We’re tempted to dismiss these queries by claiming to be neither liberal nor conservative---ah, where have we heard that one before?---and that we simply consider each issue on its merits and then come to a studied conclusion.
But that of course would be a big, fat, pompous lie, at least the latter part. We know that our politics bubble up from a stewpot of inchoate resentments and yearnings, most likely because we were raised in East Texas and Southwest Louisiana, although we generally try to work through those, as the lady we were paying a $100 an hour advised us to do many years ago.
So we usually write back we’re both or somewhere in between, or if we’ve got a few minutes explain our longheld fealty to the idea, if not the reality, of anarcho-syndicalism. It’s not that we’re trying to dodge the issue, it’s just that we’ve come to the station in life’s journey where folks who claim to be “liberal” or “conservative” (or, hell, “independent”) and than begin expounding pre-fab, party-line opinions that supposedly accord with those labels strike us as somewhat infantile, as being unschooled in the vagaries of life, as wanting to ram all the jagged and irregular pieces of the puzzle of existence into a neat formation, or formulation. (Today’s talking points: Goo-goo, ba-ba.)
Or they act as if they’re suffering from some form of mental illness, like the chairman of the Republican National Committee appeared to be when we saw him on TV last weekend.
What set us on the meandering jag was a series of essays in the current issue of our cousin Pat Buchanan’s American Conservative magazine, a sort of roundtable of conservative authors, academicians, pamphleteers and front-porch rockers who were posed the questions, “What is Left? What is Right? Does it Matter?” These questions seem to have been prompted by the high disregard most of the contributors have for the neoconservative misadventure in Iraq (Buchanan’s magazine, by the way, has offered some of the most perceptive, and prescient, writings on the war, dating back to before the war began; unfortunately, not much of the magazine is available online.)
All of the pieces are worth reading, although we’d especially commend the one by Boston University professor Andrew J. Bacevich, who drives the nail home most resoundingly:
The insiders who dominate U.S. foreign policy have a vested interest in sustaining the twaddle about an American Century. After all, it cements their hold on power. The American Century emphasizes secrecy and deference to those who are presumably “in the know.” It shields members of this self-perpetuating elite from accountability. It provides a handy cloak for megalomania and a ready excuse for error. It keeps debate over foreign policy and its implications narrow and insipid---as the Democratic critique of the Iraq War has demonstrated. It excludes the great unwashed.Ta-ta. Got to cut ’n’ run.
American exceptionalism is a delusion. The beginning of wisdom in foreign policy lies in seeing ourselves as we really are and in acknowledging our responsibility for the mess in which we find ourselves, in Iraq and elsewhere. When it comes to extricating ourselves from that mess, the first order of business is to clean up our own act. Principled liberals and authentic conservatives will disagree on how best to do so, but that surely is a debate worth having.