Sunday, February 10, 2008

Freethinking Isn't Free

From time to time in politics there are issues that are so divisive they exclude any neutral position--claim a middle ground only at the expense of your moral existence and any claim to rational thought. These kinds of issues force people to choose sides, even against people whom formerly were close allies.

Abortion does that: you can’t deny what grows in a pregnant woman’s belly, so if you want to endorse its homicide you’ll have to choose to make your own the specious arguments of that side, like that aborting mothers are having their “lives” saved by the procedure, and "anti-choice" advocates are not trying to save babies, but only hurt women. It took 25 years for Naomi Wolf to finally admit, “Yeah, we know we’re killing babies. You got a problem with that?”

The war against jihadism is the same; with an enemy so explicit about hating us, and so devoted to killing us as the Islamists are, that denying we're in a war means a complete mental shutdown (you know, sort of like the Democratic debate series). So if you really must try to prevent our side from fighting back, you’ll have to embrace the insane position that all that violence out there is the result of us unfairly attacking them.

John McCain’s likely nomination is going to force that kind of choosing up. Supporters of McCain, many of them highly respected, very intelligent, usually rational, many of them exemplary leaders, are simply not going to be able to keep saying that McCain is clearly a conservative when he clearly is not. And because they all know he clearly is not, sooner or later they're going to have to choose to explain those of us who won't trust McCain the same way liberals always explain conservatives, as just a bunch of intolerant, narrow-minded wackos.

By way of example, today Detroit News editorial page editor Nolan Finley, whom we here at DU have, at least once or twice, had a kind word for, reveals how angry he is that McCain isn’t being embraced by “the Republican Party's right wing.” In fact, he’s gone and called us all “self-righteous screechers” and “right-wing nuts.” (“No room in GOP tent for free thinkers”).

Using as an example the experience of former Michigan Congressman Joe Schwartz, (a one-term Republican turned out in 2006 for being too liberal), Finley describes how Schwartz must now watch “the GOP’s self-righteous screechers try to hang a scarlet ‘L’ around the neck of his good friend John McCain.” Finley explains that the self-righteous party purists can’t stand McCain because he’s an independent thinker who has engaged in the “occasional flirtation with moderate politics.”

But to describe McCain’s magnetic attraction to moderate-to-liberal politics as an occasional flirtation is like saying that Kwame Kilpatrick has been rumored, in those rare instances he encounters a woman he finds more attractive than his wife, to bestow upon her a chaste, good-natured wink.

Nor does it speak well for Finley’s confidence in his man’s bona fides that he has to viciously attack someone like Ann Coulter as a “character assassin” with an “emaciated face.” (We recall that Finley last year insulted our friend Debbie Schlussel by denouncing her as a “chubby Ann Coulter”; Nolan must have a very exacting standard for when a woman is just right). Anyhow, Coulter’s ironical-satirical announcement that she would vote for Clinton because President Hillary might arguably govern in a fashion less liberal than McCain is intended to draw attention to McCain’s liberal record, and has nothing to do with actually endorsing Clinton.

I'm sure the non-angry Finley might figure that out. But he's chafing against his loyalty to the freethinking John McCain. And we already know that when one side in an argument hasn’t any facts, it promptly resorts to name-calling. (By the way, I don’t consider political commentators referring to McCain as “liberal” as calling names. I haven't heard anybody call McCain a "liberal nut." Nor is it possible to discuss American politics without placing people and ideas somewhere along the liberal-conservative extremes. On the other hand, I think being called a “right wing nut” is meant to be an insult.)

Finley wants to see the GOP move to the center, which means farther to the left. But we didn't win in 2004, 2000, and 1994 by running away from conservative principles, even if our leadership didn't always live up to the ideals. And if the party had stayed closer to its tradition the past few years, we wouldn’t have lost Congress in 2006.

But Schwartz and Finley think the Republicans will be better off with more freethinkers and less “ideology,” (i.e., less Reagan conservatism). Schwartz describes those folks with cold objectivity as “the same gang that got me.”

Not that I’m saying these guys are “liberals,” (chubby, emaciated, or otherwise). But just check out this list of what Joe Schwartz and Finley like and don’t like about the current Republican Party.

They dislike “moral absolutism,”conservative orthodoxy,” and “doctrinal purity,” and they prefer “pragmatism,” “influence,”and victory based upon the sentiments of the “center” (the left).

Freedom of thought is one thing, being a “freethinker” another. The term “freethinker” actually denotes a person drifting along in a sea of moral relativism, resistant to hard-and-fast rules, and mistrustful of the constraints of tradition, religion, society, etc.--in other words, freethinkers are liberals. The opposite of being a freethinker is to hold firm principles. In other words, conservative. (The official flower of the freethinker, by the way, is the pansy. (“A Pansy for Your Thoughts”). Not, for all I dislike his politics, that I think McCain is a pansy.)

But it doesn’t shock my conscience if there’s no room for such freethinking people in the Republican Party. Don't they already have their own party, and at least 2 others if you count the Greens and the Socialist Workers Party? And isn’t Cindy Sheehan getting a new one up?

You see, it's the rest of us who still need a party. Leave this one alone.

Life sometime pitches us a moral dilemma. It may well be that I do vote for McCain next November, holding my nose, as all those other millions who say they’ll be holding their noses (here’s an idea: we can all leave the polls showing off our pinched red noses the same way the liberated Iraqis proudly showed off their purple fingers--we can even start the rumor that Bill Clinton secretly voted for McCain). I would do this, naturally, only to avoid the greater moral evil of helping elect a nation-ending Clinton or Obama administration. But the reason it will pose a dilemma is precisely because I'm squeezed from onse side by a pragmatic need to spare the country a Democratic government in wartime, and from the other by certain moral and political absolutes and orthodoxies that I hold dear--and that McCain does not hold dear-in fact, despises.

Also, I was one of the people extremely unhappy that in 2006 Republican voters felt that “punishing” their party by allowing a Democratic majority in Congress made either moral or political sense, when to me it made neither. Sometimes adulthood means you don't get a choice of good and evil, only a choice between evils.

In spite of Finley’s feeling the need to say it, McCain’s nomination is still not “inevitable.” It is not even mid-February. We conservatives have only just been bereaved of any viable conservative nominee, and we ought to be entitled to a few weeks of grieving the fact and discussing our options before we resign ourselves (if we do) to having to support a demon in preference to an archdemon. But I don’t have to put up with any revision of reality that will make me start believing McCain is a conservative.

To me that makes us, on some level anyway, principled. To the freethinking Nolan Finley, that just makes us all right-wing nuts.


Anonymous said...


T.R. Clancy said...

Thanks, FM, and please keep reading.