Commentary: Conservative Rage vs. Liberal Guilt
By David Morris
January 21, 2001
Regarding John Ashcroft, Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., maintains, “A Republican president ought to be able to appoint people of strong conservative ideology.” Can you imagine Sens. Jesse Helms or Trent Lott uttering those words about a Democratic president and his strongly ideological liberal nominee? Think Lani Guinier.
Conservatives and liberals take a fundamentally different approach to politics. Conservatives are driven by rage; liberals by guilt. Conservatives attack. Liberals equivocate. Liberals inhabit a world painted a thousand shades of gray. Conservatives live in a black and white world. Conservatives believe they are battling evil. Liberals believe they are struggling to overcome human frailties.
Christopher Lasch’s 1978 book, “The Culture of Narcissism,” was rumored to be Jimmy Carter’s favorite book and the inspiration for his infamous “malaise” speech. We have seen the enemy, the liberal president advised in that speech, and he is us. No self-respecting conservative would be burdened by such self-doubt.
Tolerance is the watchword for liberals. Punishment is the watchword for conservatives.
In 1980, when the nation’s overworked air traffic controllers went on strike, President Ronald Reagan fired every last one. Ten years later, after the union had been broken and a trickle of unemployed controllers came hat in hand to apply for jobs, President George Bush refused to hire them.
In the 1960s, Morton Halperin served in both the Johnson and Nixon administrations. In 1970 he resigned in protest over Nixon’s illegal invasion of Cambodia. In 1993 President Clinton nominated him to a Pentagon post. He was eminently qualified. Enraged conservatives didn’t care. To them Halperin was a traitor. They forced him to withdraw.
A few days after the polls closed in Florida this past November, Republicans made it perfectly clear that if a court-ordered recount declared Gore the winner, they would fight the outcome all the way to Congress. On Jan. 6, 15 Democratic members of the House of Representatives rose to challenge Florida’s electors, citing a pattern of irregularities in the voting. Their challenge could not be heard unless one senator signed their petition. No Democrat would do so.
In January 1993, a liberal president took office. The Republicans were a minority in the House and the Senate. That didn’t stop them from waging war. Indeed, Sen. Bob Dole used the filibuster to an extent unknown in U.S. history to stop Clinton from enacting any significant legislation. For almost two years, Dole forced liberals to gain 60 votes, not 51 votes, to win. Does anyone believe Minority Leader Tom Daschle will embrace such a strategy?
I appreciate liberals’ devotion to tolerance and diversity. Really. But after a while I begin to think Robert Frost was right when he defined a liberal as someone “so broadminded he won’t take his own side in an argument.”
This is a dangerous time. We have a president who takes great satisfaction in having presided over about 150 executions while governor of Texas, more than the previous three governors of that state combined. Despite the mounting evidence that many innocent people have been executed, George W. has no doubts that every last one of those people deserved to die. The moral burden does not weigh heavily on our new president. “Guess what?” Governor Bush asked the television audience during his second debate. “The three men who murdered James Byrd, guess what’s going to happen to them? They’re going to be put to death.” (Actually, only two of the three received the death sentence.) The Chattanooga Times editorialized, “The triumphant look on his face was chilling….”
Republicans from Richard Nixon to James Watt to Tom DeLay have treated their opponents as the enemy. That is a well-documented historical fact. What makes the nomination of John Ashcroft as attorney general so ominous is that this tendency toward demonization may soon be wrapped in a higher authority. “There is no king but Jesus,” Ashcroft proudly proclaims. To which I would respond, there is no war more devastating than a holy war.
This article originally appeared in the Star Tribune