According to The Nation’s Eric Altermann, the fundamental difference between liberalism and conservatism is that “the latter is an ideology and the former isn’t.” Yes, you read that right. You don’t have your latters and your formers confused. He believes that liberalism, at its heart, is nothing more than a tendency to take all the available information, peruse it dispassionately, and then make the correct choice moving forward. Conservatism, on the other hand, is about pursuing maximum economic freedom regardless of the costs.
Altermann uses this jumping off point to assail against today’s conservative intellectuals and pundits, throwing George Will, Rupert Murdoch, and all the rest into a big pile of Koch-funded, lunatic stew. While liberals try their damnedest to follow the evidence, here come the brash, ignorant conservatives to advocate dropping nukes on the Middle East, throwing black mothers in prison, and whatever else our poor, ideologically-twisted minds can come up with.
It’s a strange time to be making such an argument. The last year has been a remarkable one when it comes to demonstrating liberal pragmatism. Was it that famous pragmatism at work when President Obama launched a crusade against the police based on a justified police shooting in Ferguson? What kind of pragmatism led to the University of Virginia suspending a fraternity after a wholly-fabricated story was printed in Rolling Stone magazine?
Maybe when he talks about liberal pragmatism, he’s thinking about State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf, who said earlier this year that our best chance against ISIS was to create jobs for them.
Or maybe Altermann is remembering Dianne Feinstein’s 2013 assertion that we “have federal regulations and state laws that prohibit hunting ducks with more than three rounds. And yet it’s legal to hunt humans with 15-round, 30-round, even 150-round magazines.” Feinstein went on to assure her supporters that if she “could have banned them all,” – meaning all guns – she would have. That sounds pragmatic.
One wonders what kind of evidence the city of Berkeley, California was working from when they ruled that medical marijuana dispensaries were required to devote 2% of their product to low-income patients. God know, studies have shown conclusively that poor people need their weed.
Of course, the list could go on and on. I’m not saying that liberalism and pragmatism are mutually exclusive, but you have to put your head pretty far into the sand to ignore the extreme left. They’re out there, and they are becoming increasingly mainstream. These are the anti-gunners who think we’ve been somehow misreading the Second Amendment for 200 years. These are the feminists who think men are endangering women by sitting a certain way on the subway. These are the social justice warriors who think it’s racist to say a suspect was black.
Altermann’s right about one thing, though: conservatism is an ideology. Its adherents believe that we shouldn’t be so quick to trade the lessons of history for the newest fad theories. It’s an ideology that, when properly applied, cannot fail. And that’s the very definition of pragmatism.