What follows is a post I have long and devoutly hoped that I would never fell compelled to write. I intend no recondite ratiocinations to follow, though there may or may not be a few florid turns of phrase - this, because I will compose my thoughts through the medium of composing this brief entry - but only to intimate something of the abyss that now lies before vast swathes of the conservative movement, and particularly social conservatives and sympathetic fellow-travelers. Perhaps what I propose to say will be dismissed, on the grounds that the plural of anecdote is not data, but I think that such a response, if and when it is given, will be profoundly misguided.
The burden of my post may be succinctly stated: the embrace by the political right of torture, whether as a matter of principle or as an expedient invoked to defend an indefensible administration, has contributed to the obloquy the right now bears; moreover, the cultural and social conservatives, through the instrumentality of a variety of apologias and apparent temporizations on the subject, have yoked the defense of torture and the pro-life movement, and social conservatism generally, in the minds of a substantial percentage of the rising generational cohort. I can point to at least half a dozen friends and acquaintances who have, though previously politically conservative or libertarian, and all inclined to social conservatism to one degree or another, more or less walked right out of the political right, and social conservatism, in consequence of this yoking together of conservatism and torture. Now, this is not to state that they refused to vote for the Republican ticket on account of the torture question; they would have refused, as I did, to vote for the Republican ticket on other grounds altogether. No, the significance of their alienation is more profound than matters of electoral politics: the political and cultural right is dead to them, as, having been discredited in practice by the calamitous misgovernance of the Bush administration and the Congressional GOP, the intellectual contortions undertaken to support, simultaneously, social conservatism and torture have indelibly branded this failure with the mark of intellectual unseriousness, hypocrisy, partisanship, incoherence. In their minds, the political right stands foursquare for a failed foreign policy, the rote incantation of failed politico-economic dogmas, and torture, and indicates not the slightest inclination to introspection; and the social conservatives now represent, again in their perceptions, those who prattle on about the dignity of human life, except, perhaps, when the utility function of derogating from that dignity is sufficiently high. It is no defense to contend - which is unexceptionably true - that, even assuming the intrinsically evil status of both abortion and torture, the former is manifestly graver, for this is merely to argue that one should keep the camel's nose out of the tent but to permit the donkey to enter.
At this point, it is all but certain that some readers are snorting their coffee and whinging on about anecdotes and data. But the trouble is that the sentiments expressed by my friends are mirrored in the political sources they now consider more congenial, the proliferating variety of progressive internet outlets and forums. They have undergone, or are still undergoing, political transitions, but what is salient is that torture was the last push, that last of the efficient causes, and the synecdoche for the entire transition. The proverbial straw. The last outrage that finally pushed them to mutter, "Farewell to all that."
It will also be objected, doubtlessly, that none of this addresses the substantive and theoretical considerations that have arisen over the past week, and that is certainly true of some of those considerations. But time stretches out before us as an indefinite horizon, and there will always be additional opportunities to entertain disquisitions on the subject, casuitical parsing of circumstances, and the like. For the present it suffices to note that the social conservatives have consigned themselves to political perdition, among other forms of potential damnation, not merely by yoking themselves to the eight-year odyssey of incompetence that was the Bush administration, but by the manner of their defenses, and the disputed issues defended. To my friends, the association of torture with opposition to abortion is an obscenity. Frankly, I concur. For this we sold our souls? Torture? Lord, have mercy.