Maybe the press is right. Maybe this is, indeed the right’s “Days of Rage.” And much of that anger is directed squarely at the GOP candidate for president.
John McCain not only isn’t a very good conservative. He isn’t a very good candidate. He may not even be a very good man but I don’t know him well enough to say one way or another. Fact is, I have not concentrated much on McCain this campaign. This has driven two or three of my commenters batty who believe I should be writing encomiums to “my” candidate rather than savaging Obama.
Do they fear the power of my pen to damage Obama? Um, probably not although no doubt my views hold sway among that all important voter subset of angry, old, middle aged fat men going deaf. I just wish they’d shut the f**k up and let me write what I want to write and if they don’t like it, they are free to go elsewhere. Few things raise my hackles in this world more than someone telling me what I should be writing about.
Frankly, McCain’s campaign is holding less and less interest for me the further he falls behind. By election day, I may be so disinterested, I might not even vote, although no doubt my obligations as a citizen will eventually overcome the sheer tedium I feel about what is rapidly becoming the most boring campaign of my lifetime.
What is really beginning to engage my mind and hence, my pen, is the state of conservatism. Last summer, I started what I was hoping to be a series of articles on “What Ails Conservatism.” I managed exactly one entry in the series and have yet to come back to it. I hope to do so now that fall has arrived and the distractions (and opportunities for successful procrastination) are somewhat limited.
But questions like that are for another day. Right now, it is simply a matter of acknowledging the obvious and observing the crack up from a safe distance.
The schism, as has long been predicted, is occurring between libertarian conservatives and more traditional, “family values” conservatives. The glue that held the two sides together – Iraq and the War on Terror – has weakened as a result of the winding down of the Iraq war, the fading of Afghanistan as an issue, the fecklessness of the McCain campaign, the economic crisis, and finally, the prospect of utter and complete defeat – an electoral wipeout of truly historic proportions.
I find myself caught between the two sides; not entirely comfortable with the libertarians and rejecting many of the social issues near and dear to the traditionalist’s heart. Perhaps I can call myself a classic conservative but I have yet to see a definition of that animal that I can latch on to. Am I a Burkean? A Kirkean? A Buckleyite?
My head hurts.
For me then, labels aren’t very important. All I know is it will probably be vital that conservatives find a way to reconstitute and revitalize the “movement” to fight the new president and congress when they invariably propose to revolutionize and in some cases perhaps, radicalize the country. Until then conservatives have trained their gunsights not only on Obama and the Democrats, but also on other conservatives who have proven themselves to be less “pure” than they. Apparently, criticism of Sarah Palin has become a litmus test for many regarding how conservative one truly is, as Peggy Noonan and Kathleen Parker have found to their surprise and chagrin.
Noonan, who was working for the conservative cause when most of her critics were but a gleam in their father’s eye or “still in is short pants” as we used to say is now seen as an elitist and an apostate because she fails to see the brilliance of the Palin pick for Vice President and believes that Palin herself might be less than ready to assume high office if worse came to worse. She has been exposed to the full throated howls of rage from the unhinged internet right as well as the more rational chidings from many bloggers who see a flash of hypocrisy in her criticism:
Noonan’s initial position—that Palin represents some sort of existential threat to the left—was over-the-top, and I said so at the time. It seemed that Noonan had been caught up in the irrational exuberance that swept away many conservatives, particularly those trapped in the bubble that was the Republican convention, during the heady days of early September. Except that Noonan may not have believed what she wrote.
Noonan’s current position—that Palin epitomizes what’s wrong with conservatives – fares no better. She begins by citing Edmund Burke’s admonition that writers owe their readers their judgment, and that they betray their readers if they present what may or may not be their opinion. Ironically, this is precisely the betrayal of Noonan’s initial column on Palin.
In her latest column, Noonan argues that Palin has not been sufficiently thoughtful in her public statements during the seven weeks she’s been on the campaign trail. “She doesn’t think aloud,” Noonan complains, “she just says things.” But in the home stretch of this campaign, have Barack Obama, Joe Biden, or John McCain been any more thoughtful than Palin? Noonan doesn’t make that case, and I doubt it’s there to be made.
Instead, Noonan asserts that Palin doesn’t really understand the “tinny” lines she’s been “throwing out” to crowds. But Noonan does not provide a basis for concluding that Palin doesn’t understand what she’s saying or that her lines are appreciably more tinny than those of her counterparts in this election. If Palin were as dense as Noonan suggests, it’s doubtful that she could have held her own (or better) with Biden in a 90 minute debate, a performance that Noonan praised.
I don’t agree with Noonan at all about Palin. I thought at the time and still believe she was not only McCain’s only real choice but, in the end, an excellent pick. Despite the attempts to “Quaylize” her, she has proven to be much tougher than anyone thought as well as being blessed with an innate intelligence that will serve her well in the future. (It is a matter of fact and record that Biden’s gaffe-a-day campaign has gotten a monumental pass from the press since Palin’s entry. Can you imagine any candidate for high office spelling out that famous “3 letter word J-O-B-S” and having that kind of stupidity just disappear down the rabbit hole?)
