Right Wing Nut House


Can the GOP Win Without the Crazies?

Filed under: Birthers, Decision 2012, Politics, Tea Parties, conservative reform — Rick Moran @ 1:59 pm

Birthers, truthers, paranoids, conspiracists — the whole angry, resentful, frightened mob of right wingers who make up a good portion of the Republican base scares the wholly living hell out of most of the rest of us. They exist on a different plane of reality — uncomfortable with deep thinking, irrational when their delusions are challenged, and unable to climb out of the echo chamber in which they find comfort and support with other like minded crazies.

Worse than who and what they are, the establishment Republicans and even other rational conservatives tolerate them, dismiss them as inconsequential, or actively encourage them in hopes of using their energy, activism, and money to win office.

I categorize the crazies, recognizing there is overlap in and redundancy in my taxonomy:

1. The Birthers. Still alive and kicking and insisting that either a) Obama wasn’t born here; or b) he is an illegitimate president because he’s not a “natural born citizen.” They’ve only got 4 more years to prove their case.

2. Conspiracists. Runs the gamut from the birther issue mentioned above to the idea that hundreds of reputable scientists are colluding to cook the books on global warming. Several prominent congressmen - Michele Bachmann among them — have joined this group by wondering if Huma Abedin, Hillary Clinton’s close aide, isn’t a Muslim Brotherhood plant.

3. Anti-Science crackpots. Enter the evangelical right who dismisses evolution, the Big Bang Theory, as well as other right wingers who worry about vaccinations and are convinced a woman can’t get pregnant from rape because her body automatically shuts down to prevent it.

4. Anti-intellectual. Dismissing out of hand any criticism from anyone who they believe isn’t a conservative. They are suspicious of anyone who went to an Ivy League school or who thinks for a living, and they reflexively reject nuance and logic because if you don’t feel it in your gut, you’re probably a squishy moderate.

5. Paranoids. Pure Hofstadter. Read.

6. Cry “Communist!” and let slip the dogs of war! Is there anything loopier about the crazies than their belief that the US is turning into a Marxist dictatorship? Sheesh.

It is an open question how large this segment of “conservatives” might be. Being in a better position than most to hazard an intelligent guess, I would put the percentage at more than 25% but less than 35%. I don’t believe any polls on the matter for the simple reason that the way questions about birtherism or socialism are formulated sweeps up many on the right who have questions about such things, but don’t give them much credence.

So, how much did fear and loathing of the GOP crazies by ordinary voters contribute to the party’s debacle on Tuesday?

On Wednesday, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray said the decisive Senate victories for her party had “proved to Republicans that extremists are dooming their party to disaster.”

“If Republicans want to follow the Tea Party off a political cliff, that’s their prerogative,” Murray said on a conference call with reporters. “But we will not let them take America off a cliff.”

Sorry, but it’s far more complicated than that. The self identified “Tea Party” has many faces, many factions — some of whom are rational libertarians, thoughtful federalists, or plain old Main Street Republicans.

But there is no doubt that the energy, the dynamism, and the soul of the Tea Party movement can be found in the angry, contorted faces of its members screaming about “Communism” and “Socialism” at rallies across the land. They are a fraternity of, for the most part, middle aged, Middle Class angry white males who believe they see the country they grew up in slipping away. Their vision of what America was like — a vision that obscures or ignores the more unseemly aspects of American society in decades past — lives on in Ronald Reagan’s “shining city on a hill” (a phrase The Gipper stole from Puritan leader John Winthrop). It’s a precious, if completely fanciful vision of an America that never was, but is embraced because it validates the sincere patriotic feelings felt by most ordinary Americans. They fear change because it is unsettling to have America’s perfection challenged in such a stark and obvious way.

America is changing — has always changed — and this has always unnerved some of us. It’s too easy to explain it away by saying that racism is the motivating factor in their hate. By limiting one’s explanation to the loss of white privilege, you lose sight of the traditionalist nature of their opposition to President Obama and his leftist allies.

Ed Kilgore:

As we have seen throughout history, cultural despair can lead to quiescence—to the withdrawal from politics and the building of counter-cultural institutions—or to hyper-activism—to the building of self-consiously counter-revolutionary political movements that exhibit contempt for democracy and treat opponents as enemies on an almost existential level. Maybe the kind of stuff I quoted above just reflects an emotional hangover from an election conservatives convinced themselves they were going to win. But it’s hardly new; much of the Tea Party Movement and its “constitutional conservative” ideology has involved a strange sort of anti-Americanism cloaked in super-patriotism. It wouldn’t be surprising if the same people reacted to the re-election of Barack Obama by taking their hostility to America as it is to another level.

For better or worse, the Tea Party has become the Tao of the GOP. Trying to remove them would sap most of the energy and activism from the party, which is why you don’t see too many establishment or mainstream Republicans trying to marginalize them.

But despite Kilgore’s use of scare quotes for “constitutional conservative” — as if this isn’t a valid philosophical construct or something to be feared or belittled — there is actually a purpose to the Tea Party’s obsession with the Constitution. The Kilgore’s of the world definitely don’t want to debate this, but the notion of “limited” government is at the heart of the Tea Party critique of the American government. Many of them have almost a biblical belief in the sanctity of the Constitution, that it must be taken literally, word for word like the Bible, and if something like national health care doesn’t appear in it, it is by definition “unconstitutional.” Others have a childlike understanding of the meaning of federalism, or the commerce clause, that makes them suspicious of anything that augments those concepts.

But despite all this, they are the only Americans willing to debate the limits of power granted to the federal government by our founding document. In this respect, the left, who prefer to keep their options open when it comes to defining limits on federal power, finds it convenient to tar tea partiers as racists, or authoritarians, or, as Kilgore does, anti-American. Some may be all of those, but to dismiss the argument they are making with scare quotes and name calling fails to recognize the value in what, in their own misguided way, they are trying to accomplish. I would venture to say that not since the ratification debates of 1787-88 has the Constitution been so seriously studied and debated. It’s a debate that needs to happen if there is any hope of maintaining a healthy balance between individual freedom and the needs of society to progress.

But the Tea Party does not represent the totality of the GOP crazies problem. Radical Christians who want to deny basic rights to gays, and even to women, are a far larger quandary. They vote. And no candidate for the presidency who runs on the Republican ticket can avoid toeing the line on their issues. If Mitt Romney had stood up to them by maintaining his position on gay marriage, abortion and other social issues, it is very likely he would not have been nominated. It’s at least partly the reason that governors like Mitch Daniels and Chris Christie refused to enter the GOP field in 2012. Catering to the concerns of people who believe the earth was created 6,000 years ago proves to be too much for some.

It would be a dream solution for the evangelicals, the tea party, and the other crazies to form their own party, as Herman Cain suggested:

Herman Cain, the former presidential candidate who still has a robust following via his popular talk radio program and speaking tours, today suggested the most clear step to open civil war: secession. Appearing on Bryan Fischer’s radio program this afternoon, Cain called for a large faction of Republican Party leaders to desert the party and form a third, more conservative party.

“I never thought that I would say this, and this is the first time publicly that I’ve said it: We need a third party to save this country. Not Ron Paul and the Ron Paulites. No. We need a legitimate third party to challenge the current system that we have, because I don’t believe that the Republican Party … has the ability to rebrand itself,” Cain said.

Rush Limbaugh agrees:

Rush Limabugh, two months ago, echoed the sentiment. ”If Obama wins, let me tell you what it’s the end of: the Republican Party. There’s gonna be a third party that’s gonna be oriented toward conservatism,” he said.

Well, some people’s idea of “conservatism” anyway.

Of course, a third party of anti-abortion and anti-gay activists, evangelical Christians, radical anti-government Objectivists, and paranoid loons would never win a national election. But then, neither would the GOP. This wouldn’t exactly be a split between ideologues and pragmatists, but it would clearly define the divisions in the conservative movement and Republican party in such a way that one or both parties might attract enough Democrats who may be tiring of the relentless liberalism currently in vogue on the left and would seek a different brand of populism or moderate politics.

But for the present, the crazies and the GOP establishment need each other. And unless the pragmatists realize just how much of a drag the crazies are on their political fortunes, the GOP is likely to continue losing mainstream voters who look in askance on a party that tolerates such nuttiness.


On Being 8 Years A-Blogging

Filed under: Blogging — Rick Moran @ 1:39 pm

On September 23, 2004, I opened an account on the blog creating site Blogger and wrote my first post for a site I named “Right Wing Nuthouse.” I called it that not because I was a right wing nut but as a tongue in cheek riposte to left wing critics I had done battle with online. I used to be a prolific commenter on blogs both right and left and thought that a little wry humor at the expense of liberals was perfectly in keeping with the tone I wanted to set for the blog.

