Don’t let that cool demeanor fool you. Left-wing Washington Post pundit E.J. Dionne cares deeply about the American right. He has “long admired the conservative tradition,” Dionne says in a recent column, especially “American conservatism’s most attractive features: prudence, caution and a sense that change should be gradual.” That’s why it pains him to see modern conservatism abandon “its communal roots” and instead embrace “untempered individualism, which betrays what conservatism has been and should be.”
Maybe it’s because I’m not a conservative, but “untempered individualism” doesn’t sound like such a bad thing to me. Dionne, however, is no fan of the stuff, and as far as he’s concerned, rampant individualism has made the American right go wrong. And just when did this terrible transformation occur? By a strange coincidence, Dionne started losing his affection for American conservatives almost immediately after Barack Obama became president:
[Obama] pitched communal themes from the moment he took office, declaring in his inaugural address that America is “bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions.” The more he emphasized a better balance between the individual and the community, the less interested conservatives became in anything that smacked of such equilibrium.
That’s why today’s conservatives can’t do business with liberals or even moderates who are still working within the American tradition defined by balance. It’s why they can’t agree even to budget deals that tilt heavily, but not entirely, toward spending cuts; only sharp reductions in taxes and government will do. It’s why they cannot accept (as Romney and the Heritage Foundation once did) energetic efforts by the government to expand access to health insurance. It’s why, even after a catastrophic financial crisis, they continue to resist new rules aimed not at overturning capitalism but at making it more stable.
In other words, E.J. Dionne thinks conservatism is great, so long as conservatives don’t actually get in the way of the progressive political agenda. How convenient.