Saturday, February 26, 2005

Nailing the Three Monkeys

Matt Yglesias points out the modern right's dirty secret:

I think Jonah Goldberg introduced a good way of thinking about the more important division in a column several years ago, though I would characterize it somewhat differently. Jonah asks us to think of the movement as divided between "anti-state conservatives" and "anti-Left conservatives." I'd like to strike the "conservatives" so we can encompass libertarians and conservatives alike. The point, at any rate, is that some folks on the right are motivated primarily by a distrust of the state while others are motivated more by a distrust of leftwingers. For a long, long, long time between the 1930s and the end of the 1970s these two brands of distrust were almost perfectly aligned. Liberals gave birth to the vast majority of the federal apparatus, and the government was usually controlled by -- and always populated by -- leftwingers. If you were concerned about the state, you had to be concerned about the left, because the state was full of leftwingers. If you were concerned about the left, you had to be concerned about the state, because the state was the most important institution the left controlled....

Now I think what we've seen over the past few years is that the anti-left brand of rightwingery has a lot more popular appeal than does the anti-state brand. And, in retrospect, I think you can see that 'twas ever thus. Most rightwingers were never very interested in applying the same standard of suspicion to the military and the police that they displayed with regard to "bureacrats" or public school teachers. Not coincidentally, the security establishment was the exception, even during the high tide of New Deal/Great Society liberalism, to the general rule that the state was run by and for leftwingers. With conservatives running the show everywhere, that same sort of attitude is extended by most of the right's constituents to the whole project.

It seems some people - most people - never learn. History teaches that the government you control today is the government that those you fear most will control tomorrow. Every muscle that you enjoy flexing today is one that will eventually used to punch you in the face. Far too many elements of the right have forgotten this, even as many leftists conveniently forget that the abuses they decry are the same sort of things they were perpetrating and cheering not so very long ago. No doubt Salon and The New York Times will suddenly find White House-driven IRS audits to be eminently newsworthy when they are the target, instead of WorldNetDaily.

This vicious circle is where pragmatism over principle inevitably leads. One can only make so many compromises before there is very little left to compromise. If your only distrust is for the Left instead of the State, it will not take long before your behavior will become indistinguishable from that of a leftist, as George Bush and company have been proving for the last four years.

It's both interesting and disappointing to see how a Three Monkey like Jonah Goldberg could properly diagnose the situation and still wind up demonstrating the process at work himself. It will be even more interesting to see who stays within the party and who leaves it in disgust if the left-wing of the Republican party remains ascendant. Then again, one can already hear the 2008 battle cry: "A vote for [insert Libertarian or Constitution candidate's name here] instead of [Giuliani, Bush, Rice] is a vote for Hillary Rodham Clinton!"


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