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Opening Arguments

Bye, bye, Anna, goodbye

Anna Quindlen makes a whole big Old-Fogy-Steps-Aside and Passes-Along-the-Torch deal out of quitting her very part-time gig of writing one lousy column every two weeks for Newsweek. But at least she leaves me a going-away present, a sentiment so manifestly wrongheaded that it has to be answered:

America's opinionators are too white and too gray. They do not reflect our diversity of ethnicity and race, gender and generation. They do not reflect the diversity of opinion, either, mainly because most are part of an echo chamber of received wisdom that takes place at restaurant tables in New York and Washington. Conservative pundits are making themselves foolish, flailing wildly because their movement itself is aging, confounded by the popularity of a president who stands for much of what they revile. But liberals are little better, fighting the same old battles in the same old ways, as though the world during their tenure had not changed radically.

Yes, the "world has changed radically" -- it's been doing that a lot lately, darn it. But the changes have been technological and social mostly, not political. All that's happened there is that there's a Democrat in the White House who is more liberal than the Republican he replaced. And conservatism and liberalism aren't old or worn out; they're still the two main ways of seeing the relationship of government and the governed. Those philosophies will continue to do battle and try to win adherents. One will wax and one will wane, back and forth.

And Quindlen's view of conservatism is a cartoon caricature of the sort spread by people who have never been conservative and have no idea what it means to be one. Conservatism, as I understand it, is not about wanting to preserve this or that thing, then "flailing wildly" because some young whippersnapper comes along and dismisses it. Since everything changes and is eventually replaced with something newer, that would be a never-ending treadmill of disppointment. Let's save . . . oops, there it goes, and here comes something else, so let's save . . .oops. Conservatism is about trying to keep what is valuable and what works as a foundation to build on, so that we also select what is valuable from the new instead of just accepting it all merely because it's different.


Wed, 05/06/2009 - 12:33pm

I tend to think of conservatism as a brake and liberalism as an accelerator. Both are undoubtedly vital parts of any machine devoted to transportation.

That said, very often I find Conservatives to be not very conservative, and Liberals to be not very liberal.

Leo Morris
Wed, 05/06/2009 - 1:51pm

Your analogy would work if we all agreed on the ultimate destination, just couldn't get together on how fast we should get there. But we don't all agree, which is why the journey is constantly interrupted by all these sudden detours to the left and right.