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1/4/2010
2010: A TIME OF TESTING

I apologize for the absence of posts these past few days but I have been locked in a titanic struggle with a nasty bug that has sought to lay me low. I was able to perform limited duties at PJM and AT but never found the strength to address some of the more interesting stories that have popped up during the last 10 days or so on my own blog.

A pity, that. There is much I wanted to say about the administration’s approach to the…whatever we’re calling what used to be known as “The War on Terror” these days. While their attitude and strategy may be intellectually satisfying - downplaying the nature of the threat while frantically trying to bolster our counterterror capabilities at home and abroad - I think it is wrong on a psychological and political level.

Obama failed in appreciating the nature of the attack on Christmas day. He miscalculated the mood of the American people and came off looking weak and disengaged when he strolled to the podium more than 48 hours after the attack and read a rote statement that could have been delivered by a press flunkie. He compounded the error the next day by issuing a stronger, more realistic statement while idiotically backing his DHS Secretary’s nonsense about the “system” working, parsing her words like a Clinton.

This is old news now - water under the bridge so I won’t belabor the point. But in their eagerness to show that they are not “chest thumping” and “fear mongering” the administration and the president failed in their primary duty of simply reassuring the American people that someone was in charge and doing something about the problem.

Not their finest hour.

The other story that piqued my interest was Rush Limbaugh’s health scare and his weird, out of touch contention that the health care system is working just fine.

I am glad that Rush is OK and will continue to entertain us on the radio. But if there was ever an example of why conservatism has become irrelevant it was Limbaugh’s monumentally stupid remarks about the American health care system:

“The treatment I received here was the best that the world has to offer,” Limbaugh said. “Based on what happened here to me, I don’t think there’s one thing wrong with the American health care system. It is working just fine, just dandy.”

Limbaugh said that despite his celebrity he received the same treatment as anyone else who would have called 911 and been taken to the hospital in his condition.

“I got no special treatment,” he said, adding that the care he received was nonetheless “confidence inspiring.”

“I just feel very grateful and thankful be an American and have this happen to me,” he said.

Anyone who isn’t worth $100 million and becomes seriously ill in this country probably looked at Limbaugh as if he was from another planet. The American people may hate many aspects of Obamacare, but they aren’t stupid. They fully realize there are severe problems with our health care system and just because rich jamokes like Limbaugh and rich foreigners can get the best care in the world doesn’t mean that the average - or even above average - American gets the same treatment as the radio star.

Put simply, Limbaugh and many of his listeners are out of touch. The alternate universe they inhabit posits an America inhabited by crusty individualists, self-reliant citizens, a Darwinian free market, and a culture informed by “Judeo-Christian” morals and principles. That’s a pretty good description of America, alright - 19th century America. Today, we no longer have to build our own house, or shoot our own meat, or churn our own butter, or even make our own clothes unless we choose to do so. America in the 21st century is a great, big, raucous, tumbling, jumbling place that has moved far beyond what these self-described conservatives believe her to be - or think she should be. In their America, the health care system is “just fine” and there’s nothing wrong with the economy that a few hundred billion in tax cuts couldn’t fix.

The clashing interests of 300 million people coupled with the enormous complexity of governing such a diverse, multi-racial, mutli-cultural society makes the kind of simple minded conservatism promoted by Limbaugh and his admirers a shadow reality, existing outside of time and out of sync with the cares and concerns of ordinary people. They are for regression, not conserving anything. And their failure to accept America as it is rather than how they wish it to be makes them worse than irrelevant in promoting conservatism; they are a hindrance.

I believe these two currents of history - the coming primal thrust of jihad and the battle to wrest conservatism from fakirs like Limbaugh, Hannity, Palin, and others will test us in ways not experienced since the late 1970’s when there was the perception that the world was closing in around us and the Soviets were on the road to victory. That time also saw the final ascendancy of “movement” conservatism as a revolutionary political force.

It will not be a year of decision. But the potential is there for global jihad to wreak havoc on the US and the west as the clock approaches midnight in Tel Aviv and the countdown for an Israeli strike on Iran approaches its final stages.

