No philosophical underpinning
Apostasy pieces are never about delivering your former comrades from the grip of dreadful error. They’re about showing off how much more enlightened you are, using your misspent youth as a prop for credibility. I’ve read apostate tell-alls that I thought were true, but I’ve never read one that made me think I’d like, or trust, the author if I met him.
Now here’s my take. I think Johnson was never really a part of “the right” to begin with. For one thing, you don’t abandon a belief or philosophy based merely on how other people on your “team” are acting. If you are philosophically a conservative, then you don’t “part ways with the right” simply because people on your side of the fence are a little nuts over the president. No, you may decide that you disagree with various policies, you may not participate in the ‘bad craziness’ and you may shudder at the depths to which those who share your beliefs have stooped, but you don’t ditch the philosophy altogether.
Unlike Helen, I’m not sure that this is as much about loyalty as it is about honesty. If you are honestly committed to conservative principles, you simply don’t abandon them because of the reasons Johnson lists. No, Johnson was never conservative to begin with, but found common cause with other hawks who incidentally were on the right at the time. Had Al Gore been in office, and had he pushed the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (which I think would have been quite likely) Johnson would have found plenty of allies on the left. Indeed, he contributed in not insignificant ways to the very same bad craziness he now complains of, and ratcheted it up a notch or two. His return to the left means that liberals merely have one more hawkish voice to add to their collection.
I do think, however, that Helen has a good point about loyalty. It’s hard to “pick a side” when neither side is really what you want or when your preferred side’s leadership leaves so much to be desired, but in this system you pretty much have to. Independents even have to pick a side at some point. We’re not a parliamentary system, but we do have coalitions within both parties. There will be a group of Republicans who will share your views if you are a far-right-winger or a fairly moderate or liberal Republican. The same goes for Democrats. And what you see play out in primaries and elsewhere is the struggle between these coalitions for dominance. This is why you have witch-hunters and why you have apostates, of course, but it’s also how change comes about within a party and eventually within a system.
If everyone simply parts ways with the right when a different coalition within the Republican party becomes dominant, it defeats the point of having parties to begin with. More importantly, it’s too easy, and serves no purpose other than to point out, as Helen writes, “how much more enlightened you are.” We aren’t “parties of one.” We aren’t capable of storming the gates all by our lonesome. The point is to move your coalition into a position of dominance within the larger team, not to quit playing altogether, or just sit on the sidelines taking pot shots at everybody who is still out there playing the game.