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2/25/2011
THE WAGES OF BECK

There are many on the right who make the argument that clowns like Glenn Beck, Hannity, Limbaugh, and their ilk are, if not entertaining and usually right about Obama and the liberals, basically harmless. “No one believes they are ‘leaders” of the conservative movement,” goes part of the argument. The left wants to choose our leaders for us and define them while the MSM takes every nutty thing they say out of context. Besides, they “tell it like it is” about Obama — something the gutless GOP refuses to do.

There’s more along these lines but the gist is simple; these Cotton Candy Conservatives “tell the truth” about Obama and the liberals which is why the left is frantic to portray them as unbalanced lunatics, unhinged from objective reality, and dangerous to boot. If they weren’t effective, the left wouldn’t care about them.

As is common with the temper of the times, liberals do indeed exaggerate some of what these nincompoops utter on a daily basis. But to be honest, it’s a target rich environment. I’ve tried this myself so I know it can be done: I challenge anyone (with a reasonable hold on the real world) to click on Rush Limbaugh, Hannity, Glenn Beck, Randy Savage, or a half dozen other talk show hosts anywhere in the middle of their programs - it doesn’t matter - and not be blown away by the rank stupidity, the exaggeration, the hyperbole, the laughable idiocy of what they are talking about.
These people couldn’t find reality if it were stapled to their ass.

They are so far removed from reasonable, logical analysis that it begs the question: If Obama and the liberals are as bad, as unholy, as evil as they say, what are they doing sitting in a sound studio spouting about it? If the United States of America is truly in as much danger as Beck and his buds tell us every day, why not “water the tree of liberty” with a little blood? Where’s the revolution, guys? And you call yourselves “patriots?” Your nation is slipping into socialism and all you can do is rant about it?

Get off you fat butt Rush, pick up a gun, and help save us from this fate! C’mon, Glenn! You gathered a couple of hundred thousand citizens to engage in a little spiritual renewal. Why not send out a call for a real march on Washington - armed to the teeth and ready for bear.

“Don’t retreat, reload” indeed. What a load of crap. It appears you would much rather perform the latter rather than the former. Those Founders you talk about incessantly “pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor” to give us a nation of liberty. What have you pledged except an increase in ad rates for your programs due to the phenomenal success you have in scaring the crap out of the bullet-headed cretins who listen every day to your unbalanced rants?

I’m calling you out for your cowardice. If things are truly as bad as you all say — if we are all doomed to a socialist/Marxist hell with government putting their foot on our necks, snatching our freedom from us, what in the name of our sainted ancestors are you doing sitting on the sidelines? The colonies went to war against the most powerful army and navy the world had seen to that point with a lot less provocation than you screech at your listeners every day, and the best you can do is ask people to get involved in a tea party?

If Obama is truly “trying to destroy America” you’re just going to sit there and do nothing while he does it? If you don’t have the stones to fight, why not use your celebrity and notoriety to call for revolution?

This is the exact same argument I used when loony lefties were screaming about “Bush the dictator.” If you truly believed that Bush was out to “shred the constitution,” what kind of American are you that you’d sit passively and do nothing to prevent it? The same over the top divorced from reality rhetoric, hyperbole, exaggerated warnings of danger, was coming from the left during the 8 years of the Bush administration that we now see transferred to the right with only changes in the principle’s names to differentiate this idiocy from what transpired previously.

More importantly, what are the real world consequences of this flight from objective reality? We get chilling crap like this:

A constituent at a town hall for Georgia Rep. Paul Broun drew laughter on Tuesday when asked, “Who is going to shoot Obama?” and the Republican didn’t come anywhere near condemning the question in his response.

“The thing is, I know there’s a lot of frustration with this president,” Broun said, according to the Athens Banner-Herald. “We’re going to have an election next year. Hopefully, we’ll elect somebody that’s going to be a conservative, limited-government president … who will sign a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare.”

The congressmen is also a couple of shakes short of a finished martini:

Last month, Broun live-tweeted Obama’s State of the Union address and drew criticism for one in particular. “Mr. President, you don’t believe in the Constitution,” he wrote. “You believe in socialism.”

On the day after the speech, Broun told CBS News, “I stick by that tweet.”

“Everything he does is bigger government, more central control from Washington, D.C. That’s not what our founding fathers envisioned the government to be,” he said. “Mr. Obama believes in a big central government, where the federal government controls everything in our lives. That’s socialism. And so I stick by that tweet.”

You go ahead and “stick by that tweet,” Mr. Broun. It is a nice segue into explaining the danger that Beck et.al. represent to the republic generally, and conservatism particularly.

The nitwit who asked who was going to shoot Obama is only carrying the message being imparted by the Cotton Candy Conservatives to its logical extreme; things are so bad with the people in power that we must kill them or we are lost. It’s true that none of the talk show hosts or conservative celebrities have advocated committing acts of violence directly. They don’t have to. By painting such a bleak, hopeless, frightening picture of the near future under Obama and the Democrats, their listeners are programmed to feel helpless and small. The psychological impact is predictable. When the actions of Obama and the liberals are placed in such apocalyptic terms, the extreme solution begins to sound eminently practical and reasonable. Why not kill the bastard? If it will save America, that’s a small price to pay.

Peter Wehner on Beck specifically, but what he writes could apply to any of them:

It’s hard to tell how much of what Beck says is sincere and how much is for show. Whatever the case, and even taking into account the entire MSNBC lineup, Glenn Beck has become the most disturbing personality on cable television. One cannot watch him for any length of time without being struck by his affinity for conspiracies and for portraying himself as the great decoder of events. Political movements are not just wrong; they are infiltrated by a web of malevolent forces. Others see the shadows on the wall; Beck alone sees the men casting them. The danger when one paints the world in such conspiratorial terms is that it devalues the rational side of politics. It encourages a cast of mind that looks to expose enemies rather than to engage in arguments. Few things, after all, are as they appear.

Beyond that, of course, is the sense of impending doom, of the coming Apocalypse, of our world being on the edge of calamity. If taken seriously, this has the effect of creating fear, hopelessness, and feelings of helplessness.

It’s not the Cotton Candy Conservative’s “eliminationist rhetoric,” or goo-goo brained conspiracy mongering that’s a threat. It’s that people take their flights of fancy seriously enough that the fantastical can appear real; that what strikes normal people as balderdash is taken to heart by millions and millions of otherwise sane individuals.

That fellow who wondered who would shoot Obama is probably a nice guy, someone you’d never suspect of harboring such thoughts if you bumped into him at a party or other social situation. It’s that his view of objective reality has been so warped by the Becks of the world that they are willing to believe almost anything bad about anybody he is told to hate.

Asking a majority of conservatives to marginalize or denounce these purveyors of faux nightmares is futile. For many, it is a question of looking at the results of Obama’s policies and asking the simple minded question, “What else could it be but that he wants to destroy the country?” In other words, it’s not Obama’s wrongheaded policies that are the problem, but rather his obvious evil intent to inflict the results of those policies on the rest of us. From there, it’s a short distance to believing that the deliberate destruction of our economy and country have a dark and evil purpose; the president is a Marxist, or socialist, or a Mooooslim, and the horrible results we see of his policies are part of a nefarious plan to subjugate all of us.

For others, however, Beck and his cohorts cannot be denounced because they further careers, rouse the right to give money, volunteer for campaigns, and most importantly, vote. That ’s why so many GOP congressmen and senators refuse to say the Birthers are a bunch of loons, or that Limbaugh is a blowhard. The Cotton Candy Conservatives are just too valuable to the establishment to push too far away.

I don’t know what can be done. But I know that in perilous times, it doesn’t help conservatism to have such high profile fantasists purporting to give a conservative take on the world around them - especially when what they are promoting is a world view at odds with reality.

By: Rick Moran at 1:19 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (0)

2/19/2011
IN WHICH I EXPLAIN MYSELF TO MY CRITICS WHO BELIEVE IN PARANOID FANTASIES ABOUT OBAMA

My PJ Media piece yesterday wasn’t linked by a single blog (except this one) and yet, it garnered more than 150 comments. My guesstimate would be that 95% were extremely negative — abusive, belittling, and dismissive. I fully expected this, have come to expect it, whenever I write anything for PJM or other conservative websites.

No one likes to be called a paranoid, but frankly, I can’t think of another word that describes the divorce from reality that has been finalized by so many on the internet right. Theirs is a unique world where logic and reason have gone on permanent vacation, and the fantastical has been substituted for rationality.

The question can be rightly asked; why do you do it if it breeds such contempt from readers to point out the error in their thinking? It certainly isn’t advancing my writing career which, despite claims that I am doing it because it garners praise from liberals, or will get me a job with a Beltway conservative publication, has tanked in the last year. I’d like to say I have bravely gone henceforth into the breach carrying the standard of reason on high, but the opposite is true. No one likes to be unpopular, but beyond that, no one takes my writing seriously anymore. This has made me a little gunshy in writing about anything, much less the mortal danger posed to conservatism by the paranoids.

I have also discovered that I am not a very persuasive writer, probably doing more harm than good to my cause by chastising the right for their blinkered view of reality. It is a fact that few like to be told they are wrong, much less crazy wrong. I should probably have recognized this early on and tried another tack, but would that really have mattered? Besides, crazy is as crazy does, to paraphrase Mr. Gump, and any attempt to minimize the distance between what many conservatives believe about Obama and liberals in general and the real world would probably have been met with similar resistance.

When I began to question cotton candy conservatives like Beck, Hannity, Limbaugh, and Sarah Palin, I actually believed that applying a little logic to the irrational things they were saying might convince some on the right to abandon this shallow, unserious flirtation with pop conservatism. The ease with which these charlatans “explain” what Obama and the liberals are up to by ascribing the worst possible motives to them should be a tip off for any rational observer who values reason. Gleaning motives, or intent, from results is backasswards. It beggars belief that any thinking person would fall into this logic trap.

Allow me to explain: The entire basis for “Obama wants to destroy the country,” Cloward-Piven, and even Rules for Radicals as a gameplan for Obama rests on the results of policies enacted by the administration — unemployment, massive debt, government “takeovers,” etc. From there, the paranoids walk their assumptions backwards to a supposition, i.e. Obama wants to destroy the country. “What else could it be but that Obama is evil and deliberately wants to bring America down?” is the question they ask.

Well, you have offered as much evidence that aliens are telling Obama what to do as you have proven that Obama is evil and wants to destroy the country. In short - zero, nada, nil, nothing. Not one shred of evidence that Obama initiated these admittedly idiotic policies except that the results of those policies were bad. No evidence of meetings where Obama and his advisors mapped out the destruction of America. No paper trail that shows that this was the administration’s intent. No tape recordings of Obama or his advisors plotting America’s downfall. No insider tell all book detailing how the president and his men sought to destroy the United States.

How then, can anyone with an ounce of reason or logic draw the ridiculous, paranoid conclusion that because Obama’s policies have resulted in near economic ruin (a dubious supposition given the previous administration’s profligacy and nearly 30 years of continuous deficit spending with an expanding state), that the only possible explanation is that he is evil and trying to destroy us?

