Monday, November 14, 2005

Because They're Fragile

I’m often mistaken for a conservative. Some of it is superficial: short-haired white guy in the suburbs, whose wife stays home with their two kids. Some of it is temperamental: I’m soft-spoken, uninterestingly-dressed, introverted.

On a personal level, it’s probably true. I got married relatively late, specifically so I could get married only once. I rush home to have dinner with the family. One of my great joys is tossing a nerf softball to The Boy in the backyard, so he can hit it against the house. (The Boy already hits for power, which pleases me to no end.) Yesterday, I wrestled the bike rack onto the car, and The Wife and I schlepped the kids to a local park, where we rode for hours. Watching football didn’t cross my mind.

The Girl has me wrapped around her little finger. Despite having only a few syllables at her disposal, we have extended conversations. “Where’s Grover?” “Ock.” “Are you sure?” “Ock.” “There he is!” “Doccum!”

It’s a great life, really. I’m as content as I’ve ever been. And it’s incredibly fragile. A single illness, an accident, a bad break, and it can all fall apart. It’s not timeless and given; it’s passing, carefully built, and delicate. I treat it with care, hoping not to tempt the fates.

Something similar is true of my country. The aspects of America that make it worth defending are delicate. Freedoms are fragile. Weirdly enough, knowing that is enough to make me a liberal.

Since Bush took office on his mission from God, we’ve lost two towers, one side of the Pentagon, the respect of the world, trillions of dollars, 2000+ American soldiers, the bill of rights, and a major Southern city. We’ve started a war we didn’t need to, for reasons that weren’t true, and committed felonies to silence those who blew the whistle. We’ve specifically targeted Social Security, which (not to put too fine a point on it) has been the single most successful anti-poverty program in the history of civilization. We’ve tortured the helpless, on camera, and smiled in the photos. We’ve resurrected Soviet-era gulags, in the name of freedom.

He doesn’t get it, and his supporters don’t get it.

Historically, the wisdom of conservatism consisted of pointing out how delicate the wisdom of the ages is, and how hard we should fight the temptations of immediate gratification in deference to their dictates. Contemporary conservatives believe that swagger is the solution to everything. Yesterday Bush actually had the gall to blame critics of the war for making it harder to fight! It’s as if an entire political party has suffered brain damage.

For believing that the big-swinging-dick theory of foreign policy is a bad idea, I’m a liberal. For believing that it’s a bad idea to leave 45 million people without insurance, I’m a liberal. For preferring to keep the National Guard closer to New Orleans than Fallujah, I’m a liberal. For believing that enshrining torture as policy is a bad idea, I’m a liberal.


This man, and this party, does violence to my country every day, on purpose, with a smile. For even noticing, I’m outside of the mainstream.

The Boy and The Girl deserve a country worthy of them. A civil country, a country that respects of all its inhabitants, is a delicate thing. It is not to be trifled with, taken for granted, or abused. Republics have been lost to arrogance before. I would expect conservatives to know that.

You don’t defend your kids, or your freedoms, because they’re timeless. You defend them because they’re fragile.

Sorry for the rant. I’ll return to academia for the next post.