The one and only time Ramesh and I collaborated on article (hopefully not the last time) it was to address the annoying habit of liberals to claim dead conservatives for their cause. Our prime example was John Dean’s use and abuse of Goldwater. An excerpt:
….John Dean, President Nixon’s counsel, has made a book-length version of this argument. He recently wrote: “For more than 40 years I have considered myself a ‘Goldwater conservative,’ and am thoroughly familiar with the movement’s canon. But I can find nothing conservative about the Bush/Cheney White House, which has created a Nixon ‘imperial presidency’ on steroids, while acting as if being tutored by the best and brightest of the Cosa Nostra.”
Today’s Republican policies are antithetical to bedrock conservative fundamentals. There is nothing conservative about preemptive wars or disregarding international law by condoning torture. Abandoning fiscal responsibility is now standard operating procedure. Bible-thumping, finger-pointing, tongue-lashing attacks on homosexuals are not found in Russell Kirk’s classic conservative canons, nor in James Burnham’s guides to conservative governing. Conservatives in the tradition of former senator Barry Goldwater and President Ronald Reagan believed in “conserving” this planet, not relaxing environmental laws to make life easier for big business. And neither man would have considered employing Christian evangelical criteria in federal programs, ranging from restricting stem cell research to fighting AIDS through abstinence.
Similar broadsides can be found any day of the week at Time’s website, where the magazine’s “conservative” blogger, Andrew Sullivan, excoriates the Right for its constant failure to conform to his shifting ideals. Francis Fukuyama’s new polemic, America at the Crossroads, employs the same basic narrative arc, except that it is applied solely to neoconservatives, who have supposedly lost their way. (Which makes him a paleo-neocon?)
Dean is, however, the most perfectly representative critic of contemporary conservatism. His analysis piles clichés on top of errors as though it were an archeological site dedicated to the excavation of ancient ad hominem arguments. He even trots out the old standby that today’s conservatism, unlike the conservatism of a few minutes ago, is flirting with fascism. Like Adorno and Horkheimer, he finds the fascist roots of conservative ideology deep in the personalities of its adherents.
But please: Russell Kirk a friend of gay rights? One wonders, also, where John Dean, the defender of Reagan, was during the 1980s. Reagan’s Environmental Protection Agency repulsed environmentalists more than Bush’s has. Reagan tried to restrict research involving human embryos. Bush may be resented in some quarters for standing in the way of same-sex marriage; Reagan was vilified as a willing abettor of genocide against homosexuals. That he was responsible for huge deficits — larger as a percentage of the economy than today’s — was, meanwhile, the central policy indictment made against him during the Eighties. Anthony Lewis cited those deficits as the chief black mark on Reagan’s legacy.
Both Dean’s complaints and their absurdity fit a pattern. Conservatives are always in the dock for betraying their forebears, and they are always found guilty. The fact that those forebears were found guilty of the same offense does not get in the way of the verdict….