Ready for high office? Not now. Probably not on inauguration day. But give Sarah Palin 6 months to a year in Washington as Vice President and I guarantee you that not only will she be ready, she will become a formidable force in a McCain administration.
Columnist Kathleen Parker has come under attack for similar views to Noonan on Palin and was amazed and frightened at the vitriolic response. Her naivete was touching and charming while also being a little puzzling. How clueless and out of touch with the modern conservative movement can you be that you are unfamiliar with this strain of nuttiness that floats just below the surface of the conservative base? Here live the beasts and “knuckledraggers” I call them who are constantly on the lookout for any deviation from their own extraordinarily narrow and ignorant view of conservative gospel, ready to pounce and devour those unfortunates who express views even slightly at odds with their own.
Parker crossed them and paid the price. What she doesn’t understand is that the crack up of the conservative movement has opened old wounds relating to elitism vs. populism, secularism vs.religiosity, and the resurrection of anti-intellectualism that conservatives from Kirk, to Buckley, to Kristol, to Reagan all fought with varying degrees of success.
Parker uses her column yesterday to skewer conservatives who dared take off after Christopher Buckley for his endorsement of Barack Obama for president:
What does it mean that the right cannot politely entertain dissenting opinions within its ranks? What, if anything, does it portend that Buckley The Younger has bolted from the Right, even resigning from the family flagship?
Some have opined, ridiculously, that Buckley — son of the famous William F. Buckley (WFB) — was merely seeking attention. Christo, as family and friends call him, has written more than a dozen acclaimed books, one of which, Thank You for Smoking, became a movie. In 2004, he won the Thurber Prize for American Humor for No Way to Treat a First Lady. For 18 years he edited a magazine, Forbes Life, and otherwise seems to be doing all right.
Other critics have surmised that Buckley’s “betrayal” was a publicity stunt for his newest novel, Supreme Courtship (which I reviewed for National Review). When you’re as funny and write as well as Buckley, you don’t have to resort to stunts. You are the stunt.
So why did he do it?
Because he had to. It’s in his genes.
True believers of whatever stripe too often forget that the men and women who create movements are first and foremost radicals. Great movements are not the result of relaxing afternoons musing along the Seine but emerge from flames of passion ignited by injustice.
What planet has Parker been writing her columns from over the last decade? There hasn’t been “polite” debate within the conservative movement or between ideologies for a very long time. Besides, I’m with the knuckledraggers on this one; Buckley is a tool.
It is painfully obvious Buckley is either uninformed about what Obama stands for and what kind of a man he is or he doesn’t care. But if he is going into this endorsement of Obama knowing everything the rest of us know, it is indeed a sorry statement on Buckley’s basic beliefs.
I understand the attraction to Obama for some conservatives. On a very superficial level, he is a true inheritor of the “optimism gene” that any political movement in America needs to succeed. He says all the right words. He makes all the right allusions to our history as an exceptional people.
But given the disconnect between his past radical associations and the anti-American, anti-western, anti-conservative beliefs of the Wrights, Ayers, Meeks, and Khalidi’s in his past and present, Obama’s words become suspect and hence, he literally can’t be trusted with the legacy of Reagan, Kennedy, FDR, and Teddy Roosevelt. Those men didn’t see America as the problem in the world. They didn’t see the wealthy as villains or evil. They all correctly saw the free market as the engine of liberty and social justice.
Andrew Sullivan and Christopher Buckley represent a conservatism that is unfamiliar to me; disconnected from politics, answerable not to a set of principles but rather a personal muse who whispers in their ear what seems to be a polyglot collection of the classically liberal notion of a ruling intellectual aristocracy and the classically conservative precept of an expansive, everyman bonhomie .
This conflict will almost certainly, eventually, lead to huge disappointment in Mr. Obama – if they are intellectually honest enough to recognize it when it happens. Sullivan is so far in the tank for Obama that he will no doubt be a true believer to the end as Obama will try to take us over the cliff. Buckley, I have hopes, will eventually see the light although by then, it won’t do him much good with his erstwhile friends on the right.
The left, of course, is responding to this internecine warfare with tremendous gloating and glee. That’s fine. They have the right to get satisfaction out of our discomfort. But sooner than they realize, they may be questioning the commitment of their own leader to their core beliefs and principles.
And that’s because I have hope that Obama’s most glaring demonstrated weakness – his inability to make up his mind – will “Carterize” his presidency and turn his own base against him in the end. With virtually every single controversial issue in Obama’s political career, he has frozen like a deer in headlights by either voting “present” or, as in the Senate, finding someplace else to be when the issue came to a vote. His tortured, illogical, explanations for where he actually stands on issues like partial birth abortion, immigration, gun rights, campaign finance, and host of others proves that perhaps the GOP’s best hope with the coming Democratic majority may lie in Obama’s fear in forcing people dislike him.
Not much to hope for but in this bleak campaign season, it may be the best we can expect.