The Corner

Re: The Trouble With Conservatism

I agree with Kathryn, Mark and Andy, but if I can throw out one other point. There seems to be something other than a misunderstanding of conservatism going on with his column. He writes:

How much do seven members of the U.S. Senate weigh?

Eyeing them — Tom Coburn, Jim DeMint, Jeff Sessions, Saxby Chambliss, David Vitter, Jim Bunning, Richard Burr — I’d guess they probably come in at about 1,300 pounds. These are the Republicans who have signed a hold letter, preventing action on the reauthorization of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

Now, how much do 3 million HIV/AIDS-infected people — the treatment goal of a reauthorized PEPFAR — weigh? This is a more difficult calculation. Adults with advanced forms of the disease can weigh about 60 pounds. Children with AIDS are like a shadow falling on a scale. Maintaining weight becomes difficult with vomiting and diarrhea, with tuberculosis and fungal infections, and with cancers such as Kaposi’s sarcoma and lymphoma.

Even so, you’d think that a few million of these wasting bodies would weigh more on the moral balance than seven senators. But so far, you’d be wrong.

I understand Gerson’s passionate about this issue (and deeply invested in it) and that’s all fine, even admirable. But does reducing the issue to the comparative body weight of U.S. senators and dying Africans really take us very far? Literary license notwithstanding, it’s worth remembering that the senate is slow and deliberative by design. This sort of dark utilitarian calculus may score cheap rhetorical points, but I think Gerson’s frustration is aimed less at conservatism than it is at the inefficiencies of deliberative democracy.

Update: Ross Douthat on Gerson:

This is rhetoric better suited to Michael Moore than to a columnist who wants conservatives to take him seriously, rather than just tuning him out.

Jonah Goldberg — Jonah Goldberg holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute and is a senior editor of National Review. His new book, The Suicide of The West, is on sale now.

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