Right And Wrong

Dividing my time, as I do, between New York City and Wellfleet, MA, I hang with a pretty liberal crowd. In social settings, if the conversation gets round to politics, human nature, economics, religious pluralism, or a number of other topics, it’s pretty much given that at some point I am going to be glared at, often by several pairs of eyes at once. I know the look all too well, by now, and it is not pretty. It betokens not intellectual disagreement, but stern moral judgment — the kind of look a Taliban cleric might give Amy Winehouse.

I stay calm, and I think I do a pretty good job of defending my corner, but once these “red-diaper babies” imprint you as a conservative, they suddenly lose the ability to descry any philosophical daylight between you and Rick Santorum.

In some cases, I am guilty as charged. I agree with more than a few of the best conservative ideas — many of which are spendidly articulated in this essay by Bill Vallicella — but I’m really all over the map, on an issue-by issue basis. I’m hardly a typical conservative, at least according to what my liberal friends imagine the meaning of the term to be.

I recently ran across some excellent remarks by the TV gadfly John Stossel (whom I happened to meet in person a few months ago, at the Wellfleet town dump). In his book Give Me A Break, Stossel explains his own difficulties with the “conservative” label”:

I’m hardly what I would call conservative. I happen to think consenting adults should be able to do just about anything they want. I think prostitution should be permitted. (If quarterbacks and boxers make money with their bodies, why can’t a woman make money wth hers?) I believe homosexuality is perfectly natural, that the drug war should be ended, that flag burning and foul language should be tolerated, and most abortion shold be legal. This is conservative? Real conservatives should be insulted.

But the mainstream media are tilted so far to the left that they call me conservative.

I guess they call me that because I think the free market is a good thing — but what’s conservative about the market? It’s unplanned, unpredictable, scary, noisy. “Libertarian is a better term for my beliefs. But it’s a lousy word. People think it means “libertine”, and the Libertarian Party has had flaky people like Howard Stern run for office. Maybe “classical liberal” is a better term for what I am. Liberals were originally the ones who advocated freedom and tolerance.

Not lately.

Stossel has been swimming against the current for quite some time now — taking honest looks at such topics as innate gender differences, government regulation of free markets, the Americans With Disabilities Act, farm subsidies, and so forth. I think he is honest and intelligent, and makes clear and well-supported arguments. He doesn’t have a lot of fans here in Wellfleet, though. Why, just the other day I mentioned him approvingly at a little social gathering. If looks could kill!

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One Comment

  1. pdg says

    the market is no longer free-wheeling when the idiots/geniouses who manipulate the hell out of the thing still come out the winners with 700 billion dollars as a thanks for the -%$#@@#%^&*(&^^%$ -ing … that was tendered unto the whole system…It is astounding to call that socialism…It is a mis-nomer… it is accepted as the normal way things get done, but it is not a free market- to call it such is a lie.

    I’ve been a day-trader and long-term holder of stocks for over 30 years and think of myself as a free-market capitalist- that ain’t what we have.

    to name something is not the same as to actually have something be that… another big lie

    Posted December 16, 2008 at 4:29 pm | Permalink