Thursday, January 8, 2009

America First with Caveats - Becoming an Owl

The funny thing about my political writing is that it has been, from the beginning, very public. And it's gotten better over time, which is good, and bloggier, too. You learn the tricks. The pacing. All that.

But I've also found that I have gone through sea changes in terms of my politics--largely due to the constant writing, reading, and self-evaluation that this process entails.

Early 2008 I was staunchly behind Israel, all my talking points came from an almost neoconservative perspective. I truly believed in the force of good America could provide through humanitarian intervention, and truly felt that getting out of Iraq (a war I have always opposed) would be a tragedy for the Iraqi people.

But I've had huge awakenings on all these fronts. For one, I've learned that simply "supporting" Israel is not enough. To truly support our ally, we need to be critical. I still can't stand half the online attacks on Israel, the calls for the expulsion of the Jews, etc. etc. But that really is a symptom of the online format. All the lunatics with a PC and a keyboard can make their nutty views known loud and clear. It doesn't reflect the larger debate.

Fortunately I've moved beyond much of the brash, naive blogging that goes on in the intense Israel/US vs. Terrorists blogging circles. The whole "axis of evil" mentality never sat well with me, and as soon as I began to realize that much of what I perceived was only that--a perception, not reality--I began to back off my presuppositions and sit back, and listen carefully.

One might say, I moved from Dove to Hawk to Owl, and I believe Owl is where I will remain. For one, I'm not so sure as Freddie deBoer or Daniel Larison that there is never a time for intervention. Maybe they are few and far between, and certainly taking a neo-realist approach to foreign policy--call it "America First with Caveats"--especially in this age of turmoil, seems to be sensible and not so much cold as practical and wise. But there are just wars. There is a time for aiding our allies or the weak. We just have to be extremely cautious, and conservative, about when we make that choice. I have come to the point that I believe that choice should be almost never, and that yes, it should be grounded in our self-interest in some way. I certainly no longer support democracy promotion, as I have seen its effects with clarity in Gaza, Iraq, Afghanistan--realms unfit for democracy unless home-grown and organic. The rule of law must precede the implementation of democracy; and the rule of law must have time to take root. A long time.

On domestic policy I've moved away from what I call the "talking-points conservatives" most of whom espouse free trade at all costs, tend toward a brazen form of debate, and shoot first, asking questions later (too late, too often). They are not so much conservative in disposition or temperament, but follow all the talking points (and heads) with careful precision. And they're rarely very interesting to argue with, so entrenched in their ideologies.

Paul Gottfried might sneeringly refer to them as "neocons" but I think that is a mis-generalization. I think TPC's works better.

I've moved into other circles, reading more of Daniel Larison and The American Conservative, finding myself at odds with some of it and agreement with some. I frequent Takimag and Culture11, read Andrew Sullivan and Ross Douthat, and numerous other thoughtful blogs with numerous viewpoints but one thing in common--they are all interesting, and present challenging opinions that don't necessarily represent the mainstream or "movement."

So the point I was getting at is that if I were to go back through all this public writing of mine I would find myself debating myself. Either that shows that I'm fickle or open-minded or both. I just think the truth is hard to pin down. Economics, foreign affairs, diplomacy, monetary policy--all of this is frought with nuance and consequence that this lone blogger can't possibly understand fully.

Honestly, look at all the brilliant economists out there disagreeing on this current recession. They're all far more informed than me on the subject. How am I supposed to make up my mind? I can read two totally opposing essays on the bailout and come away from both shaking my head, thinking "these both make sense." How can this be?

How can people become so partisan, when so little in politics is coherent or certain? I know that maintaining a conservative disposition is a valuable skill, and essential to the utilization of wisdom in politics. Beyond that, I want to know more. I want to question all these talking-points and haphazard ideological positions, and dig through the dirt of it all. I want constant revelation of my own intellectual fallibility.

The more I know, the less I know.

John Schwenkler from Upturned Earth leads us to Alex Massie discussing how "movement conservatives" have circled the wagons around the Cult of Reagan...
"But the Cult of Reagan actually helps explain the mess the Republican movement finds itself in. It used to be that it was the left that specialised in writing dissenters out of the movement; these days, in America at least, that's become a conservative trait. The RNC debate was illuminating in this respect: in addition to passing the Reagan litmus tests candidates were asked how many guns they own. And that was more or less it. Tick those boxes and you're a proper Republican; waver on either question and you're subject to suspicion."
This is exactly what I mean about Talking-Points-Conservatives. Read the rest to see what I'm getting at here...and for a bit more depth on the matter, read this as well...