Conservatism vs. Extremism

CONSERVATISM vs. EXTREMISM….Over at the Prospect, Michael Tomasky argues that conservative are interested in conservative philosophy while liberals are mostly obsessed by strategy:

I?ve long had the sense, and it?s only grown since I?ve moved to Washington, that conservatives talk more about philosophy, while liberals talk more about strategy; also, that liberals generally, and young liberals in particular, are somewhat less conversant in their creed?s history and urtexts than their conservative counterparts are (my excellent young staff excepted, naturally; I?m mostly wondering if young Democratic Hill aides have read, for example, The Vital Center or any John Dewey or Walter Lippmann or any number of things like that).

Hmmm. I haven’t read any of that stuff. Meanwhile, over at The New Republic, Jon Chait argues that conservatives are interested in conservative philosophy while liberals are mostly obsessed with pragmatic governance:

Conservatism, unlike liberalism, overlays a deeper set of philosophical principles. Conservatives believe that big government impinges upon freedom. They may also believe that big government imposes large costs on the economy. But, for a true conservative, whatever ends they think smaller government may bring about ? greater prosperity, economic mobility for the non-rich ? are almost beside the point.

….The contrast between economic liberalism and economic conservatism, then, ultimately lies not only in different values or preferences but in different epistemologies. Liberalism is a more deeply pragmatic governing philosophy ? more open to change, more receptive to empiricism, and ultimately better at producing policies that improve the human condition ? than conservatism.

I may have more to say about this dichotomy later if I manage to get my thoughts in printable form. For now, though, let me just say that I think both of these pieces gloss over an important point: extremism. I’d say that extremist liberals are every bit as ideologically driven as extremist conservatives and that moderate conservatives are every bit as interested in problem solving as moderate liberals.

Back here on planet Earth, though, we happen to be at a point in history when the Republican party has been taken over by extremists like Tom DeLay, Grover Norquist, and George Bush. If the Democratic party were headed up by, say, Noam Chomsky, Michael Moore, and Barbara Ehrenreich, you’d have all the liberal philosophy you could stomach. But it isn’t. Those three have their own spheres of influence, certainly, but the actual Democratic party is run by folks like Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Howard Dean, and Bill Clinton, none of whom are agitating to take over the means of production or disband the military-industrial complex.

Extremists of all stripes are always convinced that they’re in possession of ultimate truth. That’s true of Larouchites, Trotskyites, Fallwellites, Randites, Scientologists, premillennial dispensationalists, Black Panthers, Nazis, and Islamic radicals. It’s extremism that cares nothing for empirical evidence, not conservatism.

UPDATE: Speaking of extremism, Digby notes that John Hinderaker of Power Line ? the second most popular conservative blog in the country ? thinks the entire Democratic party “is engaged in an effort that is a betrayal of America.” He’s got video too.

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