The Disaster of Being Unimaginative

I have slowly begun to form a thesis that, at its core, Conservatism's greatest weakness (and fatal flaw) is that it lacks imagination. Illustration:

From Freedom's Power by Paul Starr, via Ezra Klein:

Far from making the United States stronger, Bush’s policies have dissipated American power. In his speech, the president suggested that if the United States failed in Iraq, Iran would be emboldened. But Iran has obviously already been emboldened because its leaders believe that an America mired in Iraq can make only empty threats.

To use power ineffectually is to destroy it. Conservatives may have believed that the unilateral assertion of American military might is the best way to extend American influence abroad and promote democracy. The experience of the past several years, however, show how limited an understanding of power that is. The Bush strategy has undermined not just America’s soft power--its ability to attract support throughout the world--but its hard power as well.
What I take away from this isn't that Bush consciously squandered America's 'soft power' - he never knew that America had it.

Perhaps Bush (and his ideological brethren) couldn't imagine that power, the ability to get other people/parties/nations to do what you want, could come from anything other than the end of rifle. (Or a multi-billion dollar joint tactical strike force.) Perhaps he couldn't imagine himself as someone that is always the one with less power in any given situation.
Examination: Bush is a white, Anglo-Saxon, protestant male from an elite, monied and powerful family and the son of a President. Never in his life has he been forced into being the less powerful party in a situation. Apply this mentality to international politics...
If all power flows from strength of arms, why wouldn't every nation in the world roll-over in front of America's clear status as the world's only super-power? Nobody can (militarily) stop America from invading Iraq, why worry about U.N. approval? The other nations need to know their place. Until they're in a position to land an army on America's shores, they have no right to tell America how to use it's military strength.

"Nobody has the right to infringe on our rights as a sovereign nation" is a phrase that only somebody who can't imagine being the leader (or citizen) of a less powerful nation would use.

The 'just send in more troops' approach to salvaging The War in Iraq is an equally viable example of lack of imagination. If a strategy isn't working, doing the same thing 'harder' isn't likely to work - but if you can't imagine any other method to achieve your goal 'more troops' it's the only option you have.

* * * * *

This applies to any number of social issues as well. Conservatives deride us as 'bleeding heart liberals.' We are moved to compassion for others because we can imagine ourselves in 'X' situation.

I know, I know. Fascinating idea, but the theory isn't completely developed. I'm sure with a bit of work, I could find more and better examples and articulate what's bouncing around in my head.

Maybe next week...

No comments: