Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Conservatives Hunt For Converts, Liberals Hunt For Heretics

Good item from James Taranto today.
In a very broad sense, of course, Smart is right. There is a danger in adopting extreme positions on social issues. As we've noted, this is why abortion is such a great issue for Republicans: The continued existence of Roe v. Wade ensures that the GOP need not take extreme antiabortion positions, while trapping the Democrats into taking extreme pro-abortion ones.

But there are problems with applying this reasoning to the Schiavo case. For one thing, we're not at all convinced that starving her to death was a "moderate" thing to do. But for the sake of argument, let's assume it was. As in the case of abortion, the courts have assured that the "religious-right extremists" did not prevail. As a gleeful John Zutz puts it in a letter to the editor of the Milwaukee Sentinel (last letter):

After the November elections, a number of my right-wing friends gleefully commented: "It's over, Bush is president, you lost, get over it."

Today, I have to reply: "It's over, Terri Schiavo is dead, you lost, get over it."

What will the campaign slogan be in 2006 or 2008? "Keep Terri dead: Vote Democratic"? Will the Dems seek out other women who depend on feeding tubes and run negative ads against them? "This is Jane Roe. She's in a persistent vegetative state, and doctors say she has no hope of recovery. But the religious right wants to keep her alive at taxpayer expense. Send Congress a message on Nov. 7. Don't let the extremists prevail."

Those who talk of a conservative crack-up have something bigger in mind than just the Schiavo case. Their argument is that the Republican coalition is too diverse to be sustainable, and that the Schiavo case exposes the tensions between Christians and libertarians, between Hamiltonians and states rights advocates, and so forth.

It seems to us, though, that this gets things precisely backward. As David Brooks writes in today's New York Times:

Conservatives have thrived because they are split into feuding factions that squabble incessantly. As these factions have multiplied, more people have come to call themselves conservatives because they've found one faction to agree with.

By contrast, fewer people have come to call themselves liberal in part because liberals are eager to cast out heretics. As Marc Cooper of The Nation writes for The Atlantic:

I've heard liberals, in their post-election malaise, obsess just as much over who they don't want in their ranks, culturally speaking, as over who they'd like to recruit. After some polls suggested that Bush won in November because a large percentage of Americans voted their "moral values," I was involved in discussions with dozens of panicked progressives who openly feared that someone, somewhere in the Democratic Party, might actually try to accommodate these lunatics.

Developing a political majority is a matter of addition, not subtraction, and the GOP's openness to a variety of viewpoints is a strength, not a weakness.

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