I have blown hot and cold over the years about whether Israel would attack Iran without US permission or support. But with Obama in office, I think the Israelis believe they have little choice. Our relations with the Jewish state are in shambles - the worst since Eisenhower. Quite simply, Israel does not trust the Obama administration. And with the rise of the J-Street crowd in power and influence in Washington, the prospects for US support of Israel in any strike on Iranian nuclear facilities are very bad.

A year ago I would have bet that the Israelis would have deferred to Washington on the question of attacking Iran. Now, I’m not so sure. The only question left for the Israelis is are they prepared for the consequences? The scenarios of the aftermath of such an attack are all bad. And they all include the certainty that terrorism would be unleashed against Israel, the US, and the west on a scale never before seen. There are Hezbollah cells all over the world, and it is generally believed that they can be activated by Iran. What they could accomplish as far as death and destruction can only be guessed at.

In addition, al-Qaeda is showing it’s not dead yet and may keep up its efforts to attack us. Odds are in their favor that they will breakthrough and succeed. Whether they have the capability for mass casualty attacks isn’t known but many experts believe it to be just a matter of time before WMD is used in a terror attack. What then? Where does that leave the Obama administration’s downplaying the terrorist threat? It’s not necessarily a bad policy but a couple of thousand dead Americans would make it seem faintly ridiculous. Al-Qaeda, Hezbollah and their imitators may not represent an existential threat to America but I daresay the American people will have problems with the nuanced view that we shouldn’t get all bent out of shape over terrorism.

Of conservatism’s test I will say this; the farther conservatism retreats into the past, eschewing reason for emotionalism while welcoming groups like the John Birch Society back into the fold, the more irrelevant conservatism will become as a political force. Electoral gains in 2010 may indeed come to Republicans but it won’t be because of anything conservatism is offering but because the Democrats have royally screwed up. Until the voices of reason and pragmatism emerge to espouse a philosophy that resonates with ordinary people and addresses their real life concerns and problems, the right will continue to wander in the wilderness of political ideas wondering why no one takes their 19th century worldview seriously.

It should be an interesting year.

By: Rick Moran at 11:36 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (45)

12/22/2009
GOP: OUT OF GAS, OUT OF IDEAS, OVER THE CLIFF

Jonathan Chait at The New Republic:

In reality, both parties have plenty of ideas that they would like to implement if given the political power to do so. Republicans’ policy ideas primarily involve cutting marginal tax rates and regulations. The question isn’t whether the Republican Party has any ideas. The question is whether the party has any relevant ideas.

In the days following the 2008 election, some Republicans predicted that the party would retool itself in response to reality–not just political reality but the actuality of policy challenges. “Republicans,” wrote conservative Ramesh Ponnuru in Time, “will have to devise an agenda that speaks to a country where more people feel the bite of payroll taxes than income taxes, where health-care costs eat up raises even in good times, where the length of the daily commute is a bigger irritant than are earmarks.” Nothing like that rethinking has happened or will happen.

Whatever the merits of President Obama’s agenda, it is clearly a response to objectively large problems facing the country. The administration has selected three main issues as the focus of its domestic agenda: the economic crisis, climate change, and health care reform. The issues themselves offer a stark contrast with Bush’s 2005 crusade to reshape Social Security. While sold as a response to the program’s long-term deficit, the privatization campaign was actually motivated by ideological opposition to Social Security’s redistributive role. (Bush refused Democratic offers to negotiate a fix to the program’s solvency without altering its social-insurance character.) By contrast, it is impossible to dismiss the problems Obama has chosen to address. In all three areas, the Republican Party has adopted a stance of total opposition, not merely because it disagrees with aspects of Obama’s solutions, but because it cannot come to grips with the very nature of the problems of modern American politics.

Yahtzee!

I would take issue with Chait over the reason for Social Security reform - something the Democrats will now have to face in the coming years if, as I fully expect, they maintain their majority for a decade or so. Yes, my liberal friends, there is an unfunded mandate for social security that works out to about $17.5 trillion by 2050. By that time, the entire federal budget could be comprised of payments for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Don’t sit there and tell me that the only reason Bush wanted to reform Social Security by privatizing some of it was due to “ideological opposition” to the program. It was Republicans, I will remind Chait, who reformed SS in 1986 while he and his Democratic friends took potshots from the sidelines. Democrats have always, shamelessly, used Social Security fear mongering with seniors as an electoral club. And Chait is proving that nothing has changed.

