No, I'm not referring to how the rest of the world views George Bush's United States. Nor even to how Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama fans feel about each other. Today's question is why the American right hates polar bears.
Not all conservatives loathe Ursus maritimus. South Carolina Senator John Courson, whose conservative credentials are established by his role as Strom Thurmond's campaign director, loves to photograph bears. A year ago he told me, "I don't need a scientist to tell me global warming is going to happen. I've been to Churchill Manitoba to photograph polar bears, and I've seen global warming happening."
But this commonsense, seemingly conservative approach doesn't apply to most of the pundits on the right. They almost foam at the mouth at the idea of declaring the polar bear at risk.
Columnist George Will recently launched the latest salvo. He is withering in his contempt for the idea that because the bears might be wiped out in 45 years we should act now. "45 years ago, the now long-forgotten global cooling menace was not yet foreseen." (Of course, 45 years ago AIDS was not foreseen either -- does Will reject taking public health steps now to protect our grandchildren?)
What's going on here? Is this simply shilling for the oil industry's desire to be able to drill without limits in polar bear habitat? (That's clearly what motivates Alaska Governor Sarah Palin in her threats to sue over the listing and to spend millions of dollars of taxpayer dollars trying to debunk it.)
That may be part of it. But Will pivots off his attack on the polar bear listing to uncover the real underpinning of the right's resistance to admitting the reality of global warming. "What Friedrich Hayek called the 'fatal conceit' -- the idea that government can know the future's possibilities and can and should control the future's unfolding -- is the left's agenda." He goes on to say that this concern about the future is bogus -- it's simply a ploy to get control of people's lives. "The left exists to enlarge the state's supervision of life, narrowing individual choices...."
That's what we need to understand. The very concept that present generations should try to anticipate the future consequences of our acts, and take responsibility for them, is anathema to the leaders of the current American right.
Which means, of course, that they are not true conservatives at all. Compare Will's screed with this quote from the father of conservatism, Britain's Edmund Burke: "Society is a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are to be born." Or listen to Barry Goldwater's original inspiration, Russell Kirk, on the environmental crisis, writing in the 1960s: "The modern spectacle of vanished forests and eroded lands, wasted petroleum and ruthless mining," he wrote, "is evidence of what an age without veneration does to itself and its successors (italics mine)."
You can almost imagine Will's lips curling as he closes with this line: "Onward green soldiers, into preventive war on behalf of some bears ...."
Wrong, George. We're simply the real conservatives.