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Wednesday, September 25, 2002

Define Conservative-Interesting David Broder piece and Kevin Holtsberry retort on Dubya's brand of conservatism. Here's what I think the key problem with Broder's piece-this paragraph (my italics)
The word, as this president uses it, has little or nothing to do with the traditional conservative inclination to preserve the status quo. Instead, it suggests a very bold and risk-taking readiness to reexamine, revise and restate basic tenets of government. It is a pattern that now pervades Bush's economic, social and foreign policy and makes this, in some respects, a truly radical government.
There are two competing definition of conservative in my Webster's New World Dictionary that's in my office
1 conserving or tending to conserve; preservative 2 tending to preserve established traditions or institutions and to resist or oppose any changes in these [conservative politics, conservative art] 3 of or characteristic of a conservative
Broder has headed to definition 2 rather than definition 3. The key problem with this is that many people will look at the big-government programs established in the mid-20th century as "established traditions or institutions." Thus, economic and cultural conservatives who look to turn back some of the liberal changes from the New Deal on are viewed as radicals rather than conservatives. We had much the same nomenclature problem with the Gingrich crew in the mid-90s (yes, Newt has become history, tempus does fugit) where their desired overhauls of the status quo made them look something less than a definition-2-conservative There are plenty of people, generally in the center, that are status-quoians, who see the current state of government as established and are unwilling to make big changes to it. I remember saying of Bob Dole back in '96 campaign "he's a status-quoian; he's too conservative with his conservatism." The tight definition of judicial conservative creates a similar status-quoian, for judges like O'Connor or Kennedy will be reluctant to overturn an established decision. Had those two been ruling on Roe v. Wade back in 1973, they might have ruled against it, being a radical departure from existing law, but bow to stare decisis today, as Roe is now the status quo. We have a problem meshing the overlapping definitions of conservative. In economics, dynamist or economic libertarian are terms that can fill in the gaps. In moral issues, there are a number of modifiers to conservative that can add to the mix. However, the characteristics that are implied in the current defintion-3-version of conservative include commitments to free markets, a strong military and traditional moral values. When the status quo is more statist and amoral than was the case a century ago, the two definitions will come into conflict. This is also a game of definition. If status-quoian Republicans are "conservative" then the definition-3-conservatives can get some superlative prefix, like arch-conservative or ultra-conservative tacked on. Liberals would like to label even status-quoian Democrats as conservatives so as to make liberals moderate and socialists liberal. Broder is a left-of-center status-quoian who would likely be more comfortable with status-quoians such as John Warner or Jim Leach as opposed to definition-3-conservatives like President Bush. Kevin and I are definition-3-conservatives, but not definition-2.

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