It was a silly little post, that first one. It was about the big story at the time — the blogs vs. Dan Rather. Now, more than 3,700 posts later, I celebrate the 8th anniversary of RWNH with mixed feelings.

Originally, I thought that the blog would help me get noticed and promote my writing which would, in turn, allow me to make a living as a writer. In this, the blog has helped exceed my wildest expectations. While not strictly a writer, today I am writing for two websites as well as editing content for both. It’s been a strange journey from nameless blogger to (a still relatively nameless) successful writer. I harbor no illusions about my notoriety and whatever fame I’ve achieved has been as a conservative heretic rather than the wise old conservative sage I was hoping to be.

No matter. The right wing (I refuse to refer to most of them as “conservative”) is oblivious to their own heresy and have embraced an ideology that is rigid, anti-intellectual, anti-science, and self-destructive. It is an incoherent riot of conceits that is proudly bigoted, illogical, and bereft of new ideas. In fact, it is an unthinking, emotive ideology terrified of change, locked in a worldview that displays far more of the past than any vision for the future.

But I am the apostate, so go figure.

But while this blog has not given me exactly what I wanted as a public outlet for my writing, the returns on using my blog as a means to explore the inner workings of my mind have been extraordinary. I’m sure that sounds grandiose and a little inflated, but it’s true. One of my father’s favorite quotes was from Francis Bacon: “Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man.” Starting a blog (or as it used to be referred to, a “journal”) radically sharpened my thinking. I was forced to confront the shallowness of much of my ideology and justify the basic intellectual premises I had relied on for many years. I found that what I had believed to have been rock solid assumptions undergirding my ideology dissipated in the fire of real inquiry — which included the unheard of notion that reading intelligent writing from both sides opened entirely new vistas and challenged my thinking on a wide variety of issues.

You can’t do this by reading right wing blogs. Julian Sanchez’s writing on this subject influenced me greatly:

One of the more striking features of the contemporary conservative movement is the extent to which it has been moving toward epistemic closure. Reality is defined by a multimedia array of interconnected and cross promoting conservative blogs, radio programs, magazines, and of course, Fox News. Whatever conflicts with that reality can be dismissed out of hand because it comes from the liberal media, and is therefore ipso facto not to be trusted. (How do you know they’re liberal? Well, they disagree with the conservative media!)

This epistemic closure can be a source of solidarity and energy, but it also renders the conservative media ecosystem fragile. Think of the complete panic China’s rulers feel about any breaks in their Internet firewall: The more successfully external sources of information have been excluded to date, the more unpredictable the effects of a breach become. Internal criticism is then especially problematic, because it threatens the hermetic seal. It’s not just that any particular criticism might have to be taken seriously coming from a fellow conservative. Rather, it’s that anything that breaks down the tacit equivalence between “critic of conservatives and “wicked liberal smear artist” undermines the effectiveness of the entire information filter. If disagreement is not in itself evidence of malign intent or moral degeneracy, people start feeling an obligation to engage it sincerely—maybe even when it comes from the New York Times. And there is nothing more potentially fatal to the momentum of an insurgency fueled by anger than a conversation.

The level of vitriol leveled against Sanchez for this penetrating observation was remarkable. And while I had already broken with most right wingers by criticizing what I call “cotton candy conservatives” like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and especially Glenn Beck, I suddenly realized, after reading the series of essays Sanchez published on epistemic closure, that I no longer marched in lock step. I was a different kind of conservative — or I was a real conservative and the rest were just right wing nuts. I haven’t quite decided which is true yet. Perhaps a little of both.

This site has allowed me to explore what some philosophers refer to as “the examined life” — a look inward at one’s most closely held and cherished assumptions, taking them out to hold up to the light of day, and then justifying their place as morally and philosophically true.

As I’ve said many times, I am no intellectual. And I have not been as rigorous as I should have been in my explorations. But I was struck again and again how I was forced to alter some of my beliefs — sometimes subtly, sometimes dramatically — because I had opened my mind to alternative viewpoints. Those who view the world through a black and white prism are missing a lot. It may be advantageous politically to maintain a rigid ideological worldview that doesn’t stray far from the thinking of the tribe. But it was never enough for me, which I suppose has been my undoing.

If “Reading maketh a full man” in the sense that it helps one round out their thinking and give one a complete picture, then I have been well served by my curiosity. And if “writing maketh an exact man,” my curiosity has been mostly satisfied by trying to live an examined life.

I see now I would be a much different man if I hadn’t started this blog. Whatever muse was sitting on my shoulder urging me onward, I will always be grateful.


Rebooting the Nuthouse: A Declaration of RINOhood

Filed under: Arizona Massacre, Decision '08, Politics, conservative reform — Rick Moran @ 11:43 am

After nearly two years of spasmodic posting on this blog, I have decided to reboot and relaunch the site and write daily, original postings as often as I can manage.

That’s the plan, anyway. With the campaign for the presidency beginning to heat up, I felt compelled to add a voice to the proceedings that perhaps isn’t heard as much as it should be.

The voice of reason.

I’m just cynical enough to realize that no one much cares about reason, logic, rationality, or philosophical conservatism for that matter. Fewer care what I think. Fewer still have any use for my brand of conservatism.

And I’m just arrogant enough to think that love me or hate me, agree or disagree, I am a good enough writer to engage your interest and entertain most of you.

And that brings me to the reboot of Right Wing Nuthouse. I have been branded with the epithet “RINO” by most of the internet right — at least, those who view themselves as true blue, or “real” conservatives. But “RINO” may be a misnomer. I have never been a “party man” in the almost 8 years this site has been on the net, although I have had my partisan moments to be sure. The ideologues who have tarred me with what they believe to be their most withering criticism actually mean that I am a “Conservative In Name Only” — a CINO. But since the GOP is now almost exclusively a party of conservatives — something to be greatly lamented — we’ll stick with RINO as a catch-all for both.

It hardly matters. I wear both acronyms with pride, considering the source. Besides, I have no desire whatsoever to have my name associated with a political party that:

1. Embraces the likes of Ted Akin, Christine O’Donnell, Michelle Bachmann, Alan West, Tony Perkins, Joe Arpaio, Herman Cain, Tom Tancredo, and 2 dozen more bomb throwers, anti-science mountebanks, bigots, half-crazed religious fanatics, closed minded nincompoops, and intellectual lightweights. For those who are tempted to say, “Oh Yeah? Well those Democrats have their own Hall of Idiots too,” I would only respond that I have no earthly reason to be associated with the Democrats either. Besides, defending your own by pointing out that the other side is worse, or similarly handicapped is idiotic. It’s not an argument. It’s a cry for help.

2. Fails to deal rationally with the problem of 11 million illegal immigrants. You can’t deport them all, or round them up and hold them in pens until they get their due process. They are here. There are 11 million of them. Deal with it. If you want them off the public dole, make it possible for them to work. The potential human capital and entrepreneurial energy being wasted because of bigotry or some over-heated notion of “law and order” is irrational (crossing the border illegally is a misdemeanor). A more rational legal immigration policy would help. So would beefing up border security. But for the 11 million already here, a solution must be found.

Either solve the problem or take the words “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” off the Statue of Liberty

3. Believes that we are living in the end times of the republic if Barack Obama is re-elected. If the US can survive a James Buchanan, US Grant, and Jimmy Carter, we can survive Obama. This hysterical overreaction to every thing the president does is astonishing. The claim we are “losing” our freedoms is pathetic. Please list those freedoms Barack Obama has taken away, not talking points from the echo chamber. Czars do not represent a loss of freedom. Executive orders do not take away freedom. Creating a gigantic bureaucracy to oversee health care in America does not represent a loss of freedom. Overregulation is not a loss of freedom. Just because government becomes a nuisance does not mean that our basic freedoms are being lost. If they were, you would probably be in jail for saying so.

Those besotted with partisan ideology and who see Obama through the darkest prism imaginable, are the real danger to the republic — not some incompetent, far left liberal with delusions of grandeur and dreams of redistributive justice.

4. That believes all Democrats are traitorous, evil wretches who hate America.

5. That believes Obama is a “socialist” or even a “Communist.” To disregard the definition of a word and substitute your own meaning is damaging to the language and to rational discourse.

6. That believes the Constitution is holy writ and is to be interpreted literally.

7. That thinks that Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and other right wing radio talk show hosts should be taken seriously.

8. That believes in so many conspiracies that paranoids locked up in mental institutions look sane by comparison.

9. That never met an environmental regulation they didn’t hate and defines “free market” as nearly unfettered, predatory capitalism.

10. That believes the solution to most of our challenges overseas is either to bomb the hell out of them or overthrow the offending government. Sometimes both.

11. That believes waterboarding and other forms of internationally recognized torture are only what the terrorists deserve.

12. That equates compromise with surrender and civility with weakness.

13. That believes there is nothing to learn from opposing points of view and that criticizing your own side for something they’ve said or done is tantamount to apostasy.

There’s a lot more, but I’ve got to save something for future postings.

All of the above is the result of massively excessive ideological fervor that celebrates ignorance and cheers the irrational. I don’t know who or what is to blame — talk radio, the internet, perhaps more than anything, the perilous times we live in. I only know that I proudly reject a political party whose rank and file hold to this kind of deranged thinking — a derangement that extends even to the leadership of the party at times.

So what is it that RINO’s believe? I can only say what I believe and let others who might be tempted to join the ranks of conservative heretics make up their own mind.

1. I believe in a practical, reasonable interpretation of constitutional principles. These include defined limits on the scope and power of government, even if those limits interfere with some people’s concept of “social justice.” There is no justice without order, no order without limits on power. This was one of the core beliefs of the founders and I see no reason to abandon it for any reason.

I also believe in a rational interpretation of constitutional intent. This includes recognizing that the founders could never have envisioned the overwhelming role of commerce in America, but trusted their decedents to balance liberty with the need to restrain the powerful to keep them from preying on the weak. (A no brainer, this one.)

2. I believe in prudence as a civic virtue above all others.

3. I believe in science as a “candle in the dark” and that rejecting established science for religious or ideological reasons is anti-intellectual.

4. I believe we should render unto God what is God’s. All else — including government, public education, and the town square — belongs to man.

5. I believe that the current crisis needs serious men and women willing and able to work with their political opponents to begin to address the monumental problems we are facing. Recognizing that politics is a dirty, nasty business and that it will never be all sweetness and light between Republicans and Democrats, this is not an excuse to indulge in the most juvenile name calling and spitballing that substitutes for governance today. If politicians can’t find a way to overcome their own worst instincts, we are doomed to a collapse that will bring about unthinkable social and economic upheaval.

6. I believe there is merit to carefully examining criticism from the other side when it is logical and reasonably given. I also believe it imperative to expose oneself to other points of view outside one’s ideological comfort zone. If “Reading maketh a whole man” one must never stop searching for knowledge no matter what its origin.

7. I believe in “the examined life” — constantly testing the underlying assumptions of one’s philosophy to ensure that it is grounded in reality. While principles are immutable (to a large degree), one’s definition of belief regarding a particular issue might change as more information is inputted. If one finds that it is necessary to stretch, or spin one’s beliefs on an issue to force it to fit into a predetermined slot in your philosophy, the chances are very good that you’ve moved beyond that particular formulation and need to define a new one.

8. I believe it necessary for conservatism to inoculate itself against the toxicity being spread by the right wing ideologues whose hysteria, conspiracy mongering, irrational religious fervor, and lunatic ideas of government threaten to undermine the true nature of conservatism as a personal philosophy and force a retrenchment that would take us back to a time when the right was irrelevant.

Conservatism is not a political ideology. As Oakeshott points out, the application of conservative principles to liberal democracy is more to the point. What he calls, “rational government” incorporates principles expounded on by theorists from Burke to Kirk.

To govern, then, as the conservative understands it, is to provide a vinculum juris for those manners of conduct which, in the circumstances, are least likely to result in a frustrating collision of interests; to provide redress and means of compensation for those who suffer from others behaving in a contrary manner; sometimes to provide punishment for those who pursue their own interests regardless of the rules; and, of course, to provide a sufficient force to maintain the authority of an arbiter of this kind. Thus, governing is recognized as a specific and limited activity; not the management of an enterprise, but the rule of those engaged in a great diversity of self-chosen enterprises.

I suppose since Oakeshott was in favor of regulating business, he would be called a RINO today.

There’s much more I believe, of course. But to find out, you’re just going to have to add me to your RSS feed and come back for more.



Filed under: PJ Media, Politics — Rick Moran @ 11:59 am

I have a provocative piece up at PJ Media about the establishment’s angst over the GOP field of presidential candidates.

A sample:

[George] Will has fallen out of favor on the right wing because…well, just because. Because he’s from D.C.; because he criticizes Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, and other GOP insurgents; because he refuses to acknowledge the inherent wisdom of the Tea Party in Republican politics; because he is a civilized, witty, urbane, educated, well-read, bow-tie-wearing public intellectual and Washington insider.

Any one of those crimes against the right wing would be enough to sentence Will to the outer darkness - a RINO hell where all compromisers, unbelievers, and Chicago Cubs fans eventually end up. And Tea Party Perdition is getting awfully crowded with Reagan-era conservatives like Will - the “extremists” of their day. It’s not that they’ve moderated their philosophy. It’s that these apostates don’t possess the uncompromising fervor of righteous certainty in their views and pedal-to-the-metal hate for their political opponents that grips a large segment of the right.

No matter. Will is dead wrong anyway. Of course there’s a GOP establishment and he’s Exhibit A. The existence of the Republican Party as a political entity demands there be some kind of establishment from which leaders are chosen, favors dispensed, and conduits created so that ideas can be channeled into the most productive venues and nurtured and incorporated. And the nature of political society demands that there be a conservative establishment also for much the same reasons. Whether one listens to or obeys establishment figures is another story, but whether you wish to marginalize them or ignore them, you can’t destroy them. Knock one off, another will take their place. The establishment is dead. Long live the establishment.

The establishment doesn’t refer to Obama as a “Communist” (although they may refer to his “socialist policies”), nor do they make reference to Obama as a “dictator.” What mostly defines an establishment member these days is the level of disdain exhibited toward Tea Partiers, the evangelical right, and the anti-science Luddites and anti-intellectual galoots who make up a sizable minority of the GOP base and who threaten to determine who will face Barack Obama in 2012.

The prospect of denim-wearing, dirty-fingernail, rank-and-file activists actually having an impact on the nominating process for the GOP presidential candidate has the establishment wringing their hands and scrambling to find another candidate more in line with their idea of governance. Take their money? Sure. Direct their energies into volunteer efforts for candidates? Absolutely.

But let them decide who should represent them as a candidate for president? Perish the thought.

If this sounds like a pox on both your houses - both radical right and establishment - you are correct. I despise them all. There is a small sliver of conservatism that lives in the GOP that is rational, principled, thoughtful, open minded, and intellectually coherent. You won’t find it in the tea party, the religious right, or the anti-science and anti-intellectual right wing fanatics that are as much of a threat to America as their counterparts on the left.

Weirdly, the two ideological extremes speak much the same language. What’s more,  neither side acknowledges the similarities. Referring to the “Obama regime” is exactly how the left referred to the “Bush Regime” just a few years ago — with the right’s towering denunciations of liberals for doing so apparently forgotten. Similarly, cries of “fascist” directed against Bush are echoed by the right when talking about “Communist” Obama.  Both sides complain their members of congress don’t “stand up” to the other party and “fight” for what they believe. In fact, both sides complain that the other side wins all the time. Both sides believe their members compromise too much and too readily. Both sides believe that in the recent debt ceiling deal, they got taken. Ominously, both sides have sworn not to let it happen again.

Both sides firmly believe that only politicians who follow what their idea of  liberalism or conservatism is should hold office. Deviation of one iota from orthodoxy brands the unfortunate lawmaker as the enemy - a liberal or conservative. Thoughtfulness is seen as a sign of weakness. Open mindedness a sure sign of a lack of principle. Reasonableness, the kiss of political death.

I don’t know why what is so obvious - that excessively ideological partisans demonstrate little to choose between the two sides - is so obscure to the bases of both parties. Be that as it may, it is the right wing extremists who concern me; not as a party man since I am not a Republican in any organizational sense of the word, but as a conservative who is concerned about the bad name these extremists are giving to the political right.

I am getting hammered in the comments of my PJM piece for the usual stuff; I’m a RINO, I’m not a “true” conservative, I shouldn’t criticize Republicans, I’m only dissing the tea party so I can get a job in the MSM - the usual blithering idiots blathering about nonsense. Contrary to what they think, I have no desire to defend those in the GOP establishment whose fake conservatism - dusted off and held up before the voters every 2, 4, or 6 years - has assisted the left in bringing us to the brink of calamity. (My defense of Will is the result of that gentleman’s nearly 50 years of defending and promoting conservative principles begun long before conservatism gained any acceptance whatsoever and long before most of his rabid critics were born.)

But neither do I condemn the totality of the Tea Party. I have written numerous times of the good they have done in educating the public about constitutional precepts and first principles. It is a debate that hasn’t happened for more than 220 years when the Constitution was being ratified and it is long overdue.

It is extremism that I am against and there is a sizable portion of  Tea Party activists who are radical right wingers and who have appropriated the “conservative” label to give a patina of legitimacy to their cause.

