Conservative Rage vs. Liberal Guilt

by David Morris
Reprinted from St. Paul Pioneer-Press February 19, 2001

Regarding John Ashcroft, Senator Russell Feingold (D-WI) maintains, "A Republican president ought to be able to appoint people of strong conservative ideology." Can you imagine Senator Jesse Helms or Senator Trent Lott uttering those words about a Democratic president and his strongly ideological liberal nominee? Think Lani Guinier.

Conservatives and liberals take a fundamentally different approach to politics. Conservatives are driven by rage; liberals by guilt.
Conservatives attack. Liberals equivocate. Liberals inhabit a world painted a thousand shades of gray. Conservatives live in a black and white world. Conservatives believe they are battling evil. Liberals believe they are struggling to overcome human frailties.

Christopher Lasch's 1978 book, The Culture of Narcissism, was rumored to be Jimmy Carter's favorite book and the inspiration for his infamous "malaise" speech. We have seen the enemy, the liberal President advised in that speech, and he is us. No self-respecting conservative would be burdened by such self-doubt.

Tolerance is the watchword for liberals. Punishment is the watchword for conservatives.

In 1980, when the nation's overworked air traffic controllers went on strike, President Reagan fired every last one. Ten years later, after the union had been broken and a trickle of unemployed controllers came hat in hand to apply for jobs, President Bush refused to hire them.

In the 1960s, Morton Halperin served in both the Johnson and Nixon administrations. In l970, he resigned in protest over Nixon's illegal invasion of Cambodia. In 1993, President Clinton nominated him to a Pentagon post. He was eminently qualified. Enraged conservatives didn't care. To them Halperin was a traitor. They forced him to withdraw.

A few days after the polls closed in Florida last November, Republicans made it perfectly clear that if a court-ordered recount declared Gore the winner, they would fight the outcome all the way to Congress. On January 6, fifteen Democratic members of the House of Representatives rose to challenge Florida's electors, citing a pattern of irregularities in the voting. Their challenge could not be heard unless one senator signed their petition. No Democrat would do so.

In January 1993, a liberal President took office. The Republicans were a minority in the House and in the Senate. That didn't stop them from waging war. Indeed, Senator Bob Dole used the filibuster to an extent unknown in U.S. history to stop Clinton from enacting any significant legislation. For almost two years, Dole forced liberals to gain 60 votes, not 51 votes, to win. Does anyone believe Minority Leader Tom Daschle will embrace such a strategy?

I appreciate liberals' devotion to tolerance and diversity. Really. But after awhile I begin to think Robert Frost was right when he defined a liberal as someone "so broadminded he won't take his own side in an argument ".

This is a dangerous time. We have a president who takes great satisfaction in having put 150 people to death while governor of Texas,
more than the previous three governors of that state combined. Despite the mounting evidence that some innocent people have been executed since the Supreme Court ruled capital punishment constitutional in 1976, George W. Bush has no doubts that every last one of those 150 people deserved to die. The moral burden does not weigh heavily on our new president. Governor Bush asked the television audience during his second debate, "The three men who murdered James Byrd, guess what's going to happen to them? They're going to be put to death." The Chattanooga Times editorialized, "The triumphant look on his face was chilling..."

Republicans from Richard Nixon to James Watt to Tom DeLay have treated their opponents as the enemy. That is a well-documented historical fact. What makes the nomination of John Ashcroft as Attorney General so ominous is that this tendency toward demonization may soon be wrapped in a higher authority. "There is no King but Jesus," Ashcroft proudly proclaims.

To which I would respond, there is no war more devastating than a holy war.