The problem for the paranoids is that they start, not with a supposition, but an assumption. By assuming evil intent, the only possible supposition is that Obama is trying to destroy us. But what is easier to believe? Occam’s razor would teach us that beginning with the supposition that Obama is incompetent would lead to the exact same results that the paranoids believe proves Obama is evil! Is it easier, more rational, more reasonable to believe that Obama is a horrible chief executive or a Machiavellian president who has been able to hide the proof of his intent to destroy us - except from the eyes of those chosen few who claim special knowledge not in evidence of the president’s intent?

When looking at Obama through this kind of paranoid prism, all manner of evils can be attributed to him. He doesn’t “love” America. He wants to weaken us so that the Mooooslims can establish Sharia law in America. He is conniving to turn our capitalist economy (such as it is) into a socialist, or even a Marxist one.

Obama’s words are twisted beyond any reasonable definition of intent in order to “convict” him out of his own mouth. The president’s redistributive rhetoric, naive liberal idiocies about America’s role in the world, his juvenile, Keyenesian view of economics, his dangerously expansive view of constitutional principles all point to Obama being a far left liberal, out of his depth, who is seeking to “remake” America into his vision of of what a “socially just” nation should be.

He is not the first American who has had these ideas. He’s just the first president who has been elected to try it. How’s it working out? Not very well and it’s getting worse.

Wrong not evil. A poor leader, not Satan. A misreading of the country, not an extra-constitutional authoritarian. Isn’t it more reasonable to believe the former and not the latter of all of those assumptions?

I am not a psychologist so getting to the bottom of many on the right’s paranoia about Obama and the liberals will have to be explained by someone else. In the meantime, I will continue, as best as I am able, to try and inject logic and reason into the debates of our time, while leaving the witless paranoids to stew in their own conspiratorial muck.

By: Rick Moran at 11:46 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (1)

2/10/2011
CPAC Boycott by Social Cons Reveals the Right’s ‘Gay Problem’

Here I go again - delving into an issue where my position is diametrically opposed to the social cons, as well as many traditionalists in the conservative movement.

My latest blockbuster is up at Pajamas Media where I take the social cons and others to task for trying to eject the conservative gay advocacy group GOProud from CPAC and the conservative movement for their stance on gay marriage.

A sample:

It can be extremely unnerving to discover that the grounded, safe, familiar, secure cocoon in which we exist is being invaded by what appears to be radical ideas and radical people that throw our notions of what is “normal” out the window. We try to shelter our children by drawing them into the cocoon, just as our parents, and their parents before them tried to keep the outside world from intruding on our peaceful existence. It never works. Sooner or later, we discover that America has other plans. A nation that prides itself on being a revolutionary society where there is the chance for change every four years does not sit still for long. For better or worse, America is constantly in motion, and like a steamroller, flattens the past and readies the ground ahead for whatever transformation is to occur.

Beyond the front gate, there are all sorts of people we wish would just go away and not disturb us with their problems. Fifty years ago, it was African Americans being asked to be “patient” while society continued its glacial pace of progress toward granting dignity and freedom from oppression. Then it was women who were told to go back to the kitchen and shut up. The disabled were asked to keep a low profile so as not to upset our delicate sensibilities. The homeless became invisible. The mentally ill, exorcised from our consciousnesses.

And now, the turn of the gays. Do we learn nothing from history? Are we condemned to constantly retreat into our cocoons and fight like hell to try and maintain an outmoded, antiquated notion of what is “normal?” You would think that knowledge is liberating and that having discovered that homosexuality is not a disease, that genetics more than environment determines your sexual orientation, we might cautiously reach out and try and understand the unnecessary burden carried by the gay community in that they have to constantly fight for what you and I take for granted; the simple, decent, American ideal of equal rights under the law.

There is nothing “unconservative” about this, despite what some on the right are saying about GOProud and CPAC. This is especially true as it relates to the fundamental truth about gays that many opponents of gay marriage refuse to concede; that people in love — even if they are of the same sex — should not be denied the legal and social advantages gained by being married.

What is fascinating to me is that most of those who strenuously object to my position do so on “moral” grounds. That is to say, they believe that homosexuality is intrinsically immoral. Barely a majority in this survey disagree but note the huge change in attitudes since 1973 when 80% thought gay love was immoral.

This buttresses the point I try to make in the article. Very little in America is static and unchanging. As more and more gays come out of the closet to their families, their friends, their co-workers, attitudes toward gay people change. When they are seen as people - real, live, flesh and blood humans - rather than objects of fear or derision, attitudes toward their behavior and lifestyle soften. It is a long process and will be decades more before wide-spread acceptance is gained. But the question confronting us today is why isolate a group of conservatives who agree with the right on almost every single issue save gay marriage and DADT repeal? You don’t even have to accept gays as full citizens to do that, although you have to do some fancy intellectual footwork to make it happen.

It strikes me as ludicrous that conservatives would deny membership in their little club to people who agree with 90% of their agenda. The same goes for the brawl over whether libertarians can be conservatives. What an extraordinary example of tribalism that there would be objections from the likes of Mike Huckabee and Erick Erickson to libertarians having a role in the conservative movement. And it’s not just libertarians or homosexuals who these jamokes want frozen out of CPAC and other gatherings on the right. They actually want to ban their supporters as well - those who don’t mind if gays or libertarians participate.

If these “conservatives,” who don’t act or think very conservatively, don’t watch out, their next CPAC will be held in a conference room in Cody, Wyoming.

By: Rick Moran at 9:35 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (1)

11/30/2010
THE GOP’S PALIN PROBLEM ISN’T GOING AWAY

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.

By: Rick Moran at 12:52 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (1)

8/20/2010
OBAMA’S MUSLIM OUTREACH BEARS INTERESTING FRUIT

When Barack Obama became president, he promised to try and change the relationship dynamic between Islam and the west. His goal was to build bridges, lessen hostility, create trust, and generally lower the decibel level of conversation between the two cultures.

