Leaving the Right
It's an odd formulation in some ways as "the right" is not really a single entity. But in so far as it means the dominant mode of discourse among the institutions and blogs and magazines and newspapers and journals that support the GOP, Charles Johnson is absolutely right in my view to get off that wagon for the reasons he has stated. Read his testament. It is full of emotion, but also of honesty.
The relationship of a writer to a party or movement is, of course, open to discussion. I understand the point that Jonah Goldberg makes that politics is not about pure intellectual individualism; it requires understanding power, its organization and the actual choices that real politics demands. You can hold certain principles inviolate and yet also be prepared to back politicians or administrations that violate them because it's better than the actual alternatives at hand. I also understand the emotional need to have a default party position, other things being equal. But there has to come a point at which a movement or party so abandons core principles or degenerates into such a rhetorical septic system that you have to take a stand. It seems to me that now is a critical time for more people whose principles lie broadly on the center-right to do so - against the conservative degeneracy in front of us. Those who have taken such a stand - to one degree or other - demand respect. And this blog, while maintaining its resistance to cliquishness, has been glad to link to writers as varied as Bruce Bartlett or David Frum or David Brooks or Steve Chapman or Kathleen Parker or Conor Friedersdorf or Jim Manzi or Jeffrey Hart or Daniel Larison who have broken ranks in some way or other.
I can't claim the same courage as these folks because I've always been fickle in partisan terms. To have supported Reagan and Bush and Clinton and Dole and Bush and Kerry and Obama suggests I never had a party to quit. I think that may be because I wasn't born here. I have no deep loyalty to either American party in my bones or family or background, and admire presidents from both parties. My partisanship remains solely British - I'm a loyal Tory. But my attachment to the Anglo-American conservative political tradition, as I understand it, is real and deep and the result of sincere reflection on the world as I see it. And I want that tradition to survive because I believe it is a vital complement to liberalism in sustaining the genius and wonder of the modern West.
For these reasons, I found it intolerable after 2003 to support the movement that goes by the name "conservative" in America. I still do, even though I am much more of a limited government type than almost any Democrat and cannot bring myself to call myself a liberal (because I'm not). My reasons were not dissimilar to Charles Johnson, who, like me, was horrified by 9/11, loathes Jihadism, and wants to defeat it as effectively as possible. And his little manifesto prompts me to write my own (the full version is in "The Conservative Soul"). Here goes:
I cannot support a movement that claims to believe in limited government but backed an unlimited domestic and foreign policy presidency that assumed illegal, extra-constitutional dictatorial powers until forced by the system to return to the rule of law.
I cannot support a movement that exploded spending and borrowing and blames its successor for the debt.
I cannot support a movement that holds torture as a core value.
I cannot support a movement that holds that purely religious doctrine should govern civil political decisions and that uses the sacredness of religious faith for the pursuit of worldly power.
I cannot support a movement that is deeply homophobic, cynically deploys fear of homosexuals to win votes, and gives off such a racist vibe that its share of the minority vote remains pitiful.
I cannot support a movement which has no real respect for the institutions of government and is prepared to use any tactic and any means to fight political warfare rather than conduct a political conversation.
I cannot support a movement that sees permanent war as compatible with liberal democratic norms and limited government.
I cannot support a movement that criminalizes private behavior in the war on drugs.
I cannot support a movement that would back a vice-presidential candidate manifestly unqualified and duplicitous because of identity politics and electoral cynicism.
I cannot support a movement that regards gay people as threats to their own families.
I cannot support a movement that does not accept evolution as a fact.
I cannot support a movement that sees climate change as a hoax and offers domestic oil exploration as the core plank of an energy policy.
I cannot support a movement that refuses ever to raise taxes, while proposing no meaningful reductions in government spending.
I cannot support a movement that refuses to distance itself from a demagogue like Rush Limbaugh or a nutjob like Glenn Beck.
I cannot support a movement that believes that the United States should be the sole global power, should sustain a permanent war machine to police the entire planet, and sees violence as the core tool for international relations.
Does this make me a "radical leftist" as Michelle Malkin would say? Emphatically not. But it sure disqualifies me from the current American right.
To paraphrase Reagan, I didn't leave the conservative movement. It left me.
And increasingly, I'm not alone.