Joel Whitney, co-editor-in-chief of Guernica, wrote the following on the Guernica blog….
“Liberal” and “conservative” have become highly problematic phrases, and–unsurprisingly–the presidency of George W. Bush has accelerated slippage in meaning. Conservatives these days aren’t seeking to conserve much of anything from the tradition of conservatism itself but to change and strike and radically pre-empt. Liberals, for their part, don’t seem to be doing much more than conserving the tenets of the Constitution and of the traditions of their party. Which is why, during this election cycle, and on the eve of tomorrow’s primary voting, it seems as good a time as ever to redefine our terms as we decide who should get our vote.
Conservatives today are defined by their interest in an overall appearance of strength, the blunt assurance of easily repeated values, slogans, mantras, and previously tested ideas. It is particularly in their readiness to judge intent (of individuals or groups, public or private) as good or bad that makes them conservatives; this is why the term absolutist seems more pertinent for Republicans today than “conservative.” (I’m getting this from Dr. John Alford of Rice University.) Good and evil (Axis of Evil; Evil Empire)–these are the chief tools of the political absolutist. Absolutism is based on the assumption of knowing, we already know what we need to know in terms of who we are and where we wanna be. We just need to know if you’re with us or against us. Outside the family of American politics, those against us are evil, simply put. Within the family of American politics, the ultimate absolutist diss is “flip flopper” as we heard in 2004 against Candidate Kerry and as we have heard Republicans foist on each other this campaign season. An effective absolutist doesn’t need to understand the context of someone’s actions; in fact, events themselves, choices, decisions, character are far more important than the history that led to that event. Character, identity, values–these are the buzzwords of the absolutist. And the ultimate sign of weakness is changing your mind or admitting you were wrong.