Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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June 30, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

CONSERVATIVE DEFENSE DAY....I don't defend conservatives here very often. Partly this is because I get so much shit for it whenever I do, and partly because....well, because I don't feel like it. Why should I, after all?

But today I'm going to take a crack at a couple of recent statements by conservatives that I think have been unfairly maligned. A letter writer has goaded me into it, and I guess I'm feeling contrarian at the moment.

First up is George Bush, who is alleged to have said the following to Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas:

According to Abbas, immediately thereafter Bush said: "God told me to strike at al Qaida and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did, and now I am determined to solve the problem in the Middle East. If you help me I will act, and if not, the elections will come and I will have to focus on them."

I can't pretend to know what Bush really feels in his heart, but is this really so bad? He's talking to a religious person engaged in a largely religious dispute and trying to gain his trust. The remarks were made privately, and were obviously an attempt to speak in language that would be appreciated by the Palestinians.

I might add that this is also the very kind of language that Jimmy Carter is prone to use in private conversations, and for which he is generally excoriated by conservatives. They should knock it off. Diplomacy is all about gaining trust, and sometimes you have to use language in private that you wouldn't use in public. That's the way game works.

Next up is Clarence Thomas. Maureen Dowd, who I don't normally read, said this about Thomas a few days ago:

It's impossible not to be disgusted at someone who could benefit so much from affirmative action and then pull up the ladder after himself.

Her statement has been condemned on at least two grounds: (a) How does she know that Thomas benefited from affirmative action? and (b) even if he did, maybe he's since realized that it's wrong.

I'd like to defend him on different grounds, namely that there's nothing wrong (or even very hypocritical) about supporting the reform of something you benefit from. Jefferson supported the emancipation of slaves even though he didn't have the strength of character to emancipate his own. He wisely understood that sometimes broad government action is the only way to enforce behavior that we know is right but are too weak to enforce on ourselves unless we know that it's going to be enforced for everyone else too.

This is simply a recognition of ordinary human failings. After all, how many of us would turn down favorable treatment of some kind unless we knew that no one else was getting that treatment either? Not many. Very few of us can be a Gandhi, and surely Thomas can hardly be criticized for not rising to that rather rarified moral level.

So there you go. My next scheduled defense of conservatives should be sometime around Halloween or so.

Kevin Drum 5:41 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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