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.
well, you asked for no comments on Brooks, and then gave us your comments. i’d say you identified something accurate about Brooks… a kind of vague nothingness, but you don’t recognize that nothingness is a tool of the devil as much as sophisticated lies or torturing babies.
Brooks had me fooled at first. After [editor of WSJ, how soon we forget] i thought he might be an honest conservative. nothing like it. just a more subtle liar.. prates about morality but has none.
now, i don’t believe in the devil, but he serves me as a literary device, and my reasons for not believing in him run a little deeper than “he permits evil”
but Jesus!, that would lead us into complications and we can’t have that.
speaking of complexity
i got lost in the pronouns when you switched from gerson to ryan. you are right about ryan, and right about cheney et al, though i don’t suppose water boarding is worse than taking toddlers from their mothers and putting them in a cage
I meant no comments on my dad. Yes Brooks’s vagueness is strategic. His defense of conservatism can’t be refuted, because his claims have no definite meaning and therefore not testable implications.
Robert, thanks for clarifying that. I don’t mean to be mean to you, because we agree about so much. And because I can be so wrong.
But even very smart people can get messed up in their logic, especially if they have been deliberately miseducated by people with an agenda and there is no obvious reality test to help them get straightened out.
God may or may not exist. I have no way of knowing. But the existence of evil in the world is not evidence either way. The whole story of Jesus, I think, is meant to illustrate the point that God permits evil to happen to good people but that is not the end of the story. If nothing else, it helps people to not despair when evil happens to them. I would not take that away from them. A good deal more important to them than a rise in GDP.
I don’t want to argue with you either, but I did not mention the existence of evil. I discussed natural disasters. Augustine can argue that only agents with free will can have souls, so God must accept a world with evil. Omnipotence does not mean ability to overrule a logical contradiction. I disagree in many ways (explained below* no character limit in comment threads)
But that wasn’t my argument. I was discussing natural disasters. The evil, if any, is committed by the tectonic plates which shift. Now I don’t claim this proves there is no God. I can’t help claiming that this proves there is no benevolent God.
Or take the story of Jesus (Jesus’s version). In that story, Jesus isn’t an aspect of God but a son of God (notably so is everyone else, in the gospels Jesus never hinted that he was God or a god of a new pagan faith). He must suffer horribly as a scapegoat.
If true, this story would prove that there is not a benevolent omnipotent God. Either God can’t let people into heaven unless Jesus suffers on the Cross (so He is not omnipotent) or he chooses not to (so he is not benevolent and demands suffering of the innocent). If true, the gospels would prove that there is not a benevolent omnipotent God.
Now this is all very simple. Obvious even. The fact that Christian doctrine is full of logical contradictions (I haven’t mentioned that 3>1) has been declared by extremely smart people to be proof that it is a higher more glorious truth than we mere mortals can understand. Faith can trump logic and evidence. It clearly has in this case.
Contra Augustine. I don’t believe we have souls in the sense he used the word (immortal souls) so I disagree fundamentally. But I also don’t agree that we have free will. I think our actions are determined by the laws of physics or truly random as asserted by the laws of physics. The causation can’t start with us. In any case, I don’t believe in human free will. But finally, he is talking about evil not un-necessary suffering. That wasn’t my topic at all.
Now you say that religious belief is a very good thing (even if the beliefs do not correspond to reality). I agree entirely. Not being a Christian I disagree with his claim that the truth will set us free. It’s just the truth and sometimes it’s better to believe other things. Fine. Agreed. Religion can be a very good thing and often is. Something to be cherished. But it is also false.
A feat of unaided memory:
the WSJ editor Brooks replaced as commentator on Newshour was Paul Gigot who reached a point where he could not longer even pretend not to be evil. Mark Shields stood in for the Democrats, and David Gergen occasionally presented the sane face of Republicans.
I think Shields represented an era when journalists got into the game to tell the truth about the people in power; which seems to be something different than “speak truth to power,” or just report what the powerful want the people to believe which is what they teach in journalism school.
oh, i don’t mind arguing with you, but the other AB’s might get bored with it. I just don’t mean to be mean to you.
nothing is obvious.except to people who have never encountered the exceptions.
i don’t think of jesus “sacrifice” as god needing a victim to atone for sin. that is a human invention, probably one of the ones Jesus was trying to talk them out of. I think Jesus sacrifice was more like that of a soldier who sacrifices his life so his buddies may live. remember, if jesus was god he was sacrificing himself. i told you it gets complicated.
Augustine was not God. And Jesus spoke in parables for a reason. Or at least he said he did. Or was said to have said he did.