No, you say? I found it interesting in the comments that most assumed when I wrote about “anti-science Luddites” that I was referring to right wing opposition to climate change orthodoxy. Actually, that never crossed my mind since I’m an agnostic on the matter. (My only beef is the tiresome muddle of conspiracies that are promoted to explain climate change research.) Instead, I was thinking of  a generalized disdain for science evidenced by a knee jerk opposition to anything proposed by the EPA, the NIH, and other scientific bodies. Rejecting evolutionary theory despite 99% of the rest of the industrialized world accepting it is the definition of “anti-science.” So, too, rejecting the notion of curtailing business activity to save endangered species, the reality of weakness in the ozone layer, the opposition to vaccinations - a whole smorgasbord of accepted science being rejected either on religious grounds, or belief  in some conspiracy or another.

And as far as anti-intellectualism, rejecting a critique of conservatism based not on flawed argument or lack of substance, but rather the source of the criticism is both anti-intellectual and ignorant. Beyond that, there is a general disdain among right wingers for scholars based not on what they write but because it is assumed they are “liberal.”  When critical thinking is subsumed because ideology so controls the thinking of an individual, there is a real danger that people will believe just about anything.

Like Catherine of Aragon, I shall now return to my exile and continue work on my tapestries.



Filed under: Decision 2012, Palin, Politics, cotton candy conservatives — Rick Moran @ 12:52 pm

While many of you may roll your eyes at the prospect of reading another article about Sarah Palin - pro or con - the issues she raises as a personality in the Republican party simply can’t be ignored, or saved for discussion when she announces her candidacy for the presidency sometime next spring.

Make no mistake. Palin is already running for the office, testing her message in front of friendly audiences, tweaking her online presence, sharpening her attacks, and demonstrating the right balance of humility and eagerness to serve when asked about her future plans. She’s been bitten by the bug, and given the dismal performance ratings of the incumbent, sees a clear opening in a race that will almost certainly be anyone’s ballgame on the Republican side.

Even more than President Obama, Palin represents herself as a new kind of politician. She combines the politics of resentment with a down home charm and an aw-shucks ordinariness that takes the lance out of many of her sneering thrusts at Democrats, while the blood she draws drives her sycophantic, puppy-like admirers into paroxysms of ecstasy. She is a combination of Reagan, Winston Churchill, and maybe George Washington if you read any of the hundreds of blogs that sing her praises. And she has tapped into the motherlode of fears, hates, and simple, decent pride of country (that some deride incorrectly as “chauvinism”) to which ordinary voters respond at gut level.

A not inconsequential skill set. She is much smarter than her potential opponents give her credit for which makes her even more formidable a candidate. Many liberals apparently can’t get out of the way of their own intellectual arrogance when it comes to sizing up the opposition, and Palin intends to take full advantage of that shortcoming.

The more the pollsters, the media, and the left ask how anyone can seriously consider Palin for the highest office in the land, the more her stock rises with ordinary voters. The more establishment Republicans tip-toe around her obvious limitations, the more she is lionized by the anti-establishment tea party types and online conservative elites who see her as something of an American savior, if not the personification of the conservative cause.

For those who say she has no chance, I have two words for you; Barack Obama. Not surprisingly, Palin has compared her own desert-like resume with Obama’s puffed up qualifications and found the president’s experience similar to her own. We’re not going to refight that battle here, but suffice it to say both lack the kind of depth of experience Americans were used to in choosing a chief executive. If anything, President Obama is proving that being book smart is not the same as being capable of heading a smart government, or developing smart policies.

It’s not that Palin is “incurious” - a word I hate because it isn’t really a word as much as a talking point. Rather, it is the depthlessness of her intellect that jumps out at you. She seems capable of absorbing information at a superficial level, but nuance and detail appears to be beyond the ken of her understanding. Perhaps she could disabuse us of this notion if she allowed herself to be interviewed by a Charlie Rose, or a Tavis Smilely, or perhaps a Brian Lamb who wouldn’t be satisfied with letting her spout rushed talking points, forcing her to delve deeper into issues than when she is interviewed by friendlies like Hannity or O”Reilly.

One gets the sense in her sit downs with conservatives that she has a list in her head of points she wants to hit on any given issue, and then rattles them off as if she has learned them by rote. It is quite disconcerting if you’re used to an interviewee actually thinking about what they should say and then saying it. She is too glib, too cocksure - and too shallow - to have seriously considered the ramifications of much of what she says. This is why she should seek to stretch herself by being interviewed by someone who not only knows what they’re doing, but is ridiculously well prepared and well-versed in the detail and nuance of the subjects up for discussion. Hannity, O’Reilly, Rush, even Katy Couric don’t have the time, the talent, or the desire to challenge her depthless understanding of issues, of government, or of conservative philosophy.

Would exposing her as a one dimensional stick figure of a candidate lose her votes? Many already view her that way, perhaps even some of her supporters. More drastic action is needed, according to Joe Scarborough:

Palin is not a stupid woman. But like the current president, she still does not know what she does not know. And she does know how to make millions of dollars, even if she embarrasses herself while doing it.

That reality hardly makes Palin unique, but this is one Republican who would prefer that the former half-term governor promote her reality shows and hawk her books without demeaning the reputations of Presidents Reagan and Bush. These great men dedicated their lives to public service and are too good to be fodder for her gaudy circus sideshow.

If Republicans want to embrace Palin as a cultural icon whose anti-intellectualism fulfills a base political need, then have at it. I suppose it’s cheaper than therapy.

But if the party of Ronald Reagan, Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio wants to return to the White House anytime soon, it’s time that Republican leaders started standing up and speaking the truth to Palin.

Scarborough is referring to Palin’s recent denigration of Reagan’s experience. When questioned about her lack of a resume for the presidency, Palin took a page out of the liberal playbook and averred that “Wasn’t Ronald Reagan an actor? Wasn’t he in ‘Bedtime for Bonzo,’ Bozo, something? Ronald Reagan was an actor…” Peggy Noonan supplies the necessary lobotomy to Palin’s sneering ignorance:

The point is not “He was a great man and you are a nincompoop,” though that is true. The point is that Reagan’s career is a guide, not only for the tea party but for all in politics. He brought his fully mature, fully seasoned self into politics with him. He wasn’t in search of a life when he ran for office, and he wasn’t in search of fame; he’d already lived a life, he was already well known, he’d accomplished things in the world.

And calling George and Barbara Bush “bluebloods” because they don’t support her for the presidency demonstrated not only a thin skin, but that there is little doubt that she is, indeed, almost certainly going to run for president. Scarborough’s snarky response:

Maybe poor George Herbert Walker Bush was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Indeed, he was so pampered growing up that on his 18th birthday, the young high school graduate enlisted in the armed forces. This spoiled teenager somehow managed to be the youngest pilot in the Navy when he received his wings, flying 58 combat missions over the Pacific during World War II. On Sept. 2, 1944, “Blue Blood” Bush almost lost his life after being shot down by Japanese anti-aircraft fire.

With his engine shattered and his plane on fire, Bush still refused to turn back, completing his mission by scoring several damaging hits on enemy targets. His plane crashed in the Pacific, where he waited for four hours in enemy waters until he was finally rescued. For his bravery and service to this country, Bush was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, three air medals and the Presidential Unit Citation for bravery while in combat.

George H.W. Bush accomplished more in his life before his 19th birthday than Palin has in her entire existence. And yet, the fact that he was born rich and part of the establishment is grounds for the most dismissive kind of epithet? “Establishment” is the new “black” among many Republicans and conservatives. The very mention of the word draws bric-a-bracs from the mindless partisans who are cheering her on and is an automatic disqualifier regardless of the accomplishments and loyalty to party or cause demonstrated by the offender.

And that may be Palin’s greatest drawback and the number one reason she should be called out by respected conservatives and Republicans; her hyper-partisanship. Andrew Sullivan on Palin’s Thanksgiving day Facebook post about the media frenzy over her “North Korea” gaffe:

This may be a smart-ass retort; it may be useful inoculation against a potentially damaging gaffe; it may even be a well-researched blog-post, but what it isn’t is anything approaching the kind of character we expect in a president. A simple respect for the office she seeks would not reflect itself in these increasingly callow, sarcastic, cheap jibes at a sitting president. But sadly, like so many now purporting to represent conservatism, there is, behind the faux awe before the constitution, a contempt for the restraint and dignity a polity’s institutions require from its leaders.

There is no maturity here; no self-reflection; no capacity even to think how to appeal to the half of Americans who are already so appalled by her trashy behavior and cheap publicity stunts. There is a meanness, a disrespect, a vicious partisanship that, if allowed to gain more power, would split this country more deeply and more rancorously than at any time in recent years. And that’s saying something.

Actually, how the country could be even more divided at this point is a mystery. More than looking ahead to a Palin presidency, Republicans and conservatives should look to a much more realistic scenario; crowning her candidacy with the Republican nomination for president.

