So, Clint Eastwood does a Super Bowl ad that seems to support President Obama and the auto bailout, and conservatives call him a traitor. Then he does his "empty chair" act at the GOP convention, and they love him again. Then he is identified as one of the 100 Republicans signing a friend-of-the-court brief in favor of gay marriage, and he's on the naughty list again. And the lesson is:
He’s a Republican. He’s a conservative. But beyond any of that, he is is own man with his own opinions on each and every subject in which he takes an interest and he doesn’t much give a fig if you disapprove of his position. He doesn’t agree with the text book position of the “real conservatives” on every single issue. And I suspect that, like many of us, he doesn’t pay much attention to what anyone else chooses to define as the “texbook conservative” stance on hundreds of different policy points. He goes where his own beliefs lead him.
The story here about Clint Eastwood has nothing to do with gay marriage. It has to do with the idea that somebody – anybody – can define conservatism for you on each and every issue. There will be disagreements inside the tent on both sides. That’s a sign of a healthy, open minded debate. Declaring anyone who doesn’t fit a predefined mold on each and every discussion point as being “not one of us” leads you down a path toward irrelevance and extinction.
Beyond what Eastwood teaches us about how to grow old -- which is to stay feisty, never mind all that crap about aging "gracefully" -- he also shows us how to approach a political philosophy. Just believe what you believe, and be careful of attaching a label to it. It's fine to say (as I do) that the sum of my beliefs seems to make me a conservative with libertarian leanings and a few liberal skeletons in the closet. It's another to do it the other way around and let the label define your beliefs. "I am a conservative, therefore I look for the conservative position when a new issue comes along." That's a shortcut around thinking.