As for the rest of Chait’s thesis, he is spot on. The GOP cannot meet the basic definition of a political party; a repository for ideas and principles that advance a particular political philosophy. Cutting taxes when we’re staring at a deficit of $1.5 trillion a year is not only irrelevant, it is reckless, suicidal, irresponsible policy. Claiming that government spending would be cut an equal amount as any tax breaks is ludicrous, not to mention a horrible idea in the midst of a deep recession. The cuts that would be necessary in discretionary spending - only about 28% of the budget (most of that in the defense sector) - would gash programs that benefit the poor and the middle class. It won’t happen so why discuss it? Any tax cuts enacted would add to the deficit substantially.

So much for “fiscal responsibility.”

Tax cuts aren’t the only idea that the GOP wants to implement but it seems that way sometimes. Cutting spending is another basic notion being pushed by the GOP, but so far, specifics have been lacking. Not so with the base of the party who not only can’t “come to grips with the very nature of the problems of modern American politics,” but would have trouble “coming to grips” with 19th century American problems. This is where Chait’s ideological animus by the GOP to government truly resides (although eliminating Social Security and Medicare are ideas relegated to the fringe right). Entire swaths of the government would be on the chopping block if many in the base got their way. And I am not talking about some kind of “super-federalism” where many programs would be “transferred to the states.” There is a belief that much of what the federal government does, individuals should be able to do for themselves. I am not unsympathetic to this basic premise, but the scope and breadth of what many on the right would like to see eliminated are several bridges too far for most rational conservatives.

And this points up the major reason why the GOP is in the barren intellectual state that it is in; a stubborn, (I would say hysterical) refusal to see the world as it is and develop counter-proposals and ideas that reflect the realities of 21st century America.

What’s so hard about that? Well, for starters, perhaps admitting you have a problem dealing with reality in the first place might help:

The writers of The Daily Show, Colbert Report, and Saturday Night Live (although I’m not convinced they’ve even had writers lately) can have February 18-20, 2010, off. The hosts can handle it themselves. On those dates, the jokes will practically write themselves as the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) takes place — co-sponsored by the John Birch Society. Every liberal commentator needs to send a thank-you note to CPAC’s organizers for that monumentally stupid decision.

By having the John Birch Society sponsor it, CPAC can guarantee that 90% of the coverage regarding the conference will relate to JBS’ oh-my-god-look-a-conspiracy attitude rather than the heavy-hitters and rising stars of conservatism and libertarianism that speak there. Instead of focusing on politics, reporters will ask attendees for their response to the JBS controversy and will ask organizers whether they are in such financial distress that they had to embrace a fringe group for support.

This is beyond the “nihilism” Chait writes about with regard to what the GOP has become. I think a more technical term is in order to describe what is happening with the base and hence, with much of the Republican party.

Loony tunes.

You have to live in a different reality (or perhaps spend most of your time on another planet) to accept the notion that the John Birch Society today is much different than the bunch who questioned whether General Dwight David Eisenhower - American hero - wasn’t “pink.” Or that John Foster Dulles wasn’t deliberately hiding Communists in the State Department. (Yes, there were commies at state and defense but the idea that Dulles knew they were there is lunacy).

The JBS “core principles” include this gem:

The Society also labors to warn against and expose the forces that seek to abolish U.S. independence, build a world government, or otherwise undermine our personal liberties and national independence.

The problem as I see it isn’t necessarily that the John Birth Society is filled with kooks who think Obama is part of an international conspiracy to enslave America to the Communist ideal, it’s that they are a perfect fit for CPAC and the paranoid righties who are pursuing the birther matter, believe the president and the Democrats are out to “destroy the country,” believe there’s nothing much wrong with our health care system, and are not sure if Obama isn’t the antichrist.

Yes, that last is hyperbole but it’s easy to go over the top when you are trying to describe people who have tossed aside reason and embraced a kind of collective madness that is being promoted on talk radio, and some venues on Fox News. The world - the country - simply is not as it is described by Rush Limbaugh and the rest of the cotton candy conservatives who are cleaning up by playing to the fears of the ignorant and uninformed.

