Compassion for conservatives

…or, everything old is new again, but not the way we ever expect it. Reading the Times’ long Peter Baker portrait of Tom Davis’ (R-Va) finally throwing in the towel, my mind kept going back to the communists of my parents’ generation. They paid some serious dues for a cause [whose putative goals] they really believed in; my grade school class and the one before it each had a son of a Smith Act federal prison inmate. But as the movement was hijacked by substituting power for accomplishment, and the underlying philosophical model got increasingly threadbare and shredded by encounters with facts, they spent decades erecting fabulous structures of rationalization and tactical theory. With practice, they could even swallow the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, never mind the famines and trials, seeing the whole world first looking only in one direction, then looking through a paper towel core, then through a soda straw. The Twentieth Congress speech was the Bush/Rove record/poll standings for most of them, and to this day I feel their anguish. A mind is a terrible thing to waste, alright, but what about a life and your principles? What must it be like to look back and realize letting someone else do your thinking for you made you an enabler of enormous evil?

Davis evaluates Bush as “a disappointment.” A disappointment – there was something in his record before 2000 that justified hope for competence, honesty, or leadership? Sorry, Tom, you sold your soul long before the polls turned against you this year, back when you first put your conservative principles in hock for a Republican Party that only wanted them to tart up something too ugly to look at directly. When you read Animal Farm in college, did you think it was just about Russia? I’m aware of the principle of the prodigal son, and I like to celebrate it when the scales fall from anyone’s eyes, but “there are people who caught on even later!” is a mighty tepid encomium. You get your martyr’s palm after a lot of folks go first, if there are any left.

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.