Conservatives Without Conscience

John Dean’s book is one of the most important books of the year.  It has obviously resonated across the country, as it has remained on The New York Times Best-Seller list since the first week it was released, despite receiving only a fraction of the media attention frequently showered on political books which do not perform nearly as well.  My review of Dean’s book is here, and I also wrote about it last week at FDL.

I was very excited when Dean agreed to participate in the FDL Book Salon because I knew this would be an excellent venue for discussing his arguments.  The discussion here last week was genuinely superb, and one of the experts on whose research Dean relies in his book, University of Manitoba Professor of Psychology Robert Altemeyer, unexpectedly showed up and participated.  This is what he said about the FDL Salon discussion:  " I just wanted to say that I have not seen a collection of comments as insightful and intelligent as those that have accumulated here. It seems that almost all of the writers have read John Dean’s book, and understood it, and are deeply concerned about the points he made. Reading what you’ve said made my day."

Dean has written an introduction in preparation for his participation here today.  He sent it by e-mail and I am re-printing it after the fold.


A few brief comments before we get started.  Allow me, first, to thank Jane Hamsher for inviting me to visit her terrific FDL site and Glenn Greenwald for his incisive summary of Conservatives Without Conscience.  Needless to say, I also appreciate all who have read  CWC, and found the book informative and engaging, for like most authors I write because I have thoughts and information I believe is worth sharing and it is a delight when that, in fact, happens. 

I will begin by addressing just a few of the many thoughtful comments posted last week, and one of the thoughtless posts.

Several comments expressed some uncertainty about why I have written CWC.  Did I write it to distance Goldwater conservatism from contemporary conservatism?  Am I trying to rehabilitate conservatism?  Or is there some other partisan motive behind this undertaking? 

The short answer is that none of these thoughts even occurred to me when working on the book.  I no longer consider myself partisan for anything other than good government.  Many years ago I registered as an Independent (and I have voted for Democrats, and Republicans) for I do not believe either party has a lock on wisdom, so I look at the candidate(s) and issues, and party affiliation is irrelevant to me.   

As I said in the book, I am a Goldwater conservative of many issues.  What does that mean?  At pages 70-72, I set forth a listing of where I believe conservatives with versus without conscience fall on an array of issues.  I believe a Goldwater conservative has a conscience, and falls on that side of my ledger.  In fact, in preparing this list I refer to material in Senator Goldwater’s personal papers to see where he stood, and then listed that as a position of a conservative with conscience. (Ironically, I have had any number of progressive and liberals tell me that they can — or do — embrace most all those positions.  This is not surprising, for Senator Goldwater often said when history looked back on him they would call him a liberal!)

Another bias issue that arose in last week’s discussion was whether I have an axe to grind with my old Watergate gang, more specifically, Chuck Colson and Gordon Liddy, and may be doing so with this book?  Colson and Liddy, who are prototypical authoritarians, are mentioned because their activities were among the several experiences that lead me to realize the prevalence of authoritarianism in contemporary Republican politics.  I have never been into revenge, finding it a waste of energy, and if I were to ever go after Colson or Liddy I would use the blunt edge of the axe – and no one would have any doubt about what I was doing and why. 

Finally, running throughout the posts is a charge that was lobbed into the discussion early, claiming that the book was flawed because it lacked logic; initially nothing specific was offered to support the charge.  When the specifics arrived later they were a bit underwhelming.  Rather than deconstruct the mischaracterizations of the book by this critic, or his submission of opinion as fact, I believe Molly Bloom corrected the record in post No. 239.  She picked up what I discovered shortly after publication, along with a few other errata. 

Originally the sentence on 169 read (as close as I can recall its substance without digging out the galleys) that Bush did not “appear” to be a Double High because the public Bush and private Bush are different people; however I had no doubt he was one, but he is not as high as Cheney.   The sentence was edited because I sought to not focus on Bush and Cheney, and the public versus private Bush raised material I had addressed in Worse Than Watergate.  But I cut too much.  I have corrected the sentence to read in future printings: “While Bush does not appear to be a Double High, in fact, he is one; but he is not in the league of his vice president, who is a classic Double High…”

I was not able to follow the proceedings in the salon last week, but I suggested to Professor Bob Altemeyer that he might find the session of interest, and I was delighted to see that he jumped into the discussion at one point.  Accordingly, I invited him to follow along today, for I would not pretend to be able to address his life’s work with anything approaching his authority.  So I may call on him to address questions about his research work.  And I want to add that in my travels with the book, I have had several psychologists, as well as a professor of psychology, tell me that I could not have found a better source on authoritarianism.  He holds the esteem of his peers.

So let us begin.  If I am unable to answer all the questions – while I type quickly I do so with remarkable inaccuracy so I will slow down to give my words some recognizable  semblance to our language – I will review the transcript of both last week and this week later, and try to respond in a subsequent posting to questions still outstanding.