Peter Wehner Speaks Truth

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on October 20, 2010

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A nice job done here in cutting Grover Norquist down to size. Even if one disagrees with Mitch Daniels, no one died and made Grover Norquist Czar of the Right’s Mental Space.

I especially liked the following passage from Wehner:

I’d add that one of Daniels’s more attractive qualities is that he’s an idea-oriented politician. He’s clearly at home in the realm of ideas, can speak knowledgeable and easily about them, and likes to provoke discussion and different ways of thinking. It may well be that what Herman Kahn recommended in the early 1980s is a flawed proposal, but what Daniels said hardly qualifies as heresy. For Norquist, however, Daniels is an apostate (apparently for the second time). He needs to be read out of the movement. Perhaps the same standard would have applied to Ronald Reagan, who in 1982 signed what at the time was the largest tax increase in American history (the TEFRA tax).

Norquist’s words reveal a cast of mind that conservatism would be better to avoid. It is the kind of attitude that has come to define many modern universities, which are among the most illiberal and intellectually rigid and stifling institutions in America. A healthy, self-confident conservative movement doesn’t declare what Daniels said to be “outside the bounds of acceptable modern Republican thought”; rather, it allows for and even encourages genuine debate and creative thinking, the probing of ideas and holding them up to scrutiny, self-examination, and self-reflection. Let’s leave it to others to employ the tactics found in a George Orwell novel.

Prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall, Vaclav Havel wrote a powerful essay about Eastern Europe. He spoke about a system committed to “eliminating all expressions of nonconformity” and that had become “ossified.” He went on to speak about the greengrocer who has to put a slogan in his window in order to contribute “to the panorama that everyone is very aware of.” This panorama, Havel went on to write, had a subliminal message: “it reminds people where they are living and what is expected of them. It tells them what everyone else is doing, and indicates to them what they must do as well, if they don’t want to be excluded, to fall into isolation.”

Conservatism found such a system repugnant then. We shouldn’t begin to borrow from it now.

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