I like to think of myself as a pretty moderate guy. I like to think that politics is the art of the possible, and try to support policies that could get passed in the real world (while trying to shift the Overton Window a little bit with my writing). I especially like to think of myself as the kind of guy who remembers that no “side” has a monopoly on truth, and that all sides are mostly made up of well-intentioned people who want a better future for their polity. I like to think it’s important to remind myself that I’m a Christian first and a right-winger second, and that Christians in the public square should have what Catholic social doctrine calls “a preferential option for the poor” ; that while I very often disagree with the Left on how to make this option real, the Right too often forgets about it altogether in practice. On so-called social issues, I like to think of myself grandiosely first and foremost as a peacemaker, not a warrior ; when I talk about abortion I am more likely to talk about building a society that welcomes all life than about legal restrictions (and even then to talk about a gradualist approach) ; more likely to talk about strengthening all marriages than to talk about banning certain ones ; (much) more likely to view gender politics through a feminist than a traditionalist lens ; and so on.
First, let’s be honest: there’s probably a lot of affect here. Part of it is how I want to be seen by my contemporaries, which in my elite world are majority liberals: a conservative, maybe, but a Serious, Reasonable one. Not one of those Tea Party types who watch Fox and read Breitbart.
But I’m increasingly wondering if my self-conscious moderateness doesn’t also include a good deal of self-delusion. What if what’s at stake is much more fundamental than I think? What if it really is a war, and I’m too foolish to notice?
I think back on the HHS Mandate hoopla. Is this a technical issue or an other prong in a sustained, deliberate assault on religious liberty? At the time, I was openly derisive of the latter view. Sure, the Obama Administration was giving a sop to an interest group which was problematic for a bunch of reasons, but that was no threat of the Republic. My main preoccupation when thinking of the HHS Mandate was to figure some sort of compromise, not fight tooth-and-nail. As a Catholic, the idea of forcing Catholic hospitals to cover contraception makes me cringe, but is it really the end of the world? After all, I live in a country where my taxes pay for free abortions…
Then again, as Ross Douthat noted at the time in a very important column, the HHS Mandate relied on and promoted a truncated vision of religious freedom; one, which, taken to its logical course, is not just un-American, but deeply illiberal and unjust. As Megan McArdle noted, there’s a (deeply creepy) way in which lots of liberals seem to think that religious groups should consider themselves lucky to be allowed to exist as social institutions in the Grand Liberal Order. The mentality of the HHS Mandate and of many progressive reforms and wish-lists leads to a world where mediating institutions— families, religious groups, community organizations, local governments—are pared down and pared down until, as one of my Twitter followers put it, “the individual stands naked before the state” (and its conjoined twin, crony capitalism ). Is this the end game, or just collateral damage? And if the latter, it is one that progressives seem utterly unconcerned by, rendering the question rhetorical. First they came for the Catholic hospitals, and I said nothing, because I wasn’t a Catholic hospital…
I am writing this today, of course, because of Kermit Gosnell. I’m not even going to argue that there has been a black-out* by the mainstream mass media on the coverage of this horrible, horrible affair. Smart, secular, pro-choice writers like Conor Friedersdorf, Jeffrey Goldberg, Megan McArdle and Dave Weigel have seen it. If you think that it is totally normal for an editor or producer at mainstream media organization to hear about a story of a serial killer who kept a collection of feet, who was allowed to keep perpetrating for years and years, who preyed on minorities, and yawn, that this is totally normal for contemporary US mainstream media, or if you think that the story has already received plenty of coverage, you are just not, to coin a phrase, a member of the reality-based community.
(* By using the word “black-out” I am not alleging the existence of some conspiracy, just describing what effectively happened, whether through incompetence, blinders, etc.—or conspiracy.)
The near-universal vehemence with which many progressives have asserted the normalcy of the Gosnell coverage has completely baffled me. Are they completely deluded? Are they cynically lying? No doubt, on the whole, a mix of both. But who cares? If this is the mentality of the Left, if this is the extent of self-delusion and/or deceit they will go to suppress a story which might possibly give political advantage to the pro-life movement, they mustn’t be compromised with, they must be utterly defeated.
What’s all the more striking, and indeed gut-wrenching, is that the Gosnell story is also a social justice story. Gosnell preyed—was allowed to prey—on the poor and on minorities, because they were poor and minorities. It shows us in its disgusting detail not just the horrors of abortion in 21st century America but also the horrors of inequality in 21st century America. But, as a matter of fact, to the contemporary Left, the egg of calling attention to deep injustice against the poor must be broken to get the omelette of preventing any chance of any restriction on abortion whatsoever. I say as a matter of fact, because while many lefties would loudly proclaim to disagree with the previous sentence, what has actually happened is that they all collaborated, as one man, to proclaim that Gosnell must remain uncovered—thereby, of course, all-but ensuring that we will have more Gosnells —social justice be damned. If poor young women must die like dogs so that more babies—the word for viable foetus is baby—can be killed, then so be it. If this is really what the contemporary American Left stands for, any compromise with it would be shameful.
So I’m getting radicalized. I’m increasingly finding, or at least wondering, if I’m not fooling myself by trying to find a way to give half a loaf. We in Europe remember, or at least we should, the “salami tactics” by which Communist parties, by slicing off one concession after another, eventually grabbed full, totalitarian power.
Understand me: less than a week ago, I would have rolled my eyes at a comparison between the contemporary American Left and mid-century European Communist parties. If a liberal journalist had mocked it on Twitter, I would have approvingly retweeted it. Now I find myself surprising myself by making it.
Do I think that all contemporary American left-wingers consciously want to destroy liberties, mediating institutions, indeed transcendence itself, and make us all part of the Borg collective? No. But then again the self-soothing illusions of the useful idiots were no reason not to oppose Communism at every step.
I realize how crazy it sounds, what I’m writing. It sounds crazy even to me. But blind naïveté is also a form of insanity.
Welcome to the mind of a radicalizing young conservative.