And then there are those who ape the worst of these:

It isn’t too much to ask for Byrd to step off for that great klavern in the sky before the Senate vote that may force this nation to accept government-rationed health care. Even a nice coma would do.

Without his frail, Gollum-like body being wheeled into the Senate’s chambers to cast the deciding vote, the Senate cannot curse our children and grandchildren with crushing debt and rationed, substandard healthcare.

I suppose some will be shocked and appalled that I’d wish for the former kleagle to die on command. I’d remind them that the party wheeling in a near invalid to vote in favor of this unread monstrosity of a bill is the one that should feel shame.

Yes, the health care bill as it has been so cynically and maliciously drawn up by Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, and the rest of the Democrats might easily be termed a “monstrosity.”

But it is grotesque, deformed thinking to wish for another human being to die for political gain. And not seeing that is a reflection not so much of Bob Owens, but of the casual, anti-reason, anti-rational thinking that has gripped the Republican party and made it an irrelevancy.

Can you govern without believing in the efficacy of government? I find it hard to imagine that, even if the Democrats and Obama screw things up so royally that the GOP wins a smashing victory and overturns both houses of Congress next year, that the Republicans are capable of doing anything to address the problems of 21st century America. Trying to reconstitute a nation that doesn’t exist anymore - a pastoral place where everyone was self-sufficient, went to church on Sunday, and dreamed the same dreams - does not equip a party or its members to deal with the complex, urbanized, less homogeneous country America has become.

To do that, one must actually live in the present rather than some ill-defined, half-imagined past that perhaps never was, but certainly will never be again.

By: Rick Moran at 11:00 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (19)

12/3/2009
MY CONSERVATIVE APOSTASY AND WHY I DON’T GIVE A F**K WHAT YOU THINK

If I ever find the time, and the motivation, I am going to peruse the archives of this site and pull out all of the posts that have landed me in hot water with one conservative faction or another over the years.

It will be an interesting exercise for a couple of reasons; 1) I can reread all those commenters who swore they’d never visit this site again and feel just awful about that a second time; and 2) I will be able to track the descent of conservatism into a riot of paranoid conspiracies, rigid ideological litmus tests, unreasonable devotion to idiotic personalities, and catalog how conservatives have become a frothing, hate-filled, imprudent gaggle of screeching, populist harpies who reject reason and logic for a crass emotionalism.

Other than that, I see nothing wrong with the right today.

Now, am I being unfair to my brothers and sisters on the right?

Apostasy pieces are never about delivering your former comrades from the grip of dreadful error. They’re about showing off how much more enlightened you are, using your misspent youth as a prop for credibility. I’ve read apostate tell-alls that I thought were true, but I’ve never read one that made me think I’d like, or trust, the author if I met him.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell what loyalty demands of you. Whether to turn your klepto brother into the police, whether to make a play for your best friend’s girl after they break up—these are tough questions. But if your old ideological compatriots ever did you a favor, ever took you into their circles or into their confidence, ever gave you a damn cake on your birthday, then you owe it to them not to write the hit piece. You owe them. That’s a no-brainer.

First of all, I write what I write because I feel like writing it. Prior to writing an “apostasy piece,” rarely do I contemplate the consequences to my “standing” (such as it is/was) among conservatives, or how my diatribes will be received by the targets of my invective.

However, self-examination reveals that I probably should not get so personal in my criticisms, and that my juvenile name calling - while serving the purpose of allowing me to stretch my vocabulary and entertain myself - nevertheless impacts others in such a way that disqualifies my critique as mindless twaddle. If I were really interested in getting those who consider themselves “true conservatives” to embrace reason and logic, I would not write unreasonable tracts of spittle flecked tirades denouncing…spittle flecked tirades.

Except the effort to cajole, convince, or otherwise engage the minds of the true believers is something akin to pissing into a hurricane wind where one is likely to be splashed in the face no matter where the stream is aimed. It is impossible to reason with someone who believes Rush Limbaugh correctly ascertains the motives of Obama and the left when he spouts about the political opposition wanting to “destroy the country.” Not that their policies might have that result, but that its is their actual plan; to impoverish us so that we become dependent on government.

Limbaugh a couple of weeks ago:

It’s going to be a long, cold winter, ladies and gentlemen. “One Million Workers Could Lose Unemployment Benefits in January Unless Congress Extends Aid — More than 1 million people will run out of unemployment benefits in January unless Congress quickly extends federal emergency aid, a nonprofit group said Wednesday.” So the pressure being brought to bear — does anybody doubt that we’re going to extend unemployment benefits? I don’t. This is exactly the agenda. This is the point: Get as many people as possible depending on government. I’ll tell you, the more you extend unemployment benefits, the less — this is just human nature. The less people are going to look for work.

Gently pointing out that Rush is full of it doesn’t work. Trying to reasonably argue that Sarah Palin is a lightweight, intellectually lazy, and a fear mongering prevaricator gets you nowhere.

So why not chastise, berate, and attempt to rhetorically castrate those who reject anything reasonable you might have to say by referring to you as a “dupe,” or an “idiot,” or a RINO or a liberal?

Conor Friedersdorf - something of an apostate himself according to many true believers - has an interesting answer:

In her post, Ms. Rittelmeyer is reaction to Charles Johnson’s “break with the right,” as described on Little Green Footballs. I found it a weird piece for all the reasons that James Joyner mentions. The incoherence of the post is due to an underlying mistake in the way that Little Green Footballs, and the whole corner of the blogosphere where he operates, understand ideology and political argument: they regard it as a team enterprise, where orthodoxies of thought are to be enforced, positions are taken out of loyalty as often as conviction, and honest disagreement is tantamount to betrayal.

Though I’ve written against loyalty as it is sometimes understood in Washington DC — see here and here — I met some exceptional people during my time in that city, close friends to whom I am incredibly loyal. I imagine they know they can turn to me for help at any time in life, and count on me to cheer their successes and rue their failures. As I think about those people, who are different from one another in many ways, I am aware of one similarity. Despite the fact that I’ve often talked politics with many of them, and that we’ve been on the same side of certain arguments, none of them would dream of being offended were I to honestly disagree with them in print on some matter, or forcefully argue that they are mistaken on some question, even if we formerly agreed about it and I changed my mind.

Friedersdorf exists within a charmed circle indeed. In my case, I have discovered that most of my online friends are perfectly capable of throwing every bric-a-brac I toss toward them back at me - in spades - but that when all is said and done, most of us are still on speaking terms at the end of the argument. At bottom, we simply don’t understand each other - a fate that has befallen the major conservative factions who look across the divide and rather than seeing allies in a common cause, view their putative friends as obstacles to their goal of controlling the agenda/narrative/party.

I don’t think I’ve gotten any more or less reasonable over the years. But I have become more willing to dig in my heels at being pulled along when some of my fellow conservatives seek to hurl themselves over an ideological cliff. If I have changed, it’s recognizing that excessive ideology in politics, rather than illuminating or aggrandizing conservatism, forces a rigidity of thought and intransigency against reason that makes it easy to reject the logic of change.

When conservatives talk about “change” these days, what they are really promoting is more of the same, only believed with more conviction and said in a louder voice. The drive for “purity” is a reflection of their conviction that the reason conservatism is in disfavor is because their potential leaders and the Washington elites do not share their rock solid certainty in their own infallibility.

There is much wrong with many inside the beltway conservatives. I agree that they should be castigated for their hypocrisy; running as pious conservatives back home while playing fast and loose with conservative principles in DC. Such cynicism should be punished severely and I have no qualms about taking them to the woodshed for their sins.

But the world looks a little more complex to the “elites” than it does to most conservatives. In fact, many on the right reject complexity entirely, seeing it as just another excuse for a lack of adherence to principles among establishment conservatives, and others like Friedersdorf. It is their lack of fervency that is suspect, not necessarily any deviation from principle that riles the critics. That, and a slightly different interpretation of what “conservatism” is all about, convicts establishment righties of the crime of “not being conservative enough,” and thus a target of the true believers.

Not recognizing that this attitude is the gateway to permanent minority status is perhaps the primary beef I have with those who are so eager to throw most of the conservative establishment overboard. Sacrificing lock step ideology for victory at the polls is not a betrayal of principle but a pragmatic, and realistic assessment of how to throw Obamaism on the ash heap of history. That goal, however, is sacrificed on the altar of “purity” and fervid absolutism.

