7 October 2009 Does the Right really Oppose a Strong Public Option?
In case you missed it, The Chronicle of Higher Education published a provocative essay by Columbia University’s Mark Lilla under the title “Taking the Right Seriously“. Lilla writes:
“[David] Horowitz makes hay (and money) by affirming conservatives’ longstanding conviction that the university is a hostile place best avoided. He apparently doesn’t see how his campaign hurts the larger conservative cause, since it gives students one more reason not to pursue graduate studies and actually become professors. My brightest conservative students, brought up on hair-raising tales of political correctness, dismiss academic careers out of hand because they are certain of not being hired or getting tenure. And I can’t say I blame them. Even as an ex-conservative, I was lucky to have passed through the eyes of those two needles.
The late Paul Lyons, a professor at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey until his death, in January, recognized the problem but proposed something far more radical than anything David Horo witz has considered. And that was to persuade his liberal colleagues to teach courses on conservative political thought. Lyons was an American historian who wrote about the 60s and made no secret of his liberal politics or his loathing of Reagan and post-Reagan conservatism. But he was also disturbed by how few colleges offer courses on conservatism, treating it as a “pathology” rather than a serious political tradition, and by reports from his conservative students that “most of their liberal professors blow their comments off.” So he not only posted a course on American conservative thought in 2006 but also kept a diary about his teaching experience. That diary has now been published, along with some of his own essays, in American Conservatism: Thinking It, Teaching It (Vanderbilt University Press).
The diary is fascinating and reassuring, at least about our students. Lyons’s class was split almost evenly between liberal and conservative students, who had no trouble arguing with each other. They seemed to understand what thin-skinned professors wish to forget: that intellectual engagement is not for crybabies. The students had loud debates over Reagan’s legacy, Bush’s foreign policy, religious freedom, abortion, even the “war on Christmas”—and nobody broke into tears or ran to the dean to complain. And the more the students argued, the more they came to respect one another. According to Lyons, students learned that that conservative guy was no longer just the predictable gun nut or religious fanatic. And the conservative students learned that they had to make real arguments, not rely on clichés and sound bites recycled from Fox News.”
Jon Henke seems to agree, blogging yesterday that “[t]he problem is not with the basic ideals of limited government and personal freedom, either. The problem is a movement that plays small-ball and cedes responsibility for infrastructure to business interests, leadership that rewards those who make friends rather than waves, an entrenched Party and Movement support system that mostly supports itself, an echo chamber that has rotted our intellect, a grassroots that is ill-equipped to shape the Republican Party, and a Republican Party that has replaced strategy with tactics, substance with marketing.”
Lyons discovers and Henke examples that not every conservative is as predictable as the ones on TV. Lilla and Henke agree that the Right needs more-substantive arguments. Lilla notes that “that intellectual engagement is not for crybabies.”
That said, does the Right really oppose a strong public option to the health care reform bill? If so, why? What concerns you about it?
Posted at The Next Right