The Corner

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Re: Crunchy Cons


But Jonah, isn’t it true that consumer choice has a funny way of getting translated into public policy in different ways?

We had Rep. Joe Barton in to talk to us at the ed board this morning. We asked him about imposing federal standards to improve fuel efficiency on cars, and he said he was dead-set against them. “Who am I to tell people what kind of cars they should drive?” he said. OK, fine. Later, we talked about the proposed repeal of the Wright Amendment, which the Congressman is dead-set against. He wants to restrict competition to protect D/FW Airport.

I asked him how he reconciles the two positions, refusing to use public policy to shape consumer choices on automobiles, but insisting on using it to shape consumer choices on airplane rides out of Dallas. He justified it (unpersuasively in my view) by saying that the former wouldn’t advance a worthwhile policy goal, but the latter would.

Anyway, I would love to mix it up on this familiar turf today, but I’m way behind at the office. I will just offer this e-mail I received today from a Corner reader, who really, really gets the concept:

For me [the crunchy con thing] is about learning from the stories and struggles of others and obtaining, not only insight, but also affirmation–oh how I cringe at the word! but it’s the right one to use here–of a number of unorthodox choices that I have made, and beliefs that I have developed, as a person of conservative and traditionalist leanings in today’s world.

To put it another way: the Crunchy Con thing, to me, is not about commands (if you’re going to be a Crunchy Con, you’ve got to do this! and you mustn’t do that!) but about articulating and defending alternative choices and views. It’s about the fact that I don’t have to like Wal-Mart just because I’m a political conservative; nor do I have to be a lefty because I sometimes shop at EarthFare. (This latter point needs to be made to both liberals and conservatives, by the way.) It’s about defending taste and craftsmanship and all manner of things that are humane and small-scale against the excesses of modernism and technologism and corporatism and gigantism. It’s about bringing the likes of Jane Jacobs and Lewis Mumford back into the discussion, instead of turning our physical environment completely over to developers who give us big-box stores and clusters of McMansions, and then telling ourselves that we’ve got to like it because we’re conservatives and there’s no other way. It’s about allowing us to debate the good and bad effects of technology, to make a conscientious effort to define and separate them out, to be able to argue that some forms of “progress” we would best do without, without being forced to accept the label of Luddite, or be caricatured as people who are “against science” or “don’t believe in science.”

It’s about expanding the discussion, advancing new arguments, considering different choices…and maybe, just maybe, bestowing on conservatism new fields to plow, along with the paleo-con and neo-con and Wall Street and libertarian and other fields…all of which have borne good and healthy fruit in the past (though not all the fruit, in every season!), and all of which I appreciate and embrace as part of the conservative fold, but none of which truly feels like home to me.

Yes, exactly. It’s about expanding the meaning of what it means to be conservative in America today, not fulfilling the liberal caricature of us as GOP-bots.


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