There can be little argument regarding the president’s goals. The great struggle in which we are engaged against Islamism can only be won if we bring the hundreds of millions of peaceful Muslims who only want to be left alone to practice their faith and live their lives by their own lights to our side. Muslim distrust of America - a distrust that predated by many years the administration of George Bush - is an impediment to making progress against those who think no more of beheading a Christian as they would stepping on an ant on an anthill.

So let us grant the president his good intentions. That doesn’t excuse his shocking myopia, his crippling naivete, or his ludicrous, almost childish trust in the intentions of characters like Ahmadinejad, Abbas, or even his old friend, the Arafat apologist Rashid Khalidi. At some level, the president either believes in the infallibility of his own judgment or in the power of his sincerity overcoming the fanaticism of our enemies.

It doesn’t really matter because his approach has been proved wrong by events. The Iranians are still building the bomb while laughing in the president’s face; Abbas is playing him for a fool, using the president to pressure the Israelis into concessions - only to renege and get the US to go back and pressure the Israelis some more; and if anything, all the president’s efforts to show tolerance and forbearance toward Muslims hasn’t budged the needle of hostility directed against the United States and our policies, although Obama himself is more popular personally among Muslims than his country.

Where the president’s outreach policy has met with success is here at home. One in five Americans now believe he is a Muslim, compared to about 12% two years ago. This is a fantastic achievement to nearly double the number of Americans who aren’t sure if the idiotic stories they hear about Obama being a closet Muslim are true or not. And to think Obama wasn’t even trying. Just imagine what he could do if he really put his mind to it.

In truth, there are two forces at work that have conspired to advance this fantastical notion that Obama is a Muslim. The first has to do with the tight negative feedback loop that passes for the dissemination of information among many conservatives.

Call it ‘epistemic closure’ or an echo chamber, the result is that when you get all your information filtered through the same sources - sources that are constrained from questioning the efficacy of the dominant narrative being pushed due to fear of being cast out of the circle - an alternate reality is created where Obama’s Muslim religion, his disloyalty to the United States, even the notion that he is a communist lovechild are accepted as fact or seen as being possible.

These ridiculous facts are fed indirectly by the demonization of the president via mainstream talk radio and the conservative press. “If he’s capable of ‘X’, then it is certainly possible he can be ‘y’” is what passes for reason and logic among the faithful. If Obama is deliberately trying to destroy the economy in order to enslave Americans and make them wholly dependent on the federal government for survival, as Rush Limbaugh has suggested, why is it impossible that he’s a Koran loving Muslim to boot?

The second force at work is related to the first but lies in the perception - even among independents - that the president does not share their values. This is wholly the president’s fault as his fine, moderate rhetoric has given way to radicalism in fomenting an agenda that, by his own admission, seeks to alter the American experiment. In short, there is a disconnect between Obama’s personae as a “moderate” and his actions as a far left liberal.

Despite the belief by the president and his left wing allies that the American people are stupid louts who need to be led to water by the snout, the people’s unease with the president has little to do with what religion he follows, or the color of his skin, and more to do with the idea that Obama’s basic beliefs are at odds with a majority of his fellow citizen’s.

He says he believes in self-reliance, but his actions belie that notion. He says he believes in the grand tradition of American liberty, and yet supports measures that reduce it. He says he believes that America is an exceptional country while letting the world know that we are no different than any other nation. Do we detect a pattern here? There is a titanic disconnect between the president’s rhetoric and his actions. This not only breeds a basic mistrust that is showing up in opinion polls, but also feeds the unreasonable paranoia of those with less charitable attitudes toward Obama.

When nearly a third of conservatives buy into this “Obama is a Moooslim” narrative, my fellow righties should stop wondering why I refer to these specimens as “knuckledraggers” and “loons.” About the same percentage also think that Obama has issues with being constitutionally eligible for office - another jaw dropping notion that proves the existence of a mindless echo chamber on the right that subsumes objective reality in favor of an over-the-rainbow worldview. Fear and loathing are powerful emotions, and as the Obama administration stumbles and bumbles its way forward, the liklihood is that at least among the rabid conservative base (as well as other wayward intellects who are incapable of thinking for themselves), horns and a tail will continue to grow on the president and the perception that he is alien in some way will continue to resonate.

By: Rick Moran at 11:19 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (0)

8/9/2010
WHO OWNS ‘THE CONSERVATIVE CONSCIENCE?’

This article originally appears on The Moderate Voice.

Who owns the “conservative conscience?” Is it necessary to have one?

After all, there is no identifiable “liberal conscience” - at least no one who comes readily to mind. There’s plenty of criticism of Obama from the left but weirdly, the president is being taken to task for not being “liberal enough.”

This presents a delicious dichotomy; conservatives taking other conservatives to task for being too conservative (or not conservative at all) while liberals are taking other liberals to task for not acting liberal enough and being too centrist.

Flip the philosophical identifications and you have a mirror image of the way internal critical debates were conducted during the Bush era. It seems that ideologues belonging to the party in power are never satisfied that the leadership is “pure” enough while those on the “outs” are advised by apostates to be constrained in their criticism so as not to terrify the great middle of American politics.

How many times have we seen over the past decade “a liberal who gets it” or “a conservative who gets it” appear on opposing websites, describing a critic who skewers his own? Apparently, those who criticize their friends using some of the same arguments as the opposition achieve the status on the opposing side of being “the conscience” of one ideology or another (while being described as a traitor by their putative friends) - until they revert to form and criticize the opposition. Then, they are no longer the “conscience” of anything but rather a member of the echo chamber that parrots the talking points of the day for either side.