If my apostasy brands me as “disloyal,” so be it. If conservatives can’t take one of their own pointing out where this madness is heading, then there is little hope that President Obama’s leftist agenda can be slowed or halted.

And if that’s not the goal that we all want to achieve, what exactly do those who question my conservatism want?

By: Rick Moran at 10:33 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (37)

12/1/2009
CHARLES JOHNSON’S WORLD

If you haven’t seen it yet, you should go over to Little Green Footballs and read this J’accuse post by Charles Johnson where he briefly lists some of the reasons why he has now, officially “parted ways” with the right.

Irony abounds for me in this situation. The fact is, Johnson and I are in lockstep agreement when it comes to many of our criticisms of the right. We both despise the cotton candy conservatism of Beck, Limbaugh, and Coulter et. al. that is occasionally tinged with sniffs of bigotry. We both bemoan the paranoid conspiracies - birthers, and other theories about Obama - that have risen up to inject some of their sickness into mainstream conservatism.

We both see an anti-science, anti-intellectual undercurrent in some of the critiques of liberalism employed by the base, including an inexplicable denial of Darwinism, and a “the science is settled” argument toward global climate change (the science is wrong and the whole thing is a conspiracy). And we both agree that the anarcho-conservatism expressed by many on the right is unrealistic and dangerously wrong.

Therefore, having established my bona fides, I can say flat out that Charles Johnson, in his wildly exaggerated, hyperbolic, injudicious, ad hominem, unreasonable, and illogical attacks on the right, has abandoned any claim to prudent analysis and temperate understanding, and has instead, joined the ranks of those on the right and left who don’t deserve to be taken seriously by anyone with half a brain.

To wit: (”Why I Parted Ways with the Right:)

1. Support for fascists, both in America (see: Pat Buchanan, Robert Stacy McCain, etc.) and in Europe (see: Vlaams Belang, BNP, SIOE, Pat Buchanan, etc.)

Johnson’s use of the epithet “fascist” shows that he is ignorant of the history, the philosophy (such as it was), and the tenets of that odious ideology. He is as ignorant as the brain dead lefties who employed the smear against Bush and the moronic righties who use it to describe Obama.

Using the term immediately identifies one as an excessively ideological partisan. He condemns the entire right for the wayward beliefs of a few. There is hardly a mainstream conservative blog that has not skewered Buchanan at one time or another for his stupidity and bigotry. And the tenuous connections Johnson has sought to draw to the genuine article in Europe - neo-Fascists - is laughable. Six degrees of separation does not “connect” American conservatives to those putrid personalities and parties in Europe except in the overactive, fevered, and unbalanced imagination of Johnson.

2. Support for bigotry, hatred, and white supremacism (see: Pat Buchanan, Ann Coulter, Robert Stacy McCain, Lew Rockwell, etc.)

If you are going to accuse someone of “hatred” or “white supremacism,” I suggest you take proving those charges very seriously. Johnson doesn’t and never has. In the case of McCain, he has quoted extensively from some of McCain’s postings around the internet through the years. The problem is that many of those entries that he so proudly features were not left by McCain, and many of the quotes he uses to crucify RSM are not even his.

McCain is quirky. He can be insufferable. His constant self promotion can be wearing. But I have met and come to know this man and I can state categorically that there isn’t a racist bone in his body and anyone who says otherwise doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Not recognizing that McCain was targeted by professional smear merchants only shows Johnson’s unreasoning hatred of McCain to be the product of rank emotionalism and not rational analysis.

(McCain can, and has, defended himself. I don’t agree with some of his published writings, but I have an idea of how his mind works. It is an expansive, sometimes brilliant instrument that plays with concepts and ideas as a child plays with blocks. Seizing upon out of context ramblings by McCain is a cottage industry for some of his detractors and unfortunately, RSM is also afflicted with a naivete about how some of what he writes is perceived. He actually believes his honesty and perspicacity should be rewarded. Pity it isn’t.)

3. Support for throwing women back into the Dark Ages, and general religious fanaticism (see: Operation Rescue, anti-abortion groups, James Dobson, Pat Robertson, Tony Perkins, the entire religious right, etc.)