The disaster that would flow from that course of action for both the right, and the GOP would make 2008 look like a picnic. It would be irresponsible to nominate Sarah Palin (and Mike Huckabee and a few others). It would prove that the GOP and conservatives are unserious about addressing the monumental problems in America by putting forward someone who everyone but Palin disciples believe is a lightweight for the highest office in the land.

The punishment meted out by the electorate would be well deserved.



This articile originally appears on The Moderate Voice

I would like to think that the continuing drama being played out between pragmatists and ideologues in the conservative sphere might be optioned to NBC and made into a daytime drama. Two problems arise immediately; soap operas are a dying TV genre and it would be no contest with regards to sex appeal between Sarah Palin and David Frum.

That said, a fascinating incident made public by John Hawkins, who denied David Frum’s website a place in his conservative ad network because he didn’t believe Frum was sufficiently conservative (defined as someone who criticizes the right solely to ingratiate themselves with liberal elites), underscores the current struggle between those who believe in applying conservative principles to government in a prudent, practical effort to preserve liberty and force Washington to be a servant of the people, and those who wish to use conservatism in the same, exact manner in which Democrats are using liberalism today; as a club to destroy their enemies.

Am I mischaracterizing the beliefs of Hawkins and his ilk? I’m sure John would mostly agree with this rant from Dr. Zero (linked by Instapundit), in which the good Doctor defines the two sides thusly:

There are two Republican parties, and both had a candidate on the 2008 presidential ticket. John McCain was the candidate of the thin-blooded aristocracy, tired men who dislike certain elements of their nominal constituency far more intensely than their political opposition. They have no strenuous objection to the premises of the Left, as could be seen from McCain’s swift acceptance of the freedom-has-failed spin pushed by the Democrats during the 2008 financial crisis. Many of them believe opposition to the Left’s emotional narrative is electoral suicide. This also makes them reluctant to criticize Democrat candidates in harsh terms…


The other Republican party is young and vital. On the 2008 ticket, its banner was carried by Sarah Palin. It’s the yeoman wing of the party, composed of people with middle-class backgrounds and real-world business experience. These people are appalled at the bloated mess in Washington, and the smaller but equally fatal tumors infecting many state capitols. They see a government speeding toward systemic collapse, its doom spelled out in the simple math of unsustainable entitlements and economy-crushing taxation. They’re in love with the American people, a sincere passion that rings from every speech Palin delivers.

Dr. Zero didn’t include the horns and tail for the “thin-blooded aristocracy” or the halo for his “yeomen” (hardscrabble dirt farmers operating on the economic margins, and light years from being considered “middle class” ) which is just as well. This isn’t serious analysis anyway. Such one dimensional, stick figure characterizations can’t even be construed as generalizations; more like representational cotton candy cut outs with the heft of a feather pillow and the consistency of oatmeal. It’s value is in how it reveals the shallowness of ideologues’ thinking and their exaggerated opinion of themselves as well as the comically broad manner in which they denigrate the pragmatists.

Here’s Hawkins on why he turned Frum down:

There’s an easy answer to that question: the mainstream media loves “conservatives” and “Republicans” who will trash whomever the Left hates most. So, if you’re willing to talk about how Sarah Palin is a hick, Glenn Beck is a crank, Rush Limbaugh is bad for the country, and the Tea Party is bad for democracy, the mainstream media will reward you — and because conservatives pride themselves on being open minded, they’ll all too often give you a pass for your atrocious behavior — especially since the MSM doesn’t insist you play their game all the time. As long as you’re willing to say what they want about the people they hate the most, they’ll reward you with a cover story at Newsweek and then in your off time, you can churn out a few articles to point gullible conservatives towards while you’re trying to guilt them into taking you seriously by crying “epistemic closure!”

This is what David Frum does for a living — and don’t think he doesn’t know it. Even the people who write for him know it. I ran into someone who writes for his blog at an event once. He was extremely defensive about writing for them. I must have heard him tell at least three people, myself included, something akin to, “I write for FrumForum, but please don’t hold that against me.”

Long story short, everybody has to make a living. But, I’m not interested in helping people like Frum play this little game where they try to cripple conservatives publicly while coming around on the back end to milk us for money. If Frum wants to be a dancing monkey for the Left, let them come up with the money to pay for the tune.

Hawkins has a lot more to say and you should read the whole thing. But instead of mocking epistemic closure, John should reread the original piece by Julian Sanchez and contemplate how his explanation defines the term:

Reality is defined by a multimedia array of interconnected and cross promoting conservative blogs, radio programs, magazines, and of course, Fox News. Whatever conflicts with that reality can be dismissed out of hand because it comes from the liberal media, and is therefore ipso facto not to be trusted. (How do you know they’re liberal? Well, they disagree with the conservative media!) This epistemic closure can be a source of solidarity and energy, but it also renders the conservative media ecosystem fragile. Think of the complete panic China’s rulers feel about any breaks in their Internet firewall: The more successfully external sources of information have been excluded to date, the more unpredictable the effects of a breach become. Internal criticism is then especially problematic, because it threatens the hermetic seal. It’s not just that any particular criticism might have to be taken seriously coming from a fellow conservative. Rather, it’s that anything that breaks down the tacit equivalence between “critic of conservatives and “wicked liberal smear artist” undermines the effectiveness of the entire information filter. If disagreement is not in itself evidence of malign intent or moral degeneracy, people start feeling an obligation to engage it sincerely—maybe even when it comes from the New York Times. And there is nothing more potentially fatal to the momentum of an insurgency fueled by anger than a conversation. A more intellectually secure conservatism would welcome this, because it wouldn’t need to define itself primarily in terms of its rejection of an alien enemy.

Hawkins does not believe that Frum is a conservative at all. He comes to this conclusion not because of what Frum espouses or what he believes philosophically but because liberals like it when he criticizes Hawkins’ favorite cotton candy conservatives! It is not where Frum stands on the issues that rankles Hawkins, but rather some of his criticisms are exactly the same as those coming from liberals. Ergo, since liberals have nothing to say that any “real” conservative should listen, anything Frum says is dismissed.

I went through this same thing when I had some nice things to say about Sam Tanenhaus’s Death of Conservatism. Dismissing what someone says based solely and exclusively on their ideology is too stupid to comment on. That goes for both sides of the divide and bespeaks an anti-intellectualism from those who practice such idiocy. Tanenhaus was dead wrong in much of his critique, but that doesn’t mean he had nothing of value to say. To believe that is to close your mind entirely to alternative points of view.

Incredibly, in Hawkins’ response to Frum’s pique over the ad controversy, Hawkins claims that he and other conservatives don’t mind being criticized - as long as it doesn’t mimic what liberals say about them:

If you were going by talent, personality, or ability to hold an audience, none of the people I’ve just mentioned, including David Frum, have the ability to claw their way up the conservative food chain like Michelle Malkin, Ann Coulter, and Mark Levin have. So, to use David Frum’s word again, they’re willing to prostitute themselves (If Meghan McCain happens to read this, I don’t mean that literally — like a street walker. It means you’re selling out your principles. If you get confused, ask your daddy to hire someone to explain it to you) to the liberals in the mainstream media who want “conservatives” who are willing to tell liberals what they want to hear. This is no secret to David Frum or anybody else who works in this business.


Actually, I, like most conservatives, do not advocate groupthink or demand people rigidly stick to the “company line.” We actually have a simpler request: We just want people who are billed as Republicans and conservatives to actually be on the same side we are. The editorial pages in the newspapers slant liberal. The columnists slant liberal. Even the news in the newspapers slants liberal. Hell, even the TV shows and movies slant liberal. So finally, after all that, you run across a “conservative” in the mainstream media giving an opinion and guess what? He’s been given a platform to speak because he agrees with the liberals. That’s what people like David Frum get paid to do, I’m sick of it, and I’m not doing anything else to reward people like him, including allowing them to get into the Blogads Conservative Hive.

Shorter Hawkins; We don’t advocate groupthink except when we advocate groupthink. We don’t want an independent thinker representing conservatism and Republicans - even if he served in the administration of a Republican president, advocates strongly for conservative issues like fiscal responsibility, lower taxes, and strong defense, supports many conservative candidates, and has written passionately about ways that the GOP and conservatism can be made relevant again.

We want someone like Eric Erickson representing conservative - a guy who once referred to former Supreme Court Justice David Souter in a Tweet as a “goat fucking child molester” and daydreamed at RedState, “At what point do they get off the couch, march down to their state legislator’s house, pull him outside, and beat him to a bloody pulp for being an idiot?”

Much better. Such “true conservatives” are what we need front and center, representing the right.

