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   An Exceptional Debate

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2/27/2010 9:00 am

Author

RICHARD LOWRY & RAMESH PONNURU

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Analysis

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Entered 2/27/2010, Updated 2/27/2010

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It’s almost a commonplace on the left that conservatives are “nihilists” for their opposition to President Obama. It’s opposition for opposition’s sake, an unprincipled exercise in partisan obstruction — mindless, toxic, destructive. When directed at Obama, “no” is an indefensible word, devoid of philosophical content. Another, different charge has traditionally been leveled at conservatives — that they are “radicals.” This criticism was made of National Review right at the beginning. Conserva­tives want to tear down the state, overturn precedent, reverse the direction of history. They are imprudent and incautious in their pursuit of a blinkered ideological agenda, in other words fundamentally unconservative. So conservatives get it coming and going. Our opposition to the Left is deemed nihilistic and our affirmative agenda radical. These dueling critiques point to a paradox at the heart of American conservatism. We aren’t Tories, concerned with preserving the prerogatives of an aristocratic elite or defending tradition at all costs. Instead, we’re advocates of the dynamism of an open society. Through most of human history and still in many places in the world, that would make us the opposite of conservatives. Not in America. What do we, as American conservatives, want to conserve? The answer is simple: the pillars of American exceptionalism. Our country has always been exceptional. It is freer, more individualistic, more democratic, and more open and dynamic than any other nation on earth. These qualities are the bequest of our Founding and of our cultural heritage. They have always marked America as special, with a unique role and mission in the world: as a model of ordered liberty and self-government and as an exemplar of freedom and a vindicator of it, through persuasion when possible and force of arms when absolutely necessary.


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