Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Couch the Conservative

This baby thing is getting a little old, making it increasingly difficult to ignore my family and keep up with the blog. So for the next 5 days, I'm treating you to installments of Couch the Conservative, a book proposal I had put together that, alas, has gone nowhere. The five installments comprise a "sample" chapter. Unfortunately, the publishing industry is hopelessly biased against poor prose, and so my only outlet is to publish it here. (Note that this first installment actually appears as 2 posts - one right beneath this one)

On an unrelated note, please see that I have posted permenant links to some of the websites I enjoy. Check them out.

Couch the Conservative

I can handle being called a homophobe, a racist, a Nazi, a fascist, an elitist; I can handle being described as uncivil, stupid, insensitive, and mean. Being a conservative, such epithets are applied by liberals as if they were a formal job description for Republicans. But because the big tent party of liberalism includes paragons of civility like Michael Moore and James Carville, racial healers like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, and Harvard worthy scholars like Al Franken and Barbara Streisand, no matter how I may aspire to be angered by the name-calling that so pre-occupies these people, I just cannot take it seriously. Let them wile away their time in coffee shops, where they can aspire to be more like the French, and apoplectically rant about all cowboy boot-wearing Republican presidents.

But there is one term of opprobrium for conservatives within the liberal vocabulary that causes me to pause: crazy. The charge that we conservatives are psychologically troubled is not leveled as often as the other more familiar liberal tags for us, but it is used, and unlike the others, is not based on the mere opinions of partisan hacks and politicians (am I being redundant?), but has the backing of years of “scientific” research. The source of the charge – largely academics – makes it particularly intriguing. When James Carville rants and raves about the evil stupid Republicans, I know it is meant for entertainment and to appeal to a certain segment of the liberal base, and it is nothing personal; I know this because he’s married to an evil stupid Republican. There is an aspect of political theater that is just that – theater. But cloistered academics are not aspiring to entertain – they are dead serious. Unlike Carville, the liberal academic is more likely to ban conservatives from attending college than he is to marry one. For these guys, it is personal.

Maybe my source of discomfort with being called crazy stems from the fact that there may be a ring of truth to the charge. Have you ever considered the possibility that your own conservative politics are an outgrowth of some basic (but by no means admirable) psychological needs? Being a humble conservative, I try to assume the best about the ethics and intellectual capacity of those on the left. When I ponder that significant portions of the population think of Bill Clinton as an ethical leader, Dan Rather as an unbiased news anchor, or Jesse Jackson as a Reverend, I wonder whether it is I who suffer from some lack of perspective or understanding. Clearly we conservatives do not have a monopoly on stupidity, or mean-spiritedness, or elitism, but is it nevertheless possible that other factors unique to us – perhaps including our fundamental psychological make-up – have led us astray?

Some of my self-doubt stems from an awareness of peculiarities in my own behavior that I submit are by no means unique to me, and may be symptoms shared by many conservatives. I know I am not alone in saying that during the events of the 2000 election, I lay awake for at least seven days (intermittently across that tense month) fretting over the possibility of four years of Al Gore. I felt enormous pressure. Granted, I wasn’t so unstable as to put on 50 pounds or to grow a beard, but if he had been elected, I may have. Even today, the mere thought of a Hillary presidency leads me to reach instinctively for a full bottle of Pepto Bismol. (And something tells me that if she is ever elected, the only drug she would not put under a price control would be that little pink bottle of Pepto, just to spite me and all of the other conservatives that will turn to it as our only relief.)

Perhaps much like you, I think that I have come to my conservative beliefs through a rigorous and consistent intellectual framework for viewing social and political issues, but the nagging questions and my physical revulsion to liberal politicians have me asking if that is all there is to it? And now I know I am not the only one who asks that question.

I wish I could say that I am not alone because I have found other conservatives coming out of the closet, speaking openly about their own psychological hang-ups. But there have been no episodes of Dr. Phil or Oprah, let alone Jerry Springer, dedicated to providing us therapeutic relief in the course of an hour. There is also no twelve-step program available for recovering conservatives, where dozens of us who have admitted our conservatism may be a psychological problem gather to prevent each other from habitually logging on to National Review Online. But there are plenty of people who, for reasons unrelated to direct self-interest in their psychological well-being, probably think there should be.


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