What makes Hawkins response to Frum so classically tragic is that he fails to recognize how much in the grip of epistemic closure he is. He can write that he doesn’t subscribe to groupthink while making it plain as day that this is exactly what he is beholden to. Such a Shakespearean formulation - where the protagonist fails utterly in sensing his tragic flaw due to hubris, or fear of knowing oneself, or even being blocked from self-awareness by the Gods - makes Hawkins’ ignorance heartbreaking for those of us on the right whose criticisms of the Beck-Hannity-Palin-Limbaugh worldview seeks to smash the echo chamber that dominates conservative conversation and inject some realism and a little sanity into the discourse. At the very least, criticizing the shallowness, the illogic, the wildly exaggerated conspiracy theories and the outright falsehoods espoused by the cotton candy conservative crowd allows for an alternate record to be made that promotes reason rather than the irrational.

Hawkins is a prisoner of an intellectual conceit that brooks no opposition, and even less independent thought. Unable, as Sanchez points out, to answer the criticism on an intellectual level, Hawkins and his ilk stoop to questioning motives. Of course Frum is critical of the right; he craves attention and financial rewards from liberals. Never mind engaging Frum on the specifics of his criticisms (a far more rewarding proposition and one with a good chance of success given Mr. Frum’s sometimes inconsistent arguments). The way to answer Frum is by trying to discredit him by accusing him of being intellectually dishonest.


Hawkins seems to be suggesting that we go on TV not as individuals, to express our own ideas as best we can, to offer the most useful information we can discover. No – people should appear as representatives of pre-existing tribes: conservatives, liberals, blacks, whatever, to engage in a ritual of synchronized repetition of pre-existing phrases. You are a conservative? You must say THIS – and never that. You must approve THIS – and never admit to doubts about that.

Hawkins asks: “What’s the point of putting Frum on TV?” Take him seriously though and you have to wonder: What’s the point of putting ANYONE on TV when the job could be so easily automated?

Hawkins makes it plain that conservatives are free to speak their minds - as long as they think Glen Beck is the bees knees, Rush Limbaugh is the cat’s meow, and Sarah Palin is ready to be president. The ideologues who equate criticism of their heroes with being a liberal do so because their worldview is so closed to alternative viewpoints that they are incapable of logical argument. Hence, the strawmen, the logical fallacies, and the simple, personal smear questioning the integrity of others is all they have.

What criticism of the right would Hawkins agree with? He never says, although you can be sure it would be irrelevant to what really ails conservatism. A movement so fatally flawed by its failure to engage critics from its own ranks - critics who seek to make conservatism relevant again so that electoral success can translate into prudent, practical public policy that will regrow the economy, protect our citizens, and re-establish the primacy of individual rights - may find temporary success at the polls as a result of the utter stupidity and incompetence of Obama and the Democrats. But in order to truly reform the government and the culture, it will take a more intellectually rigorous application of conservative principles and a pragmatic political bent that will ensure political competitiveness for decades to come.


Frum’s Fall a Telling Blow to Pragmatism on the Right

This post originally appears on The Moderate Voice

Would the last intellectual conservative to leave Washington please turn out the lights?

The fall of AEI senior Fellow David Frum is not only a loss for intellectual conservatism, but a warning to conservative apostates everywhere that tolerance for opposing viewpoints on the right in the Age of Obama will not be a paying proposition. The previous firing of Bruce Bartlett, former Reagan senior policy analyst from the National Center for Policy Analysis in 2005 for writing an anti-Bush book should have been seen at the time as a shot across the bow by the moneybags who largely fund the conservative movement and who are apparently so insecure in their own beliefs that they are terrified of the independent mind, of thoughts and ideas that don’t match up with their own.

Most of the internet right is joyful today at the humbling of Frum who has stood four square against the emotionalism and excessive partisanship demonstrated by those who consider themselves true conservatives. He has lambasted the cotton candy conservatism of Beck, Limbaugh, and other pop righties whose exaggerated, over the top rhetoric may bring in ratings but ultimately damages the cause they purport to espouse.

Does this mean Frum was always right? Nobody is always right, which is one of the main points of intellectual conservatism. A healthy conservatism would have intelligently debated Frum’s frequent critiques of the right and the GOP. Rather than questioning his motives, his ambition, or his commitment to the right, a dynamic colloquy could have ensued that would have benefited all.

Alas, such was not - could not - be the case. Instead, Frum’s numerous critics accused him of naked ambition, trying to curry favor with the left and the press in order to further his career. He was dismissed as a non-conservative or a RINO because he didn’t believe government was the enemy. He was charged with practicing punditry under false pretenses, of not really believing what he was talking and writing about.

I can tell you from experience that it is that last criticism that hurts the most and is the quickest to bring anger to the forefront of one’s emotions. Frum knew that his critiques would diminish him in the eyes of the very people who were paying his salary. Perhaps some of his critics should try doing that in their own job someday. The squeaky wheel often does not get the grease, but rather, is replaced - and quite easily as is the case with Frum.

Indeed, Frum speculates to Politco’s Mike Allen that it was his Waterloo article that proved the last straw for some of AEI’s biggest contributors:

David Frum told us last night that he believes his axing from his $100,000-a-year “resident scholar” gig at the conservative American Enterprise Institute was related to DONOR PRESSURE following his viral blog post arguing Republicans had suffered a devastating, generational “Waterloo” in their loss to President Obama on health reform. “There’s a lot about the story I don’t really understand,” Frum said from his iPhone. “But the core of the story is the kind of economic pressure that intellectual conservatives are under. AEI represents the best of the conservative world. [AEI President] Arthur Brooks is a brilliant man, and his books are fantastic. But the elite isn’t leading anymore. It’s trapped. Partly because of the desperate economic situation in the country, what were once the leading institutions of conservatism are constrained. I think Arthur took no pleasure in this. I think he was embarrassed. I think he would have avoided it if he possibly could, but he couldn’t.”

That “economic pressure” was in the form of a donor revolt, made even more remarkable, Bruce Bartlett, because of the cone of silence that dropped over AEI health policy wonks who were instructed not to talk to the press because they agreed with some of the things Obama was trying to do:

Since, he is no longer affiliated with AEI, I feel free to say publicly something he told me in private a few months ago. He asked if I had noticed any comments by AEI “scholars” on the subject of health care reform. I said no and he said that was because they had been ordered not to speak to the media because they agreed with too much of what Obama was trying to do.

It saddened me to hear this. I have always hoped that my experience was unique. But now I see that I was just the first to suffer from a closing of the conservative mind. Rigid conformity is being enforced, no dissent is allowed, and the conservative brain will slowly shrivel into dementia if it hasn’t already.

Sadly, there is no place for David and me to go. The donor community is only interested in financing organizations that parrot the party line, such as the one recently established by McCain economic adviser Doug Holtz-Eakin.

I can see the gloat on the faces of Frum’s critics as they read that “the elite isn’t leading anymore.” This has been the biggest bone of contention between the few conservative critics on the right who rail against the mindless, ideologically driven opposition of many movement conservatives to anything they don’t agree with vs. the reasoned and logical, more pragmatic opposition that is more open minded, more accepting of the notion that compromise is necessary for government to work.

In fact, this was the thesis of Frum’s Waterloo article; that by choosing not to engage the Democrats in crafting Obamacare, the GOP shot itself in the foot by not only appearing weak, but eventually being unable to block the monstrosity of Obamacare. In achieving this dubious honor, the governing elites were driven like a herd of cattle, being prodded on by talk radio and Fox News buffoons who lead a movement and where any deviation from accepted wisdom was met with a withering blast of mockery and threats of excommunication.

Why has conservatism turned into such an echo chamber? Why do most on the right only read and digest that with which they agree and not open their minds, test their basic assumptions against opposing views? What is it that frightens them so that they see those who criticize the rank emotionalism of a Beck or Limbaugh as “the enemy” rather than the normal give and take among people who disagree?

I searched for an answer to these and other questions in my 5 part series “Intellectual Conservatism Isn’t Dead.” And while I never came right out and said it, I think what I was driving at was that the rejection of intellectuals or “the elites” is symptomatic of a lack of confidence in what conservatives should stand for. Issues aren’t the problem. There is broad agreement on which issues are important and what position conservatives should hold.

Rather, it is a lack of confidence in what conservatism as a philosophy should be all about. Witness the health care debate and the eagerness with which many conservatives are embracing the rush to federal court to have Obamacare declared unconstitutional. Does anyone see the titanic irony in, on the one hand, declaring fierce opposition to “activist judges” while on the other hand scurrying off to court in order to plead with a judge to take an activist stance against legislation with which the right disagrees?

This is the kind of emotional partisanship that is killing conservatism, driving the right off a cliff. And it comes from closing one’s mind to alternative viewpoints; to understand where the other side is coming from (both the left, and opponents on the right) while being terrified that one might be harboring views that are not in lock step with the majority. It is fear that is driving this kind of excessively partisan, morbidly ideological behavior on the right - fear that being cast outside of the groupthink that has become modern conservatism will leave the apostate without a political ship on which to sail.

