The Countervailing Principle

Every principle has an equal and opposite principle. “Don’t be a pushover” and “pick your battles” are both sound enough concepts.

Good problem-solving requires figuring out how to balance them, and which to apply in a given circumstance.

I bring this up because today’s GOP is in the thrall of people who can only hold one principle in their minds. They’re right, of course, that terrorism is a very serious problem, and that we have to be ready to, as John Kerry put it, “hunt down and kill the terrorists, wherever they are.”

But GOP-logic stops there. Because terrorists are bad and we’re on the side of the angels, we need to be tough and torture people/invade Iraq/invade Iran, etc.— and don’t worry about effectiveness, our reputation, or the short- and long-term downside of such an approach.

And in a bizarro-world twist to it all, those running the Republican Party fantasize that liberals and Democrats are extremists, as in Karl Rove’s strange claim that liberals wanted to give Osama bin Laden therapy. Needless to say, he didn’t name names, and if he had been able to, it would have been by digging up some (Ward) Churchillian obscurity.

This issue came to mind after reading Glenn Greenwald’s update today:

One way to look at the threat posed by Islamic radicalism (let us call it Option A) is to see it as the Epic War of Civilizations, the Existential Threat to Everything, the Gravest and Scariest Danger Ever Faced which is going to take over the U.S. and force us all to bow to Islam.

Another way to look at it (let us call this Option B) is to dismiss it entirely, to believe there is nothing wrong with Islamic radicalism, to think it should just be completely ignored because it poses no dangers of any kind.

There are, however, other options besides A and B. Therefore, to reject Option A is not to embrace Option B.

But today’s GOP leadership and commentariat are capable only of considering the most extreme possible principle. So, just as Ronald Reagan was Chamberlain to conservatives such as Newt Gingrich and Pat Robertson for meeting and negotiating with Gorbachev, Democrats are Chamberlain for pointing out that we’re probably not going to be part of a caliphate any time soon, and Europe isn’t either.

Today’s American conservatives are extremists, endlessly seeking new enemies in order to justify their deeply felt nationalism and chauvinism.

Naturally, John Kerry’s statement above made them flip out, because it was followed by the caveat that “we also have to be smart.” Apostate!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: