Theres a healthy ferment brewing in conservative circles, thanks to resistance to what conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks called the "McCain Derangement Syndrome."
The McCain Derangement Syndrome is this: Some of the leading lords of talk radio are coming unglued at the prospect of John McCain winning the Republican nomination for president. Rush Limbaugh went so far as to make the demonstrably absurd statement that McCains and Hillary Clintons positions on issues are the same.
The subtext of the bloviators angst is that they have arrogated to themselves the exclusive prerogative to define what conservatism means. Those who deviate from what Brooks called the narrowing boundaries of approved thought must be cast into the outer darkness. The self-appointed arbiters are unable to bear the idea that conservatives can have honest differences over given issues.
But that diversity is OK. Political parties do their greatest service for democracy when, in the context of their bedrock principles, they welcome and debate varying ideas for bettering society. They are at their worst when exclusionary thinking demands that parties behave like monolithic cults, casting out all who betray the slightest signs of deviation from the decreed orthodoxy. The result is fear, loathing, and polarization.
Exclusionary thinking also sells the electorate short. Take global warming, for example. The prevailing attitude among the exclusionary set is that if Al Gore and the liberals are worried about global warming, then political correctness requires conservatives to dismiss global warming as a hoax.
Such posturing not only shuts down creative thinking about a contemporary problem of great import, but risks turning off potential supporters and driving them into the arms of the other party.
In practical terms, it makes little sense for conservative politicians and pundits to argue that global warming is a hoax, or that it has largely natural causes. They are out of their depth arguing matters of hard science, and risk looking foolish trying to politicize the laws of physics.
If they persist in dealing with global warming through ultra-pure litmus tests rather than constructive debate, they risk ceding a very large playing field to liberals and sinking into irrelevance.
Offering serious conservative ideas for reducing greenhouse gas emissions doesnt mean conservatives would be polishing apples for Al Gore. Instead, they would be demonstrating to voters that contemporary problems can be addressed effectively within the context of their traditional values and ideas stewardship that relies on the forces of free markets, for example.
And lets say that, somehow, the climate scientists have made a colossal error and global warming is not a serious concern. Then all conservatives will have done is return to their philosophical roots and showed a better way towards economic opportunity, greater security, and a healthier environment for those living and those who, as Theodore Roosevelt put it so well, "lie within the womb of time."
Like a monoculture, the narrow thinking that manifests as the McCain Derangement Syndrome leaves no room for any of this. Monocultures in nature arent healthy and dont last. Likewise, for political monocultures. Over the next several weeks, we will see how the ferment in the Republican hothouse evolves.
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