If I sound a little bemused by it all, I beg forgiveness. Having been accused of criticizing some conservatives in order to garner adoration and praise from liberals, I have experienced this process first hand. But it raises the interesting question; what kind of criticism makes one a “conscience of conservatives?” (I invite someone from the left to ask that same question and respond to it. I have no expertise - or desire - to take on the question myself.)

Perhaps a better question would be is a conscience for conservatives even necessary?

In the last fortnight, we have seen several respected conservatives wonder about the craziness of some in the movement and the general abandonment of reason and logic that has resulted in conspiracy theories, exaggerated and over the top criticism of the president and the Democrats, and an incoherent rage that suffuses the movement with a patina of paranoia that scares these observers about the direction the right is taking.

These critiques were roundly rejected by most conservatives. What is it, then, that these conservatives find wrong with the right?

I don’t think I am overgeneralizing when I say that the primary criticism of the right offered by most conservatives today is that those in positions of power are simply not conservative enough, that they are not true to conservative principles (as they understand them), and that such squishiness makes them “Democrat lite” - a pale echo of the other party.

Since this appears to be the dominant criticism of the right from the majority of conservatives, are those who can best elucidate that theme acting as a “conscience,” illuminating what needs to be changed for conservatism to stay on the straight and narrow and succeed as a viable alternative to liberalism? Or is the meme just another part of the “epistemic closure” described by Julian Sanchez and others?

The idea that just because a majority of conservatives believe its leadership (and those who don’t agree with their worldview) are squishes does not necessarily disqualify them from winning the title of “conservative conscience.” They have a point - of sorts. One of the problems of conservatism is that we continue to elect those who swear allegiance to conservative values and philosophy while running for office, but then discard, or even apologize for the label when they get to Washington.

But the tendency to lump everyone who fails to toe the very strict, very narrow line that most of these critics require of their leaders is very much reflective of the kind of epistemic closure described by other conservative critics. And the further tendency to dismiss those critics who show how this narrow-minded obstinacy creates impossible performance standards that are in danger of condemning politicians to the political fringes only reinforces the notion of conservatism being an echo chamber that admits no deviation from scripture.

My guess would be that the majority of conservatives who adhere to this worldview would be dismissive of the very idea of a “conservative conscience.” To their way of thinking, it smacks of more elitism and top-down management of the movement, not to mention that they are the targets of this criticism. No one likes being told they are the problem, or an obstacle to fixing what ails a system.

In this case, the pushback against those who rail against the illogical and unreasonable criticisms of the Obama administration and the Democrats - that they are “socialists” who are hell bent on “destroying America” - is often incoherent and irrelevant, based as it is on the notion that the critic is only trying to curry favor with the liberal media, or seeking to gain status in the elitist conservative hierarchy, or even that the critic is angling for a job in the MSM. This too, represents a kind of closure, as Sanchez pointed out:

To prevent breach, the internal dissident needs to be resituated in the enemy camp. The Cocktail Party move serves this function particularly well because it simultaneously plays on the specific kind of cultural ressentiment that so much conservative rhetoric now seems designed to stoke. Because it’s usually not just a tedious charge of simple venality—of literally “selling out” to fetch better-paying speaking gigs or book deals. You can clearly make a damn good living as a staunch conservative, after all, and Bruce Bartlett doesn’t exactly talk as though he’s gotten a big income boost out of his apostasy.

No, the insinuation is always that they’re angling for respectability, because even “one of us” might be tempted by the cultural power of the enemy elites, might ultimately value their approval more than that of the conservative base. It’s a much deeper sort of purported betrayal, because it’s a choice that would implicitly validate the status claims of the despised elite. You’re supposed to feel as though you’ve been snubbed socially—discarded for “better” company—which evokes both more indignant rejection of the quisling and further resentment of the liberal snobs who are visiting this indignity on you. In a way it’s quite elegant, and you can see why it’s become as popular as it has.

Sanchez believes that rejection of legitimate criticisms offered by “dissidents” is also a sign of insecurity on the part of the movement. He thinks it self defeating “because it corrodes the kind of serious discussion and reexamination of conservative principles and policies that might help produce a more self-assured movement.”

Would a “self-assured” conservative movement recognize or accept “dissident” critiques of conservatism as legitimate and thus grant them the status of being a “conscience of the right?” That will never happen. Sanchez dances around the idea that this is as much a cultural battle within the conservative ranks as a conflict being driven by ideology or policy differences. The movement likes to portray the differences as a fight between “ordinary” Americans and those who went to the best schools, had the advantage of class, or, as Stacy McCain has pointed out, are looking for career advancement by trying to separate themselves from the “rabble.”

In fact, the support for Sarah Palin, whose very ordinariness is what recommends her to many on the right, is a living example of how closure has warped the conservative movement and turned it into something not recognizable as a philosophy embraced by Reagan, Buckley, Kirk, and other more practical, less ideological adherents. The thinking goes that the smart folks have blown it and now its time to give an ordinary American a chance. The fact that this reasoning is thought sound by so many is indicative of why “dissidents” will never be taken seriously by those who most desperately need to be reintroduced to logic and common sense.

Having the left, or the media, identify anyone as a “conscience of conservatives” is meaningless. The source of that label is instantly disqualifying among the majority on the right. Who, then, will take it upon themselves to bring a measure of responsible opposition and a coherent set of principles under which the right can govern to the majority?

In order to offer a solution, you have to see a problem first. Since the Becks, the Limbaugh’s, the Hannity’s, the Coulter’s, and other cotton candy conservatives have no intention of risking their own status as movement icons in order to bring a measure of sanity to their acolytes, it seems probable that the simple answer to that question is nobody.

By: Rick Moran at 11:02 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (0)

7/1/2010
HAWKINS AND THE TRAGIC FLAW OF THE IDEOLOGUES

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.

Frum:

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.

By: Rick Moran at 10:14 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (0)

3/26/2010
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.

By: Rick Moran at 10:37 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (2)

3/10/2010
8 EXAGGERATIONS AND MYTHS PUSHED BY CONSERVATIVES ABOUT OBAMA

It is difficult to be on the outside looking in when it comes to the exercise of power. For 8 years, it caused hysterical derangement on a very large slice of the left who tried to promote the idea that George Bush was a fascist, or a theocrat intent on establishing an authoritarian “regime” - the word most often used even by “respectable” liberals. America does not have “regimes” - not now, not then, not ever. But you can’t tell that to liberals who, for 8 long, tiresome years, bored us to death with their paranoid fantasies about George Bush. The draft, the Haliburton nonsense, the “lies” about WMD, the “lapdog press,” the “stolen” elections - all this and more, told and retold on the web, and even sometimes in respectable publications (not to mention the halls of Congress); paranoid delusions that only grew wilder and more sensationally idiotic as time went on.

Nor can you convince many conservatives today that entire segments of their overall critique of President Obama are hysterically exaggerated fantasies, nonsensical assumptions and “truths” that bear no resemblance to the facts. The left today has their own delusions; about conservatives, Republicans, and the motives of both. But it is conservatives who, by pushing these ridiculous fallacies about the president, are swallowing the barrel and pulling the trigger on their chances to rally the country behind them and take back the government.

I have been virtually told that I don’t hate Barack Obama enough; that if I don’t parrot these birdbrained “facts” about the president, I am actually a supporter of his or, at best, a simpleminded dupe who just can’t see what kind of evil man he is.

Worse, by highlighting these imbecilic talking points, or going after cotton candy conservatives and others on the right who are shooting conservatism in the foot with their derangement, I am a traitor. Better to lie and march to the beat of the same drum in order to defeat the forces of darkness who besmirch our republic with their loathsome plans.

Sorry. I don’t do lockstep. Nor am I enamored with illogical, unreasonable, and patently false arguments about Obama that serve only to prove that there are many on the right who have lost themselves in overhyped agitation - a delirium tremens that no amount of Chivas can help.

What really flips my gibbet is that this guy Obama is such an easy target for rational, penetrating criticism. He’s a clown sitting above a dunk tank just waiting for an accurate missile to send him to a well deserved soaking. Instead, so many on the right are missing so wildly they end up smacking themselves in the nose with their own throws.

There is an objective reality in which most Americans live. It’s a place where people are human, not cartoon cut-outs of evil. It’s a place where there is a connection between actions and rhetoric. And it is a place where facts are facts, not exaggerated, paranoid flakes of fancy seen through a broken mirror of ideology and fear.

Here then are 8 popular myths and exaggerations about Barack Obama that are routinely pushed by the right. Having been a comment moderator for three conservative sites, I know them by heart and can attest that at the very least, a large number of conservatives believe this nonsense.

1. Obama is sympathetic to Moooooslims and favors them at the expense of America

This has variations from Obama is a closet Muslim, to Obama wants to establish Sharia law, to Obama is actually a terrorist. One or all of these jumbo baloney sandwiches passes for wisdom among many on the right, including a prominent blogger who is worried that the 2 million Muslims in America are sneaking up on the rest of the 299 million of us and wish to make us all into dhimmis.

2. Obama is a socialist/Marxist.

I put this one to rest right before the election here.

Obama is a liberal. He’s a far left, garden variety, 100%, fully inspected La-La Land lefty. Are his policies “socialist?” Sure. I guess. Some of his policies ape programs initiated by socialist governments. National health insurance for one.

But the same could be said for Social Security, Medicare, and a host of Great Society programs still with us today. The social democracies of Europe that so enamor the left are not “socialist” countries - not by a long shot. The means of production are still in the hands of private citizens, even though those governments - and soon, our own - make it difficult for private enterprise to succeed. It makes no sense to call what Obama is doing “socialist” if you wish to adhere to the strictest definition of the word. And if you’re not going to stick with how a word is defined and make up your own definition, why bother with the English language at all?

It is quite simply an exaggeration to say that the president is a socialist.

3. Obama hates America.

Glad that so many of my friends on the right have been given the gift of insight into someone’s heart.

In truth, the president loves America as most liberals love it; in an abstract, intellectualized manner. It would perhaps be more accurate to say the president loves what America could be, rather than what she is now. I happen to believe you can love both Americas but many on the right are steadfast in their belief that America can do no wrong, while probably the same number on the left believe she can do no right. It is a different kind of love, but a love nonetheless, and to posit that the president of the United States hates his own country is, on its face, absurd.

4. Obama wasn’t born here/not a natural born citizen/is hiding the origins of his birth/is the spawn of the devil/is the antichrist.

Debunked too many times, in too many places to waste any time here except to say that about 30% of conservatives have “questions” about Obama’s origins.

A winning issue for 2010.

5. Obama is deliberately trying to destroy America.

This is a favorite of Rush Limbaugh. The “reasoning” goes, Obama wants to destroy America so that everybody becomes dependent on the federal government for their very lives. This will create a permanent Democratic majority because everyone knows that people who are dependent on government vote for Democrats.

I can’t argue against the notion that the president’s policies have the potential to harm America greatly. I have argued such in the past. If that happened, I am sure the president would be as disappointed as the rest of us. No doubt, he would blame it on Bush.

But there is no politician who would ever deliberately destroy the country that just elected him. Where’s the advantage? I daresay that voters would give a good goddamn about dependency and throw the majority party who ruined their lives out into the street.

This is so absurd on its face and yet so prevalent a notion on the right, is it any wonder I question the sanity of conservatives sometimes?

And then there’s a related myth…

6. Obama is deliberately preventing a recovery.

This is a variation on #5 but the “reasoning” is a little different. Obama needs a “crisis” to pass his agenda.

He’s had a crisis, his agenda lies in tatters, and he is proven so incompetent he can’t even take advantage of the worst economic crisis in 80 years to push through a Congress his party owns lock, stock, and barrel anything except an $800 billion stim bill he didn’t write and had little to do with passing.

7. Obama wants to kill your grandma.

We have Sarah Palin to thank for this one. It is the one myth in the health care debate that refuses all applications of reason and logic, and is persistently advanced despite all evidence to the contrary.

The slippery slope argument is even bogus. It is impossible to connect the dots from A to Z, as I explained here. But Saracudda says it’s true so it must be.

8. Obama goes around the world “apologizing” for America’s sins

If you’re not grown up, or well read enough, or have been asleep for the last 50 years, you know that there are several things that America should be apologizing for. But here, we have a gross exaggeration of what the president was doing by highlighting our shortcomings (I don’t believe the words “apology” or “We’re sorry” ever crossed his lips.)

The president acknowledged errors - at least, errors from his perspective - that America committed not only during the Bush administration, but prior to that as well. He also acknowledged them because his audience perceived our actions to be in error - whether we think them right or wrong.

But almost in the same breath, Obama castigated his audiences from London to Cairo for their reflexive, knee jerk anti-Americanism. Tony Blair and John Howard actually said it much better than he did. But our professorial president used a common rhetorician’s gimmick of forcing the audience to listen to him by agreeing with their perceptions about America and then hammering them for their own shortcomings.

It was an effective technique and certainly won him a lot of friends overseas among the common folk. But it is inaccurate to say that he “apologized” for our past. In fact, he frequently went out of his way to say that he had no apologies for our ideals or principles. It appears to me that many on the right heard what they wanted to hear and closed their mind to the rest. Hence, this myth - as widespread as it is - doesn’t stand up to the facts.

The unhinged nature of some of the criticism directed at the president reflects badly on the entire right. When you consider that Obama is a duck in a shooting gallery that a pie eyed prostitute could hit with her eyes closed, it is a mystery why so many seek to misrepresent and exaggerate what this president has done and what he stands for.

Keep your eye on the target and allow logic and reason to guide your criticisms. Leave behind the paranoia, the fear mongering, and the hysteria. That’s the losers argument. Let objective reality animate your commentary and people will actually start to listen rather than turn you off quicker than a Tim Robbins movie.

By: Rick Moran at 11:50 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (2)

2/10/2010
SARAH PALIN AND THE ASPIRATIONAL POLITICS OF RESENTMENT

It’s pretty hard whether you are a Republican or Democrat, not to have a strong opinion about the abilities - or lack thereof - of Sarah Palin. The problem, as I see it, is that most on both sides paint the former Alaska governor in cartoonish colors thus making them incapable of evaluating her politically or personally in any kind of reasoned, rational way.

While my opinion of Palin hasn’t changed since it became clear that her depthless intellect and lazy habits of mind made her extraordinarily unready for national office, the more I see of her, the more I want to understand her appeal - and figure out what drives the left nuts about her.

Some on the left and right compare her to Ronald Reagan. That’s just not happening for me. The only similarity I can see is a superficial likeness in the way that people respond to her rhetoric - a pale echo of the Gipper’s soaring imagery and heartfelt sincerity when speaking about “that America.”

“That America” is not necessarily the “real America.” America is many things to many people. We all define our own “American” reality. I daresay that an African American’s America is slightly different than the America of a conservative southern Christian. Neither vision is wrong or evil. Our reality is shaped by our experience, our upbringing, our schooling, our friends and family, and outside influences.

Reagan - and to a less successful degree Palin - sought to hack into the American memory where most of our mistakes and crimes of omission and commission are either blocked by a firewall or deleted. What’s left is the “shining city on a hill” - the aspirational notion of an exceptional nation inhabited by exceptional people; self reliant, fiercely independent, contemptuous of government/authority, and bound by a citizen-government compact that doesn’t allow deviation from the template that was laid down when America was a coastal republic of 7 million people.

Change - dynamic, incremental, or otherwise - is virtually unknown in “that America.” Reagan was enough of a pragmatist to realize that it was impossible to repeal Johnson’s Great Society and FDR’s New Deal. But now Sarah Palin comes along and, while very short on specifics, hints at just such a revolution; a willy-nilly federalism capped by what Ambinder calls in this brilliant article, a “relitigating” of the social contract that has been the basis for life in America for the last 50 years:

Palin, writes Jonathan Raban in an excellent essay in the New York Review of Books, has an “exceptionally canny political instinct for connecting with her own kind.” It has been noted that her conservatism is resentment-based, and is fueled and nourished by the specter of elite mistreatment. (Palin is savvy enough to tease back.) But it is more than that. More than a list of grievances, Palin mixes Nixonian derision for those who think they know better with an aspirational dimension that motivates the middle class to vote. Out of the tony leagues of Washington and New York, she is — well, an Idahoan by birth, an exurbanite mother, able to expurgate the Republican Party of its own cosmopolitan tendencies. (This is one reason why the McCain campaign could not tend to her.) She is, as my friend @thetonylee says, “a hybrid of Nixon and Buchanan.”

The only presidential candidate who is able to put the boots to Obama and get away with it. What’s she running for? Not the question. What’s she running against? Not just Rockefeller Republicanism and the media, or pointy-headed law lecturer presidents, or Katie Couric: she wants to relitigate a bunch of issues that once were settled but now seem to be unraveling. The unrestricted embrace of immigration and the dilution of an American culture. Overweening Greenism. A complicated socially engineered tax code. A much larger role for government (embraced by the president who said that the era of Big Government Was Over and his successor, who was a Republican). The rule of experts. Even the concept of bipartisanship itself.

Ambinder is convinced that the way she is projecting herself smells suspiciously like she is a candidate in 2012. I think she wants to be but is being very cautious. She is leaving her options wide open, which is very smart, while making small moves on the national stage to both test the waters and leave herself an exit should the situation change in the next 10 months.

She can do this because she is the most popular Republican in the country right now. Even though a clear majority of Republicans don’t want to see her as president, an even larger number say that Palin “shares their values.” A majority of the GOP also believes that Palin represents a “new direction” for the party.

What is that direction? Ambinder:

In Searching for Whitopia, Rich Benjamin defines of a geo-racial balkanization that gives Palin-like candidates a natural base: towns like Couer d’Alene Idaho, with a “diversified economic base,” a pro-business regulatory environment, a commitment to “quality of life” issues, and — a 95% ethnic homogeneity. Coeur D’Aleners were migrants from the California of the 1990s; they live now in Colorado and the suburbs of Phoenix and are slowly pushing their way around the Sunbelt. Benjamin notes the “cultural, ancestral and implicitly racial” bond to their communities. The new residents come looking for land and living space; the long-time residents just want as little disruption as possible. Right now, there is enormous disruption. It is the same disruption that Democrats believe redounds to their benefit; depressed wages, exotic financial deals, government spending cuts (which feeds the disruption), what one Palin watcher calls the “downstream effects” of a country that has lived beyond its means for 60 years.

George W. Bush never spoke this language. He was an evangelical convert, more influenced by his advisers Catholicism than by, say, Palin’s Assembly of God charismatics. She is pure in ways the rich son of Connecticut could never dream of.

These simple folk of Idaho aren’t so simple. They get their news from talk radio and new media; and Palin speaks in 140-word epigrams: fragments that are icky to the ears of more polished speakers but convey meta-data — she understands this. What’s most appealing about Palin to these exurbanites, I think, is that the big Elite Crucible tore her apart — and she rose again, stood up, straightened her dress, and is now confronting her tormentors.

Palin speaks to a restlessness among conservatives who are uncomfortable with change. In the tea party movement, there is much hearkening back to a time when Americans didn’t need government so much (more realistically, government simply wasn’t there). While the fringes of the movement may not support much of any kind of government at all, the majority of tea partiers appear to be much more pragmatic in their criticism.

They may see a need for government in some areas but beyond anything else, they want the president and Congress - both parties - to adhere to founding principles. There is no reason this can’t be done while change occurs. Respecting individual freedom, acknowledging personal responsibility, adhering to the concept of constitutionally limited government, and following the rule of law are all under attack, and have been under both Democratic and Republican presidents.

I like to think that the linchpin that holds these principles together is prudence. And no one can make the argument that any of the last 3 presidents have demonstrated prudence when it comes to governing America.

Russell Kirk on prudence; one of his Ten Conservative Principles:

Burke agrees with Plato that in the statesman, prudence is chief among virtues. Any public measure ought to be judged by its probable long-run consequences, not merely by temporary advantage or popularity. Liberals and radicals, the conservative says, are imprudent: for they dash at their objectives without giving much heed to the risk of new abuses worse than the evils they hope to sweep away. As John Randolph of Roanoke put it, Providence moves slowly, but the devil always hurries. Human society being complex, remedies cannot be simple if they are to be efficacious. The conservative declares that he acts only after sufficient reflection, having weighed the consequences. Sudden and slashing reforms are as perilous as sudden and slashing surgery.

It’s almost as if Kirk read the health care reform bill. Or the prescription drug benefit. Or even the AUMF resolution. We have an imprudent government and as such, it has rejected First Principles in favor of the temporary political aggrandizement of the elites.

Palin articulates this uneasiness, tapping into the resentment held by those who don’t want their old shoe America to disappear. The people sense things are moving too fast, careening out of control. The budget and deficit are symptomatic. It is the abandonment of prudence by the governing elite that has unhinged the forces of change and no one appears to be in control - or care much where we end up.

She wants to take us back to a place and a time that never really existed except in the imaginations of “that America.” It won’t work - it never has worked. Reagan was able to capture this yearning, but governed prudently and pragmatically. In that sense, he was always a disappointment to the “true believers” who thought he had been captured by Jim Baker and the inside the beltway elite. “Let Reagan be Reagan” was the plaintive cry of the James Watts, Richard Vigueires, and other movement conservatives who placed their hopes in drastically rolling back government on Reagan’s shoulders. The Gipper decided that governing and winning was better than slashing and burning, while going down to defeat.

That may be the real danger of a Palin presidency. She is not pragmatic nor do I sense much prudence in her either. That would require self-reflection - something that she clearly has eschewed in favor of “going with her gut” on all except calculating her own personal, political future. Basically ignorant not because she is stupid but because she is lazy, the half formed opinions that spout from her during her speeches may be enough to satisfy her legions of worshipers but, as we are finding with President Obama, translate poorly into a governing philosophy. If Palin were to beat the odds and win, no doubt we would see a continuation of the “perpetual campaign” that passes for leadership and governance from Obama.

So might she win?

Not a single other Republican presidential candidate can build a crowd like Palin, can run against something like Palin (be it Washington, the media, the McCain campaign or Obama); no one speaks to the resentment/aspirational conservatives like she does; no one’s life has better exemplified the way they perceive their struggle against the elite. We like to think about presidential primaries in paradigms, but candidates who fit with the times often find ways to completely subvert established paradigms.

Yes she can.

By: Rick Moran at 10:45 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (28)