Right Wing Nut House



Filed under: Politics, conservative reform — Rick Moran @ 10:13 am

As right wing America continues to tear itself apart, picking at ancient scabs that long since should have healed over but were actually hidden by the smallest of band-aids, a creeping anti-intellectualism - long a significant part of the conservative underbelly - has emerged and is making its presence felt in a most obnoxious way.

This anti-intellectualism manifests itself not only in disparaging those comparatively few conservatives who make their living as academics or who are ensconced at one of the many right leaning think tanks. What I am railing against is an anti-intellectualism that seeks to stifle independent thinking, analysis that runs counter to the “accepted wisdom,” and generally, a way of looking at the world that employs the empirical rather than the emotional to describe what is happening.

This schism cleaves along fault lines as old as the republic itself; populists vs. elites, urban vs. rural, the schooled vs. the unschooled, even to some degree, science vs. faith. For three decades, differences between these groups were papered over by all sides being able to unite around the dominant conservative personality of the last 50 years: Ronald Reagan. Even after he left office - and post mortem - Reagan’s ideas held sway over the conservative movement, uniting libertarian conservatives, fiscal conservatives, social cons, crunchy cons, and Main Street conservatives behind a set of rock ribbed principles; free markets, low taxes, smaller government, and a strong defense.

Reagan is gone, his coalition is now in tatters, his ideals have been betrayed by the greed and a quest for power by the not very conservative Republicans in Congress, and the right has turned in on itself in frustration and fear.

It is that fear that I believe is driving this war against intellectuals; or perhaps it’s more accurate to refer to them as the “thinking class.” The unreasoning, inexplicable hatred directed against Barack Obama goes far beyond any reasonable opposition to his policies - not when people seem to be trying to convince themselves that an Obama presidency would be the “end of America as we know it.” I have no special powers to peer into the souls of men so I will forgo the leftist twaddle about racism being a factor in much of this fear. Rather, it is the belief that change is indeed coming if Obama is elected and that all of us, to one degree or another, fear the very idea of change.

But this fear of Obama has so unsettled many conservatives that any words spoken or written that don’t paint him as the devil incarnate, or damn his policies as the second coming of Karl Marx, or express the widespread view among many conservatives that he will trample the constitution, stifle all dissent, surrender to al-Qaeda, and impose socialism on us - gives the anti-intellectuals the idea that anyone who deviates from their “truths” is an Obama supporter and deserving of being cast into the outer darkness.

This is nuts. And beyond that, we now have gradations of conservatism where the anti-intellectuals judge one’s beliefs based on much of the list above. Apparently, if you don’t subscribe to some of the more ridiculous notions listed, you are not a “real” conservative and thus leave yourself wide open to being viciously attacked for being “soft” or “squishy.”

But the real litmus test for the anti-intellectuals to determine whether one is a “true” conservative or an effete, east coast, egg headed fake, is how one views Sarah Palin. This is their Ur issue and they will brook no analysis that doesn’t paint her as “everywoman” for the masses and the second coming of Ronald Reagan.

There is something truly pathetic in this notion of Palin as Reagan or Palin as populist savior, not to mention judging someone’s depth of belief in conservatism based on this extraordinarily narrow criteria. And when conservative apostates like Peggy Noonan cross the line in the sand drawn by the anti-intellectuals and criticize Mrs. Palin for any number of her obvious faults, they are drummed out of the conservative movement without regard to what they have accomplished in the past or how necessary it is to have differing viewpoints on any number of issues and personalities.

In yesterday’s American Thinker, Jan LaRue unloads on Peggy Noonan for expressing the view that Sarah Palin is a poor choice for Vice President:

The political infants are “dropping their G’s” … No one can say mothers and fathers, it’s all now the faux down-home, patronizing-infantilizing-moms and dads.” You expect Ms. Noonan’s ruler will reach G-less Joe Biden, who flunked a first-grade spelling bee the day before when he told a campaign crowd: “It’s about what Barack said, ‘jobs-a three-letter word-j-o-b-s-jobs.’” But Joe escapes without so much as a glare. It’s time to get scratchin’ on Palin.

Noonan doesn’t know “where Palin stands.” So when Palin tells us every day for seven weeks that she’s for protectin’ the unborn; cuttin’ taxes and spendin; savin’ marriage; drillin’ here; winnin’ in Iraq; keepin’ our military strong; kickin bad boys outta Washington, you betcha, Noonan is clueless.

LaRue goes on to elucidate the real problem with Noonan:

If Noonan’s heart needs healing, she should get herself out among the over-flowing crowds of “Joe-Six Pack” common folks who sense some “Reaganite” magic in Palin. The second-hand scrutiny of Palin’s impact from a pundit’s perch among Manhattan’s mainstream media doesn’t cut it. In other words, get the heck out of Noonanville.

I don’t agree with Noonan’s entire critique of Palin. I happen to think she was an acceptable choice given the circumstances. Whether she is “ready” to be Vice President is another question. When LaRue ticked off where Palin stands I wanted to scream. For a year now, the Thinking Class has been demanding that Obama go beyond talking points and pretty speeches and tell us what he believes. LaRue is confusing campaign boilerplate with evidence that Palin has thought more than superficially about any of those issues.

How would she cut taxes? Specifically, what spending cuts is she advocating? How do we proceed in Iraq? What about entitlements? What about Pakistan? Iran?

We are informed by the anti-intellectuals that this doesn’t matter, that her innate common sense and ability to communicate is all that is required. Why think deeply about anything? That way lies trouble. Who knows? You might end up with views that differ from the base.

Noonan’s complaint is echoed by many of us who like Palin, believe that she has potential, but don’t see any real curiosity or concern beyond laying out oatmeal when we are demanding prime rib. It’s not that she isn’t smart, or capable. She is behind the learning curve and has no hope of catching up anytime soon.

While Noonan’s complaints about Palin have gotten her in trouble, the real cause of anger directed at her seems to be caught up in this notion that somehow, pundits like Noonan, David Brooks, Kathleen Parker, and others are “elitists” who look down their noses at conservatives in flyover country and dismiss their Palin worship as ignorant.

Some of their comments left on LaRue’s article are telling:

It just goes to show that the Republican Party (Notice I said “Republican Party” and not “Conservatives”.) has its share of snobby, inside-the-beltway elites and Peggy Noonan is clearly one of them.

Sarah Palin is EXACTLY what Washington needs and the snobby elites (even in her own party) will try anything to keep her out.

Peggy Noonan the Queen of the upper class American Elitists, like Marie Antoinette: “If there be no bread, let them eat Sarah Palin”.

I wouldn’t pay a nickel to read Noonan’s latest platitude-riddled “can’t we all just get along” opus. With the Palin selection, Noonan revealed herself to be a craven, insecure seeker of the approval of the pedgreed Washington elite.

I keep getting a whiff of something these days that I can’t quite identify. It seems to be blowing westward on the wind, and the odor is originating inside the beltway in Washington, DC. I swear it reminds me of something out of third or fourth century Rome? The stink smells of purple trimmed togas and silk slippers, and I swear that I caught the distinct smell of a litter being bourn the other day.

I don’t agree with some of what Noonan writes - moreso in the case of David Brooks and Kathleen Parker. But I don’t cherry pick what I disagree with and ignorantly employ terms like “elitist” and “snob” to describe why I am in opposition to her ideas. These are simple minded code words - like “racist” - that are designed not to critique ideas but to shut off debate. And while you’re at it, define “elitist.” Is it simply someone who lives east of the Appalachians who you disagree with about Sarah Palin?

Obama is an elitist because he has demonstrated a belief that he is in a special class of Americans and that he shares this high status with the monied, the powerful, and other liberals who actually believe that the rest of us are sheep to be led around by the nose. I see no animus towards the base in Noonan’s critical views of Palin nor is she necessarily demonstrating that her perceptions are superior to anyone else’s. (She and Parker have responded to the hysterically over wrought criticism and hate directed against them in such a way that it is apparent they have not been exposed to the internet much.)

She has given an honest assessment of a politician. You are free to disagree with her. But it is mindless hogwash to somehow see Noonan’s attitude toward Palin as the product of any elite position or snobbish, in-crowd, get-along-go-along bonhomie with coastal liberals. In its own way, that view is as arrogant as as any belief shared by the left about you, and I, and all the ordinary Americans out here in flyover country.

I’ve got news for the anti-intellectuals. Conservatism is in flux. There is going to be a debate over where we go from here both ideologically and politically.

If you want to be part of this debate, you better learn that not everyone agrees with what your idea of “conservatism” might be and that those who disagree with you are not “elitists” or “snobs” or “soft” or “squishy” but simply think differently than you. Will you engage in the debate and try to convince people that they are wrong and you are right? Or will you continue to ignorantly skewer people who, at bottom, want the same thing that you do; a healthy, vibrant conservative movement with room for many different points of view and a belief in its primacy as a way to live and govern.


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  3. There indeed is a subtle wind that the conservative movement is to be flushed of these “elites” who (gasp) still expect that our politicians ought to be deep and curious thinkers.

    We shut these people out at our own peril. The founding fathers tenaciously embraced the principles of individual freedom and limited government. A few of these men were common folk. Many of them were not. All of them had a deep curiosity of political science, history and the role of government. They read Cato. They read philosophy. They exchanged ideas vigorously in an attempt to learn from others, advance their ideas and create a better system of government.

    The intent to throw these people out of our movement is emotion over logical thinking. It is a function of an age where every crackpot comment is exposed on the internet, where it is easy to convince the masses that “they” intend not only to defeat us politically, but destroy our very way of life.

    That being said, there is legitimate concern that an Obama presidency holds potentially disastrous consequences, the likes of which this country has not seen for almost 40 years. This is not because of Obama. This is because with Obama, Pelosi and Reid running the show we see the possibility of real, dramatic and catastrophic changes in our future.

    Think card check, capital gains tax increases, corporate tax increases, social security tax increases, massive cuts in intelligence and defense spending, cap and trade, a radical 6-3 (or worse) majority in the Supreme Court, the fairness doctrine and a policy of appeasement. It does not take an active imagination to see that the intellectual notion of limited government for the benefit of individual people and families dying a quick and painful death.

    Many friends tell me not to worry, that there is no way Obama will purse all of these radical proposals once the campaigning is over. Perhaps, but with Pelosi and Reid running the hill who is going to stop him? It’s a gamble that should make even intellectual conservatives very nervous.

    Comment by Stuck in Blue Iowa — 10/25/2008 @ 1:56 pm

  4. Rick,
    You are missing the point entirely here. Just like Noonan did. Obama has been running for President for the last two years - and he has come up with a tax policy which is punitive liberalism at its finest. His stance on Iran is all over the place ( ranging from “i will meet Ahmedinejad without pre-conditions” to “Ahmedinejad may not even be the President when I want to talk” to ” never mind, the real power is in the hands of Khoeimini”).

    Do you know what exactly is his stance on Iraq if say for example the SoFA does not get finalized by this year end? Do you know that he is not going to stray away from his 16 month withdrawal timeline no matter what the conditions on the ground are?

    I did not see Peggy Noonan, David Brooks or just about any of those who jumped ship ask these questions about Obama? All that i have heard is how greatly intellectual he is and that he knows Neihbur !

    If Noonan wants to scrutinize policy positions of candidates running for office let her do so. But this is a two way street - she did not exactly do this exercise with Obama, did she ? Have we ever read a column from her where she tries to study Obama’s position on the major issues of the day and whether she agrees with them or not ?

    Correct me if i am wrong, but I Have’nt.Noonan would have some ground to stand on if she gave a little more scrutiny to Obama’s positions in the last one year than what she has given to Palin in the last 8 weeks.

