My Favorite Conservative

Is Michael Gerson. My dad likes David Brooks (please no comments on this). I don’t, but also I am quite sure that Brooks isn’t really a conservative anymore. I think he just plays one on TV. He has a column in the New York Times based on their affirmative action conservative quota. There would be no reason to pay any attention to him if he weren’t a relatively reasonable conservative. I think he is, in fact, a remarkably vacuous centrist. It may however be that his penchant for extreme abstraction to the point of vagueness rapidly approach perfect meaninglessness is not the result of an inability to understand which collections of words mean something and which mean nothing. I suspect it is his way of dealing with his recognition of the fact that actually existing conservatism is indefensible. So ring the non changes on the Burkean alarm bells.

I think Gerson is clearly sincere. I think his policy proposals are motivated by strong Christian faith. Oddly for a conservative Christian, his version of Christian principles strikes this atheist as closely related to the example and teachings of Jesus Christ.

He has admitted that he played a major role in convincing Bush to fight AIDS with PEPFAR. He and Bush have saved hundreds of thousands (or millions) of lives (notably with the assistance of outstanding charities including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Clinton Family Foundation which is recognized by independent experts as one of the best and extraordinarily transparent too (hmm maybe Bill Clinton is my favorite conservative)).

He also made an eloquent case for promoting Democracy in Iraq, noting that the claim that they were incapable of it was racist. Now he naively imagined that if he could get Bush to say the words, he could get Bush to pay some attention to them, but they were impressive words.

Finally I like his Washington Post columns including this one. His claims are to avoid Trump considering one to be an enemy one has to act as a servant and defend his actions, and that this requires abandoning “morality or rationality or both.” Quite so and definitely worth writing although sensible people know this already.

However, I am puzzled by the two examples he cites. One is Liz Cheney who, he claims, is not prominent because of her name but because of her political skills. Of course Rep. Cheney defends her father Dick Cheney, so she has abandoned both morality and rationality long ago. I don’t understand how Gerson won’t accept Trump telling us born congresswomen to go back to their own country, but was willing to work with monstrous criminal torturers. Trump has committed many crimes, but I am not sure he has committed any nearly as appalling as the crimes Gerson downplayed in his previous job. I don’t understand how he managed it (and won’t get a change to ask him and he wouldn’t answer if I did).

His other example of someone who was damaged by Trump is Paul Ryan. He wrote

Former House speaker Paul D. Ryan’s reputation, for example, was deeply damaged by his service under Trump. Ryan — whatever his intentions — sent a message that the wealth of the country is a “real” issue, while the character of the country is a sideshow. But what brand of conservatism would elevate wealth above rectitude, decency and concern for the common good?

Every actually existing brand of course. I think Gerson uses “conservatism” to mean “good” and contrasts it with an entirely imaginary alternative. As an economist I am disturbed that he almost concedes that Ryan focused on the wealth of the country. In fact, Ryan focuses on Randian ideology. I suspect he supports tax cuts as a matter of principle no matter what the effects. Before Trump was elected, he demonstrated an extraordinary willingness to lie and to lie without shame. In any case, I think someone who really cared about the wealth of the country would look at the evidence. Basically his approach to policy was to lie about what he proposed. I’d say that his reputation should not have been damaged at all by his service under Trump, because I think he had already earned a reputation for complete indifference to the truth displaying an absolute absense of decency.

Now I have a prediction. I think Gerson will continue to call himself a conservative (unlike say original supply sider Bruce Bartlett). He is clearly a man of faith and, I think, he can keep his faith that his values are true conservatism and the fact that almost no powerful conservative shares them is as irrelevant as is the argument that horrible natural disasters suggest that God is not benevolent, not omnipotent and probably nonexistant.