A Reuters article about Iran’s newly-elected “ultra-conservative” President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, got me to thinking about why conservatives are so afraid of other conservatives.
The Bush administration is ultra-conservative. Iran’s leader is ultra-conservative. Sharing a similar position on the political spectrum, shouldn’t they get along wonderfully? Imagine (oh God, yes, imagine) that the United States had an ultra-liberal President and Iran had elected an equally liberal head of state. Would there be the same clash between like and like?
No. Bush and his cronies can’t stand Ahmadinejad because he is religiously fundamentalist and politically nationalistic. Thus he’s just like them. Except, Bush and Ahmadinejad are of different religions and different nations. And conservatives are afraid of differences while liberals are much more prone to accept them.
So two liberals of different political or religious persuasions likely will get alone nicely, while two conservatives won’t. This could be predicted from the dictionary definitions:
Liberal: 1a. Not limited to or by established, traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes, views, or dogmas; free from bigotry. b. Favoring proposals for reform, open to new ideas for progress, and tolerant of the ideas and behavior of others; broad-minded.
Conservative: 1. Favoring traditional views and values; tending to oppose change. 2. Traditional or restrained in style.
I like to picture one of Bush’s daughters telling him, “Dad. I’ve fallen in love and am going to get married to Mahmoud. He’s Muslim, but that won’t be a problem for us.” Bush asks, “Well, that’s wonderful. I have to ask, though: is Mahmoud a traditional conservative Muslim or a modern liberal Muslim?” “Oh, you’ll be so happy with Mahmoud, Dad. He’s really conservative, just like you!”
I’d like to see the expression on President Bush’s face. Republicans love conservatism so long as it is conserving their own values. When conservatism escapes from the narrow confines where they want to see it kept—into Islamic fundamentalism, for example—then it becomes the enemy, not a kindred political philosophy.
Liberal blogger Paul Siegal’s tagline puts it nicely: “We don’t agree, but let’s compete and I will win [or, I’d say, one of us will win]; let’s cooperate and we’ll both win.” Now, a lot of conservatives would view this as a typical wimpy, Pollyannaish, impractical liberal sentiment. “How do you cooperate with someone who wants to kill you or destroy your way of life?” they’d ask.
Well, maybe you can’t. But maybe you can. There are many levels of cooperation, some of them decidedly non-pacifistic. Aikido, Judo, and Tai Chi are marital arts which utilize a cooperative strategy to neutralize the opponent. Instead of meeting force with force head-on, an attack is accepted, embraced, and redirected in a more or less gentle fashion.
Siegal writes on “Why I am a liberal,” saying, “I believe the fundamental difference between conservatives and liberals is this: Conservatives are motivated by fear which makes them highly competitive. Liberals are motivated by hope, which makes them highly cooperative.”
It’s a persuasive thesis. Why else would conservatives be afraid of conservatives?