    Comment by Nagarajan Sivakumar — 10/25/2008 @ 3:32 pm

  5. I can’t believe I just read this post.

    There are aspects of both ideologies that I like, so I don’t vote by party, but I’m probably more left than right.

    I’ve always enjoyed the opinions of those like Will and Brooks, primarily because they discuss ideology in a logical way. I don’t necessarily agree with their conclusions, but at least I can understand them.

    This election cycle I visited many right-wing blogs to get some discussion going. Many wouldn’t let me even post because I was questioning something about McCain. Of those who let me post, responses to my message was simply to dismiss what I stated.

    It concerns me that the anti-intellectual bias seems to be rising and that the only things worth expressing are filled with vehemence against “the other side”. That anyone who lives in a urban environment, is educated and has a religious belief that is not that of a christian fundamentalist is a liberal anti-American.

    So it was good to read something thoughtful, but I don’t agree with this:

    “Obama is an elitist because he has demonstrated a belief that he is in a special class of Americans and that he shares this high status with the monied, the powerful, and other liberals who actually believe that the rest of us are sheep…”

    How does Obama manifest this perception in you?

    Comment by John — 10/25/2008 @ 4:47 pm

  6. Am I misreading your musings? Or are you implying/concluding that “all” republicans are conservatives? Remember that it was the press that coined the term “neo-con”, primarily because back then they could not maintain their credibility by call W a conservative.

    Comment by BriefSynopsis — 10/25/2008 @ 8:56 pm

  7. Thank you for your excellent piece. The danger of anti-intellectualism is to make conservatism irrelevant. I often do not agree with you but that is the whole point about a debate! Now every movement has to evolve and that doesn’t happen in a productive way without time to reflect, time to think and discuss. However, if that ends up in a shouting match with outlandish accusations flying then we are missing something.

    Sometime ago I read in a conservative blog something along the line (paraphrasing here): there will be a split in politics soon, not between liberals and conservatives but between arrogant elites and real Americans; between healthy football jocks and sexy, fertile Sarah Palins and asocial dorks and ‘elitist’ misfits.

    Sure, I could laugh this off if I didn’t know that is exactly how a lot of folks on ‘my side’ feel. I always want to remind people that there is absolutely nothing wrong or ‘elitist’ about being an intellectual. Some people might also not like the economic reality that America is to a large part wealthy because of the East and West Coast and places like Chicago and Detroit in between. Sure, they are the democratic strongholds but as conservatives we should never write those places of or dismiss them. They are our creative engine and not Amarillo/TX(sorry guys, nothing personal).
    I’m rambling, probably because I’m happy I can give my 2 cents again, thanks Rick

    Comment by funny man — 10/26/2008 @ 12:38 am

  8. Political conversations with the right and left are always the same thing. Both sides open their Book of Holy Unassailable Truths, take a big gulp of kool aid, and spew at the other side for every ill known to mankind. Neither side takes the time for an honest evaluation of their beliefs, it is always some rant about the other side. The only real intellectual movement left in this country is in the middle, and because we disagree with both sides we get the venom from everybody. If Conservatism is going to go back to the intellectual roots of W. F. Buckley the first step will be to get rid of Limbaugh and Coulter, good luck with that.

    Comment by grognard — 10/26/2008 @ 11:56 am

  9. Hmmmm.

    Sooo. Disagreeing with people who share your viewpoint is anti-intellectualism?

    Good luck with that.

    Comment by memomachine — 10/26/2008 @ 8:11 pm

  10. Noonan didn’t apply the same scrutiny to Obama. She is so obsessed with Palin she completely overlooks Obama’s lack of qualifications. This why she is considered to be exactly what she is. At least in this election all of the lukewarm RINO types can finally go away.

    Comment by Robert — 10/26/2008 @ 11:20 pm


    Pingback by Right Wing Nut House » REMAKING THE RIGHTROOTS — 10/30/2008 @ 8:41 am

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