Reading and listening to Hannity, Limbaugh, Coulter, and other pop conservatives without investigating alternative viewpoints, without challenging your own beliefs from time to time, marks one as a philistine. It is the antithesis of conservatism to close one’s mind and reject alternative viewpoints based not on their relevancy or reason but rather on the source of the criticism.

It is easy to dismiss conservatives like Frum by chalking up their opposition to the groupthink by wittily offering that they say those things so that they can get invited to liberal cocktail parties, or advance their careers in the leftist MSM. This kind of personal criticism is easier than having to respond directly to the charges that modern movement conservatism has lost touch with reality, and has become irresponsible, loutish, anti-science, and anti-intellectual. Greedy, selfish, cynical, and most of all, intellectually rigid, what is being identified as modern conservatism has no coherence, no basis in logic, and proudly represents itself as the party of little or no government at all.

And people like Frum, David Brooks, Peggy Noonan, Bruce Bartlett, and others like them who are in bad odor on the right for being “traitors” will go on being ignored and marginalized because actually dealing with their criticisms by debating them on the merits or demerits of their opinions opens a chasm beneath the feet of most movement conservatives. Even the tiniest of hints that not all they believe may be true is enough to throw the fear of God - or Rush - into them and send them scurrying back into the safety and warmth of blissful ignorance found on talk radio and conservative internet salons.

The apostates are not always right. On health care, it is naive to believe the Democrats were prepared to work with the GOP on anything that would have stopped short of the kind of comprehensive remaking of our health care that eventually passed. This, the GOP could not countenance under any circumstances and remain a viable political party. In that respect, the main thesis of Frum’s Waterloo article is hopelessly wrong. But should that be cause to force him out?

Not if conservatism was a healthy, dynamic, politically relevant entity. If that were the case, the conservative moneybags would have gotten their money’s worth because conservatism would have been better for the subsequent debate. Instead, lockstep lunacy reins and Frum - and the rest of intellectual conservatism - finds itself on the outs.



Filed under: Blogging, Politics — Rick Moran @ 1:48 pm

Rob Port is at CPAC and took a White House tour which included the White House Library:

Now, according out the person who guided our tour, the library is stock with books picked out by the First Lady, Michelle Obama. Being a bit of a bibliophile, I started to peruse some of the books on the shelves…and lookie, lookie what I found (click for a larger view):


By itself, this wouldn’t be that big of a deal. But in the context of Anita Dunn saying Chairman Mao is her favorite political philosopher? In the context of the Mao ornament on the White House Christmas tree?

In the context of Obama’s economic policies?

Well, I’ll let you make your own call.

OK. My call is that you’re a loon.

Anyone looking at my father’s library would have had him arrested for sedition if they thought like Mr. Port. My dad had Karl Marx, Frederick Engels, Michael Harrington, Howard Zinn, and a host of socialists, communists, and other far left authors on his book shelf. The fact that he was a dyed in the wool capitalist, a New Deal Democrat, a veteran of World War II, and a practicing Catholic would not make any difference to someone of Mr. Port’s ilk. Those books are in his library so obviously, he must agree with their content.

Of course, this is anti-intellectualism run rampant. Whoever our next president is going to be, I hope to god they have a supple and open enough mind to have read Marx and Engels, as well as Ambrose and Friedman. I hope they inculcate this attitude of open scholarship and free inquiry into their children. I hope there are no ideas or ideology they fear. And I hope they can recognize this liberty of mind as essential to the liberty of the soul.

Parenthetically, I see where Michelle Obama also placed John Hicks seminal work on prairie populism, The Populist Revolt: A History of the Farmers’ Alliance and the People’s Party on the shelf. What are we to think of someone who displays a book about a grass roots rebellion against east coast elites? That they support the tea party movement?

Just asking.



Filed under: Politics, conservative reform, health care reform — Rick Moran @ 10:59 am

My post yesterday drew the usual praise and congratulations from some of my friends on the right. I am always heartened when such open mindedness, thoughtfulness, and attention to nuance pours forth from such a perspicacious crew. They always reinforce my core beliefs about many conservatives who have set themselves up as gatekeepers and arbiters of acceptable thought.

And I am heartily glad that I make a conscious effort to eschew their anti-intellectual, anti-reason, pro-conformist worldview.

Disagreeing with someone because you believe they are wrong is fine. Posing counter-arguments based on logic and rationalism is the goal of enlightened discussion. But trying to suppress, or otherwise condemn reasonable points of view by making unsupportable attacks on my intellectual integrity and character bespeaks a mind incapable of prudent, reflective discourse.

Every now and then, the bilious rants, unthinking diatribes, and ignorant bombast directed at me by legions of right wing conformists becomes too much to ignore and I feel that some kind of response is necessary. The trap, of course, is that complaining about it automatically brands one as a “whiner.” This tactic, employed by those without the chops to argue on the merits of the proposition thus shielding themselves from their own stuporous inanity, is similar to the left’s stratagem of calling anyone who disagrees with Obama a “racist,” - an ironic juxtaposition for the ages.

I reject the idea that talking about the ugliness, the stupidity, the outright fallaciousness of one’s detractors is indicative of “whining.” I consider it a large part of my continuing critique of modern conservatism. After all, the whole point of their philippics are that I am not a conservative - by their shallow and benighted definition of the term.

I suppose I shouldn’t let it bother me after all these years but celebrating one’s own ignorance by glorying in ad hominem attacks is more than an internet phenomenon. It is the same kind of crap pushed by Hannity, Limbaugh, and other cotton candy conservatives whose influence on the base is so profound. Parroting such louts does not make one sound intelligent. It makes you sound like, well, a parrot who’s been taught to screech obscenities.

Yeah I’m guilty of the same thing at times in response. I’ve tried being reasonable in the past and it’s like talking to a brick wall. I’m supposed to be “reasonable” in responding to this?

It was the Tea Party Movement that just won Mass…and…and…I was going to put something in that was nasty. But victories by the Real Roots of Conservatism, that part which doesn’t require big names and big money to be successful, make me giggle about some of the sanctimonious posts you have made, Rick.

LOL! :giggle:

Do you really think you have a part in the future of conservatism? And if you do…why?

Can an adult reason with a two year old? I would think a spanking would be more to the point.

The ugly truth is, many who call themselves “conservative” today haven’t a clue what that means - not because they disagree with me but because their conformist mentality - the palpable fear of being caught thinking differently than the cool conservatives on the radio and TV - drives them to view any deviation from what they know as “conservatism” as enemy propaganda. Nuance is suspect because conservatism is something you should feel in your gut, not reason out with your mind. And for many, intellectualism equals elitism - the “ism” most in bad odor these days.

Allow me to say that I am pleased as punch at Scott Brown’s stunning win yesterday. I am buoyed by the fact that in 6 months, I will still feel that way while the overwhelming majority of my detractors will be spitting blood at Brown for being a traitorous wretch, a RINO, an apostate, and an ungrateful lout.

Tom Blumer:

The worries about Brown’s vulnerability to selling out only grow when one learns, as Politico reported on Monday, that Brown’s campaign was “filled with staffers who once worked” for Romney. Expect Romney, who I believe is the only potential GOP presidential candidate guaranteed to lose in 2012 if nominated, to take major credit within party circles for Brown’s win in an attempt to revive his flagging viability and to quietly attempt to minimize the importance of tea partiers and others on the ground and throughout the country who did the dirty work. Sadly, top-echelon Republican leaders are still enamored of Romney based on his money and supposed charm. They don’t call it the Stupid Party without reason.

“Selling out?” To whom? For what? I think it significant that Brown did not utter the words “tea party” last night in his acceptance speech. The base may have rallied to his candidacy but to believe that Brown would commit political suicide in Massachusetts by redefining himself in the image of a Rush Limbaugh conservative is idiocy. For about 80% of the country, Scott Brown is plenty conservative enough; a fiscal hawk, supporting tax cuts, against Obamacare, and interested in a robust but reasonable kind of federalism.

But in a couple of months, the Blumers of the movement will realize that Brown also believes in - gasp! - spending tax money on stuff like education, alternative energy, infrastructure, and unholy of unholies, health care reform. This will be enough for apoplexy to set in among some conservatives who either didn’t bother to read where this guy is coming from, or who believed that because “true conservatives” supported him, he’d change his stripes and start thinking as they do.

A telling poll done by Rasmussen on how Bay State voters viewed Brown:

In the end, Brown pulled off the upset in large part because he won unaffiliated voters by a 73% to 25% margin. The senator-elect also picked up 23% of the vote from Democrats. [Our polling shows that 53% of voters in Massachusetts are Democrats, 21% Republican and 26% not affiliated with either party.]


