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Crunchy Cons
How Birkenstocked Burkeans, gun-loving organic gardeners, evangelical free-range farmers, hip homeschooling mamas, right-wing nature lovers, ... America (or at least the Republican Party)
By Rod Dreher
Crown Forum
HC, 272 pgs., US$24.00
ISBN: 1-4000-5064-2

The House & Garden conservatives

By Bernard Chapin
web posted March 20, 2006

Crunchy Cons: How Birkenstocked Burkeans, Gun-Loving Organic Gardeners, Evangelical Free-Range Farmers…The last few years have been propitious for those expanding the jurisdiction of conservatism. Sensible people now accept that citizens of all colors, religions, lifestyles, and body-piercings might share an aversion for government over-regulation and statist "solutions" to problems. Distinctions made among conservatives are valuable and entertaining as they highlight the individualism so prevalent with us. Rod Dreher has added to this flourishing diversity by carving out a new subgroup he dubs the "Crunchy Cons."

These are a crunchy, or granola type of rightist, whom he first brought to our attention a few years ago in National Review. They embrace organic food, home-schooling, the importance of family, and environmental causes. Furthermore, they now have their own book, thanks to Mr. Dreher, entitled Crunchy Cons: How Birkenstocked Burkeans, Gun-Loving Organic Gardeners, Evangelical Free-Range Farmers…(there's a whole lot more but we'll use the first two words as a point of reference).

The author is quick to point out that The Crunchy Con is not one with a differing political program, although Dreher eventually provides one, the nuance of his identity is the possession of a particular political sensibility. They are anti-material in focus and abhor consumerism as much as socialism. Dreher believes that there are a great many conservatives out there who fall into this category, yet he fails to prove to us that this is the case.

In fact, proof, or a lack thereof, was a major concern in Crunchy Cons. For its entirety, little evidence is presented as most of his positions are supported by the recapitulation of conversations with friends and associates. No doubt these individuals advance our overall awareness the issues, but, research and citations of any kind are greatly missing from these pages. There are no endnotes or bibliography which weakens many a claim, such as when Dreher takes for granted the existence of global warming and the causations behind it. He also believes that conservatives don't take environmental scenarios seriously enough. I don't think that this is accurate. I can't speak for everyone, but before embracing radical "solutions" we must first be certain they address real problems and have a good chance of being effective.

Unfortunately, Dreher offers up few solutions, but that's not to say there is any deficit in description. Numerous lifestyle issues are discussed from the viewpoint of the crunchy con. Food is a great passion to them. The breed does not ascribe to the quantity over quality school of eating. For these ladies and gentlemen, dinner is a delight and a gift from God; as opposed to a "let's get it over with and get back to what we were doing" activity. These conservatives embrace the Slow Food movement and get their produce from community-supported agricultural co-ops.

The explicit agrarianism of Dreher's outlook cannot be ignored. He views the small farmer as one in need of celebration and pity. Although undoubtedly individual farmers possess a great many admirable interpersonal qualities, modern technology has made many of their jobs redundant. The solution to this eventuality is not to give them charity or subsidies, but recommend that they embrace more economically viable vocations. The growth of our quality of life, and capitalism itself, is contingent upon giving customers what they want and overpriced food is not on the agenda. FDR is long dead. Free economies are dynamic and we must not let emotion drive decision making. Unfortunately, when the author makes the comment, "Cheap chicken is not worth a compromised conscience," we know his choices are not rationally driven.

My biggest complain is the attitude that Dreher takes towards conservatives on the whole. He spends more time eviscerating his peers than he does the left which is rather silly. When he states that tax cuts are something everybody in America favors provided that we don't have to cut programs, one longs to ask him how many people he knows. Many citizens regard taxes as being a tithe to goodness, and they feel self-righteous and virtuous when they pay them. Certainly, this is a sick state of affairs, but it is precisely the reason why taxes continue to grow. His claim that, "Conservatives today have gotten to be as politically correct as the liberals we sneer at," is utterly fallacious. There are definite differences between the attitudes of the left and the right; Dreher would do well to explore them.

The leftward tilt of his beliefs are all too evident in the last chapter where he offers up a political agenda of which no rightist would ever approve. He would like conservatives to "[m]ake commonsense environmental protection a legislative priority." And what would that be? How could such vagueness be made law? What a legislature would do with a word like "commonsense" makes one shudder. I guarantee that any law featuring the word would be interpreted by the courts until it meant, "coercive."

Dreher would also like to reform regulations so that small farms are favored over large farms which necessitates more socialist action on the part of government. If the small farms can't make it…then they can't make it. We shouldn't punish efficient producers just so a crunchy conservative can relocate their family to a Norman Rockwell painting.

Laws favoring small businesses over big businesses is also on the agenda; although, I have a better idea. Let's ask the government just to mind its own business and stay away from the situation. There's no reason for the Leviathan to penalize or support corporations in any capacity. It is here where one longs to change "crunchy" to "progressive" to better describe the author's vision. When Dreher's advocates tougher laws against pornography, he announces to all that "libertarian" is a word he'd have to look up.

Unlike South Park Republicans, there are undoubtedly but a small number of crunchy conservatives out there. However leftward or odd they may appear, my advice is to humor them as much as possible. We should thank all thirty or forty souls for remaining on our side. Be tolerant and support their quirks, and make a point of waiting until they leave the room before laughing at them.

Bernard Chapin is a writer living in Chicago. He can be reached at bchapafl@hotmail.com.

Buy Crunchy Cons at Amazon.com for only $15.60 (35% off)

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