Wednesday, May 25, 2005

No Squish Here

Tempted as I have been on many prior occasions, I did last night what I had resisted doing -- I turned off Laura Ingraham.

I turned her off because, while ranting (like all the other right-wing talking heads) at the Gang of Seven Republican (insert favorite epithet here) for their participation in forging a filibuster compromise, she called them "Squishes."

Although the term does not appear to have found its way into the nascent encyclopedias of political jargon quite yet (perhaps I shall attempt to craft a definition for Wikipedia), the word is used, typically, by the unswerving conservative to describe a Republican whose ideology is suspect. Thus, such a Republican gets "squishy" when reluctant to toe the conservative party line. His ideology is soft. He is susceptible to wavering. He is unreliable. Or, as we are seeing these past few days, he is a RINO (Republican in name only), ironically one of the least "squishy" beasts alive.

Hence, in 1997 following the first two years of the conservative "revolution," the Heritage Foundation lamented the presence of a number of Republican moderate "squishes."

To one who regards himself as a conservative, "squish" is a most uncomplimentary epithet. For instance, a young student of Indiana University Law School and member of the Indiana Federation of College Republicans protested such vilification thusly:

"Those who know me can imagine how surprised I was to read HR and discover that I was being lumped into a catagory of "squishy" Republicans along with the other members of the IFCR leadership. As a supporter of the conservative/YAF takeover of the IU CR's in the early 90s, a former staffer with John Hostettler, and one who received death threats and constant vilification in the Indiana Daily Student for opposing the public funding of the Gay, Lesbian Culture Center at IU, I found this amusing." Well hear hear!! The nerve of HR.

At the other end of the power spectrum, even George W. Bush has been branded by some bloggers as a "conservative squish." And Dan Kennedy, writing for that bastion of conservatism, the Boston Pheonix, described George H.W. Bush as "a well-known squish — a conservative whose moderate tendencies made him ever suspect in the eyes of the hard right."(emphasis supplied). Finally, to prove that not even the most tried and true right-winger is immune from the tar and feathers, the Federal Observer pasted Trent Lott with the label!

So then, as one who advocated from the outset that compromise was preferable to the "nuclear option" -- and mind you, at a time when Senator Frist had the cards to do so firmly in his grasp -- I blanched at the implication of Princess Laura that I was a "squish" if I was in favor of conciliation over confrontation, compromise over combat.

So today I have turned to political scholars and historians, intellectuals and pundits, to seek the genuine definition of conservatism, so that I could measure myself against it.

In my search, I came upon an essay by Russell Kirk, one of the foremost conservative intellectuals of the century, whose 1953 book The Conservative Mind “gave American conservatives an identity and a genealogy and catalyzed the postwar movement,” according to **gasp** The New York Times. His essay, Ten Conservative Principles, adapted from his book, The Politics of Prudence (1993), sets forth a concise catalogue of fundamental principles which, he posits, are the foundation of the conservative:

First, the conservative believes that there exists an enduring moral order.

Second, the conservative adheres to custom, convention, and continuity.

Third, conservatives believe in what may be called the principle of prescription.

Fourth, conservatives are guided by their principle of prudence.

Fifth, conservatives pay attention to the principle of variety.

Sixth, conservatives are chastened by their principle of imperfectability.

Seventh, conservatives are persuaded that freedom and property are closely linked.

Eighth, conservatives uphold voluntary community, quite as they oppose involuntary collectivism.

Ninth, the conservative perceives the need for prudent restraints upon power and upon human passions.

Tenth, the thinking conservative understands that permanence and change must be recognized and reconciled in a vigorous society.

Well I'll climb on Mr. Kirk's words any day, and leave it to Laura to dissemble them as she is wont to do. Judged against Russell Kirk's principles, I venture to say that --why -- Laura Ingraham is a SQUISH herself!!

Also in the course of my research this morning, Google pointed me to Professor Bainbridge, who is one of those very smart people on my blogroll who I don't read as often as I should. It turns out that he feels the same way I do, and even had referenced Mr. Kirk's essay in his recent post in which, with great humor and restraint, he defended himself from the onslaught of those righties who were calling him names much less dainty than "squish."

The prof does it quite well, so to conserve time (and be a tad lazy), here is his citation to Kirk and following comment:

(quoting Kirk)

"'Conservatives are champions of custom, convention, and continuity because they prefer the devil they know to the devil they don’t know. ... Burke’s reminder of the necessity for prudent change is in the mind of the conservative. But necessary change, conservatives argue, ought to he gradual and discriminatory, never unfixing old interests at once.

... In politics we do well to abide by precedent and precept and even prejudice, for the great mysterious incorporation of the human race has acquired a prescriptive wisdom far greater than any man’s petty private rationality.

... Any public measure ought to be judged by its probable long-run consequences, not merely by temporary advantage or popularity. Liberals and radicals, the conservative says, are imprudent: for they dash at their objectives without giving much heed to the risk of new abuses worse than the evils they hope to sweep away. As John Randolph of Roanoke put it, Providence moves slowly, but the devil always hurries. '

"The filibuster is a profoundly conservative tool. It slows change by allowing a resolute minority to delay - to stand athwart history shouting stop. It ensures that change is driven not "merely by temporary advantage or popularity" but by a substantial majority. Is it any wonder that it has usually been liberals who want to change or abolish the filibuster rule?"

So, my conservative friends, how do you measure up against Mr. Kirk's principles? Are you a really a conservative?

Or are you a squish?

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