Twenty-eight percent (28%) say Brown is Very Conservative politically; 44% say he’s Somewhat Conservative, and 22% view him as a political moderate.

Two-thirds of Brown’s fellow Massachusettians see him as a moderate conservative or a political moderate. And how much further left are political independents in Massachusetts than anywhere else in the country? When Brown ends up disappointing those who believe he is the future of the Republican party due to his strong conservative beliefs, they will have only themselves to blame. Blinding oneself to reality is what many conservatives are all about these days.

And Scott Brown will pay the price for their myopia.



Filed under: Decision '08, Politics, conservative reform — Rick Moran @ 12:05 pm

This is the second and final part of my effort to explain why much of conservatism has lost touch with reality. Part I is here.

When I was a younger man, living and working in the early years of Reagan’s Washington, I fell in with a group of guys who mixed penny ante poker nights with discussions of politics and political philosophy.

We were not the Algonquin Round Table, that’s for sure. But in between the sounds of ice clinking in glasses filled with good scotch, and chips being tossed into the pot, a colloquy of sorts would develop about the issues of the day.

I should mention that I was definitely on the low end of the scale when it came to brain power in this bunch. In our group were a couple of congressional aides, some crack lobbyists, an AEI fellow, and two guys who were studying for advanced degrees at George Washington University in Public Administration. I think the rest of them allowed me to hang around to provide comic relief. Otherwise, I was (at the time) royally outclassed.

No matter. My job, as I saw it, was to challenge the assumptions held by these bright young men by playing devil’s advocate in fleshing out the underlying rationale for their positions. More often than not, my attempts were met with groans of “here he goes again,” and not a few guffaws. But at the time, I was not very well read and couldn’t contribute to the scintillating arguments being advanced by my more learned colleagues.

These were exciting times in Washington. The intellectual ferment on the right was incredible with ideas and proposals bubbling and frothing at think tanks, policy hubs, and even bull sessions like the one with which I was involved. There was a lot of cross pollination of ideas as a proposal from one source would be captured by another, improved upon, and perhaps even fiddled with by a third before ending up in Congress or the White House as a serious policy alternative.

The bottom line is that there were no litmus tests, no question of being forced to conform to a certain worldview. The open, free exchange of ideas was done without fear that someone else would step forward and accuse you of not being “conservative enough.” The arguments back then were no less passionate, but there was an underlying respect for those with which you disagreed.

I may be romanticizing this period a bit but I think that essentially, this captures the spirit in conservative salons and other centers of thought at the time. With no internet, and only a few media outlets (NRO and Human Events being most prominent), the dynamic of discussion allowed for a free wheeling exploration of issues and principles from all angles. The idea that anything proposed or said might brand one an “apostate” never entered our thought processes.

Is the state of conservatism today even remotely similar? I would challenge anyone who thought so. The dead hand of conformity has settled over conservatism with consequences that have yet to fully play out. There is no room in modern conservatism for anything except rote ideology. This catechism brooks no deviation lest any introspection reveal how weak and wildly contradictory what passes for conservative thought has become.

Case in point; my inclusion of some criticisms by liberal Sam Tannenhaus in my piece from yesterday. Apparently, my belief that Tannenhaus has anything useful to say with regard to conservatism makes me some kind of closet liberal. The feeling among some conservatives appears to be that anything written about conservatism by any liberal is useless, and believing otherwise makes one a dupe, or worse.

I don’t know how widespread that belief is on the right but judging by comments I have received in the past, it is not uncommon at all. Rejecting criticism based solely on the ideology of an author is anti-intellectual and anti-reason. Despite making the point that Tannehaus - someone who I believe to have made an honest attempt to track the decline of conservatism in a systematic, logical manner - gives us a critique that overall, is seriously flawed. But does this mean that every single criticism he made was invalid simply because he’s a liberal?

I reject that notion and point to this response of some conservatives as evidence that the excessively ideological prism by which many on the right look at the world causes them to abandon reason and logic, substituting a comforting credo that cannot be amended.

Liberals have their own problems along this line. Rigidity of thought is not confined to those on the right. But this attitude still begs the question; can anything be done by anybody to lift conservatism out of this moribund state and set it on a path to where it can claim the high ground based on honesty, prudence, and a clear eyed view of the world as it truly is?

I believe there is hope to be found in a small group of very smart, very talented younger conservatives who may be able to bridge the divide in conservatism’s factions while re-establishing a reality-based paradigm that sees America as the rest of the non-conservative country sees her.

As an example, I would point to the deceased website Culture 11 as a place were young writers were nurtured and given a chance to flex their intellects to delve into subjects you rarely see discussed on blogs or other conservative media. The site was provocative, unconventional, and scandalously unorthodox. They even had the occasional liberal write for them, which raised the hackles of true conservatives everywhere.

I realize I am heading into dangerous territory by bringing up Culture 11. Some of the writers at the site regularly challenged conservative dogma - a mortal sin to many on the right who hate having their assumptions questioned by anyone, even a conservative. And Culture 11 writers like Conor Friedersdorf and James Poulos are are in bad odor with most who consider themselves “real” conservatives, largely because they sometimes speak well of liberals and take a decidedly less ideological approach to their writings.

But Culture 11 had huge problems that it could never overcome; first and foremost, they could never quite figure out what kind of publication they wanted to be. Failure flowed from that one premise, as this autopsy by Washington Monthly’s Charles Homans points out:

This had a lot to do with the fact that Culture11’s editorial brain trust was made up of people who had little concern for—or at least needed a breather from—the self-immolating Hindenburg of movement conservatism. Kuo had proclaimed his own disenchantment in Tempting Faith. Friedersdorf was concerned with improving journalism, not creating a permanent Republican majority. Political editor James Poulos, a PhD candidate in government at Georgetown who describes his dissertation subject as “the alluring puzzle of the Napoleonic soul,” was far too idiosyncratic in his own politics. Arts editor Peter Suderman was a libertarian who in the last frenzied days of the election spent a whole column arguing that voting was stupid. Having no claim to any particular ideological niche, Culture11 tried to corral them all in the same room and get them talking to each other. “People talk about the conservative circular firing squad—I think we see ourselves as a demilitarized zone,” Friedersdorf told me. “There is nothing like an agreement on our staff that would allow us to claim a slice of anything.” The result, perhaps inevitably, lacked a real sense of identity, but it also offered the closest thing political journalism had to a controlled experiment.

In such a free wheeling atmosphere, quality was bound to be uneven. But what excited me about Culture 11 was that a real attempt was being made to break out of the echo chamber conservative media had largely become. The writing was fresh, and the ideas presented challenged conventional wisdom.

Admittedly, my own taste in cultural critiques tends more toward The New Criterion and its mix of policy and cultural criticism. But what kept me coming back to Culture 11 was that the writers were willing to take chances. In a conservative culture so addicted to conformity, it took some courage to place yourself outside the box and approach subject matter from an entirely new perspective.

Of course, this meant that many of those writers were given short shrift by mainstream conservatives. RedState eventually banned any links to the site which is inexplicable unless you realize that this kind of anti-intellectualism is rampant on the right today. Refusing to be exposed to alternative viewpoints is the essence of ignorance and only proves my point again about a large portion of conservatism being out of touch with reality.

Ross Douthat believes that younger conservative writers tend to me more heterodox, less wedded to the ideology of movement conservatives:

Moreover, part of what creates the air of heterodoxy among the young turks is the fact that many of the young conservative writers I’m thinking of (again, myself included) are still experimenting with a wide range of topics, and haven’t settled into the kind of groove (or rut) that most successful pundits and public intellectuals eventually find themselves slipping into. In this sense, at least some of the ideological conformity that you see among old older right-wingers on, say, foreign policy is really just ideological conformity among those older right-wingers who dilate regularly about foreign policy.

What makes some of these younger conservatives different than their elders isn’t their position on issues, which is decidedly conservative, but rather their willingness to examine and criticize assumptions upon which those issues rest. This imparts a breath of fresh air much needed if conservatives are to return to their roots, embrace freedom of thought, and move beyond the narrow confines that conservatism has boxed itself into by rejecting reason and logic in favor of emotionalism and ideology.

The Culture 11 writers have scattered to the 4 winds with some moving on to smaller publications like Reason Magazine or The American Conservative. Friedersdorf and a couple of other Culture 11 alumni are now blogging at American Scene, among other places. But their impact will continue to be felt. It may take a decade or more, but eventually these and other writers will take their place in the forefront of conservative thought.

Will they be any more welcome then than they are today? A couple of more electoral smash ups like 2008 may be the catalyst that shakes conservatism out of its conformist stupor and forces the right to begin listening to those with a more realistic outlook on America and conservatism itself.

Newer Posts »

Powered by WordPress