As good Millian liberals, we want to promote authentic, articulate, and intelligent advocates of other points of view. Who should we liberals respect--and give a boost to, in terms of reading them, arguing with them rather than mocking them, debating them, and suggesting that others read them?
As far as honest conservatives are concerned, it's a difficult question. Those I usually suggest--economists like Bruce Bartlett and Andrew Samwick and Bill Niskanen, strategists like Richard Clarke and Tom Barnett and Brent Scowcroft, social policy types like Rod Dreher and John DiIulio, unclassifiables like Andrew Sullivan and Ross Douthat--I find dismissed as "not typical conservatives. We want a representative of the conservative point of view. Someone like Larry Kudlow or Ramesh Ponnuru."
It strikes me that those who reject my advice are (as is almost always true) making a mistake. They are going about it the wrong way. We want an "honest conservative"--a conservative intellectual adversary we can respect, who is also intelligent. But their first move is to define a "conservative" as a public supporter of the Bush regime and its deeds. That means, I think, that they are searching the empty set.
Slavoj Zizek applied this to the puppet regimes of Eastern Europe under the iron curtain:
The Trilemma: Of the three features—-personal honesty, sincere support of the regime, and intelligence—-it was possible to combine only two, never all three. If one was honest and supportive, one was not very bright; if one was bright and supportive, one was not honest; if one was honest and bright, one was not supportive...
But it applies just as well to the Bush regime. Sincere conservative supporters are not bright. Bright conservative supporters are not honest. Bright and honest conservatives are not supporters--and so are ruled out, and we are left with Larry Kudlow and Ramesh Ponnuru.
I think we should recognize that the intelligent, honest conservatives out there are not Bush supporters, and turn that to our advantage in selecting honorable intellectual adversaries.
What I would like is a list of "honest conservatives" who fit into the following categories--and let me try to give an example of a person whose existence is recognized by the mainstream media for each class:
Class of 2000: People who in 2000 said, "George W. Bush is not qualified to be president, and we should be really worried about this."
Class of 2001: People who in 2001 said, "I supported Bush in 2000, but George W. Bush is not listening to his honest conservative policy advisers, and we should be really worried about this." John DiIulio
Class of 2002: People who in 2002 said, "I supported Bush in 2000 and 2001, but 911 has unhinged the administration; it's detention and other policies are counterproductive; it needs to be opposed." Richard Clarke
Class of 2003: People who in 2003 said, "I supported Bush over 2000-2002, but enough is enough. That's it. I supported the invasion of Iraq because I was certain there was evidence of an advanced nuclear weapons program--otherwise invading Iraq was just stupid. Well, there was no advanced nuclear weapons program. Invading Iraq was just stupid. Plus there's the Medicare drug benefit. These people need to be evicted from power." Tim Barnett, Bill Niskanen
Class of 2004: People who in 2004 said, "I've been a Bush supporter. I'm a Republican and a conservative, but I've had enough: I'm voting for Kerry." Andrew Sullivan, Bruce Bartlett, Brent Scowcroft
Class of 2005: People who in 2005 said, "I voted for Bush in 2004. But I made a mistake. A big mistake."
Class of 2006: People who in 2006 said, "I know I supported Bush up to last year, but that shows I'm not the brightest light on the clued-in tree." Rod Dreher, Andrew Samwick
The class of 2007--people who are now opposed to Bush only because they think Bush will drag the Republicans down in 2008--doesn't count. Dead-enders who are still claiming that Bush is Teddy Roosevelt don't count. They aren't honest conservatives. They are only worth scorn, and fit objects for nothing but mockery. One just doesn't joust with them in honorable intellectual combat. It's not done.
I say divide "honest conservatives" into the classes of 2000 to 2006, rank them by seniority according to the date of their public honesty, and use that as a ranking for who to read, who to respect, and who to promote as worthy intellectual adversaries. Refer to them using this citation form:
Brent Scowcroft, Honest Conservative Class of 2004...
Who else falls where in this classification?