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So, stimulated by the convergent energies of the current "oil crisis" and the imminent election, the New York Post's editorial page has recently developed a new method by which to abuse Al Gore. To abuse Gore is necessary?his disappearance from political life would represent an act of public hygiene?but the Post's methodology indicates what's objectionable about mainstream American conservatism. Post readers will have noticed this new feature, in which the newspaper reprints passages from Gore's book Earth in the Balance, presenting them out of context in the expectation that readers will consider them as funny as Post editors do.

The day before, the Post had poked fun at a passage from Gore's book that contained the following two sentences: "Today, a different dysfunction takes the form of ravenous, insatiable consumption, its dogma, and the mechanisms by which ever more resources are obtained. The struggle to save the global environment is in one way much more difficult than the struggle to vanquish Hitler."

Of all the things to attack Gore for. One cringes at the all-American piety that must of necessity accompany reflexive contempt for Gore's statements; at the suburban faith that fetishizes the internal combustion engine to start with. Is it really so outrageous to conceive that the gasoline engine could eventually be replaced by a viable electric one? Really such a heresy to concern oneself with pollution? With smog? With sustainability? As far as the second passage goes, to some of us it resembles an expression of fact.

What's telling is that it's so-called "conservatives" who harbor such contempt for those ideas. This indicates that conservatism?because it's more powerful?is now a more disquieting philosophy even than urban liberalism, the previous benchmark for grotesque mainstream crystallizations of American political thought. In fact, it's interesting to hear conservatism referred to as "conservatism" in the first place. Conservative of what? Of, as an older conservatism used to be, a cherished way of life, grounded in history and tradition and faith, that he of a "conservative" disposition desired to pass down to his children? Of natural or financial resources?

Hardly. Actually, a more honest name for the conservatism dominant today would be "profligism," because in actuality conservatism seeks to conserve only in select areas, while glorying in wastage, destruction and decadence in most others. The talk-show savant who demands curtailments of bureaucratic disbursements to the poor will defend the razing of forests, the energy industry's right to forever corrupt pristine Alaskan lands or the urbanite's divine right to the inexpensive gasoline that powers his off-road vehicle.

Conservatism isn't "conservative" in any real sense?not in the sense that such self-described conservatives as Theodore Roosevelt or Barry Goldwater or even Edward Abbey would have defined the word. Rather, it now reflects a kneejerk embrace of the most revolutionary aspects of what Marx identified as the most transformative ideology under which humans have ever toiled?that is to say capitalism, a system that a person of truly conservative temperament will view with skepticism. Conservatism is the philosophy that sanctions the greedy retreat of the consumer from the public realm, sanctions his abandoning of any notion of community beyond that which aggrandizes himself.

Today's mainstream conservatives aren't conservatives at all. They're American decadents?and revolutionaries in their own traumatic way.

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