Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Dissenting Opinions

As I'm sure I've said before, it's not conservatism itself that bothers me as much as the perception that, on a given issue, one side is inherently "conservative" and the other is inherently not. Sometimes that's the case, but there's usually more than a little room for debate, and I can't always figure out how conservatives feel justified in clinging to a particular viewpoint so monolithically.

Turns out I'm not the only one. Here's a short list of prominent conservatives who, on at least one issue, break from the herd. And I'm not talking about people considered moderate, like John McCain and his "maverick" nonsense. These are conservatives who went a different direction because the "liberal" view is more compatible with their understanding of conservatism.

Dick Cheney Supports Same-Sex Marriage
I think that freedom means freedom for everyone. As many of you know, one of my daughters is gay and it is something we have lived with for a long time in our family. I think people ought to be free to enter into any kind of union they wish. Any kind of arrangement they wish.
"Freedom means freedom for everyone." Assuming the "as long as you're not an enemy combatant" caveat is implied, does it get more fundamentally conservative than that? And note that Cheney unambiguously rejects the "same-sex marriage is an affront to our freedom" argument, which is one of the most baffling things conservatives are somehow able to say with a straight (so to speak) face.

Rupert Murdoch Supports Amnesty [1]
Our partnership advocates reform that gives a path to citizenship for responsible, law-abiding immigrants who are in the U.S. today without proper authority. It is nonsense to talk of expelling 12 million people. Not only is it impractical, it is cost prohibitive.

As an immigrant, I chose to live in America because it is one of the freest and most vibrant nations in the world. And as an immigrant, I feel an obligation to speak up for immigration policies that will keep America the most economically robust, creative and freedom-loving nation in the world.
So, a successful businessman argues that a government policy is patently flawed because it's impractical and it undermines natural economic forces? Sounds awfully conservative to me. Not to mention reasonable.

William F. Buckley Supported Legalization of Marijuana
Conservatives pride themselves on resisting change, which is as it should be. But intelligent deference to tradition and stability can evolve into intellectual sloth and moral fanaticism, as when conservatives simply decline to look up from dogma because the effort to raise their heads and reconsider is too great… And although there is a perfectly respectable case against using marijuana, the penalties imposed on those who reject that case, or who give way to weakness of resolution, are very difficult to defend.
Gay marriage might draw the silliest arguments from defenders of the status quo, but the marijuana debate is a close second. Both appear to be cases where the Urgent Need to Resist Change at All Costs has taken on a life of its own, and thus no longer requires a rational underlying foundation to sustain itself. Buckley was one of few conservatives who recognized not only that resistance to change for no good reason is intellectually dishonest, but that it's a fallacy to which defenders of the status quo are especially susceptible.

Richard Viguerie and Brent Bozell Oppose the Death Penalty
We are among a growing number of conservatives who have questions and reservations about the death penalty, believe it is no longer a necessary form of punishment based on either Lockean or biblical principles, or oppose it outright.
Maybe it's just me, but if I ever found myself advocating an ideology that sees mandatory health insurance as a deplorable abuse of government power, but sees nothing wrong with the government executing people, I'd stop and re-examine things too.

And that's the common thread here, isn't it?[2] If new information or a new perspective makes a viewpoint seem incompatible with one's ideology, the proper course of action is to re-examine the viewpoint, the ideology, or both—not to simply redefine the ideology to make the viewpoint fit.

1. I say "amnesty" because it's pithier, and because it's the term most who disagree with Murdoch would use. Like virtually anyone accused of supporting "amnesty," what he's really talking about is a set of reforms reasonably calculated to (a) avoid the logistical nightmare of deporting 12 million people, and (b) prevent a similar build-up from happening in the future, which is "amnesty" in the same sense that a plane ticket entitles you to bypass fees, lines, security, and any other hassles between you and your destination.
2. Actually, there's another common thread. Cheney has a gay daughter, Murdoch is an immigrant, Buckley smoked pot, and…ok, I doubt Viguerie or Bozell have ever been executed, but still. It's almost as if personal experience makes the idea that a certain thing threatens to destroy society seem a bit irrational.

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