The numbers of conservatives who Johnson is talking about could hold a convention in a Marriott conference room. The mainstream right may be devout, but I hardly think the exaggerated term “fanaticism” applies to all but a very small percentage. And the charge that the religious right supports “throwing women back into the Dark Ages” does not deserve acknowledgment except that it reveals Johnson’s overweening, ideological partisanship. No rational critic would make such a charge. An irrational mountebank would.

4. Support for anti-science bad craziness (see: creationism, climate change denialism, Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, James Inhofe, etc.)

Ooooh - “anti-science bad craziness?” Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the very deep thoughts of Charles Johnson.

5. Support for homophobic bigotry (see: Sarah Palin, Dobson, the entire religious right, etc.)

Is there really “support” for “homophobic bigotry” among mainstream conservatives? There is support for DOMA. There is support for an anti-gay marriage amendment. There is opposition to including gays as victims in current hate crime legislation. As I have laid out, while there is a conservative case to be made for gay marriage, there is a secular conservative case to be made against it. There are also perfectly legitimate legal arguments to be made against any hate crime statute.

At issue is whether a pressure lobby can dictate the parameters of what constitutes “bigotry.” The GLBT lobby constantly injects politics into this question, screaming “Bigot!” at anyone who fails to support their agenda. I happen to support equal rights for gays but denounce their politicization of gay marriage and their attempts to circumvent the will of the people by calling on the courts to adjudicate what is, at bottom, a political question.

Are there homophobes and bigots on the right? Yes there are. But Johnson, as he does constantly throughout his Zola-esque rant, inflates their numbers to justify his own, narrow, rigid, ideological reasons for abandoning his former allies.

6. Support for anti-government lunacy (see: tea parties, militias, Fox News, Glenn Beck, etc.)

Here, I have to agree with Johnson that there is a very large plurality of conservatives who not only distrust government, but despise it as well, and would like nothing better than to roll back both the New Deal and the Great Society to achieve “limited” national government.

(I do not include committed Federalists in this group who are much more serious minded in their approach to government and recognize many of its modern responsibilities.)

This anarcho-conservatism, where some kind of 19th century government is envisioned as the optimal solution to our problems, is a throwback to pre-Buckley days. It is unthinking, illogical, and oblivious to how the world has changed since the heyday of Robert Taft. Ultimately, it is a fearful kind of conservatism that can’t recognize or deal with change and seeks the safety of an idealized past.

But Johnson falls off the rails by lumping the “tea partyers” in with the anti-government zealots. Certainly, some in the Tea Party movement fit the description. But having observed several of their events, I was surprised at the restraint showed by most marchers, their very ordinariness giving weight to their protests. As an echo of the anti-war movement, I would say there are many telling parallels as far as the average American who felt strongly enough to commit to a cause.

7. Support for conspiracy theories and hate speech (see: Alex Jones, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Birthers, creationists, climate deniers, etc.)

Yes, in addition to the Birthers, there’s the “Obama is a Moooslim” crap, and “Obama wants to impoverish us all so that we become dependent on government” stupidity. But again, prove to me that this kind of thinking represents a majority of conservatives who are spouting this nonsense and I will gladly join in the cussing.

8. A right-wing blogosphere that is almost universally dominated by raging hate speech (see: Hot Air, Free Republic, Ace of Spades, etc.)

“Almost universally?” Heh - that’s something a freshman in high school might use in an essay. It’s either “universal” or not. Sorry Charles, back to English composition 101 for you.

As for the rest - not even worth commenting on. Simple sophistry.

9. Anti-Islamic bigotry that goes far beyond simply criticizing radical Islam, into support for fascism, violence, and genocide (see: Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer, etc.)

This is something of which Johnson knows a lot about. I stopped visiting his site 4 years ago because of the nauseating, anti-Muslim bigotry spewing forth in his comments - cataloged many times by those on the left who are currently making him out to be some kind of honest conservative. And Johnson was their greatest enabler, if not inventing, then popularizing the denigrating mongram R.O.P. (Religion of Peace) to describe Islam.

How many pictures of Palestinian kids dressed in fatigues and armed with toy guns did Johnson publish, usually with the caption “ROP Child Abuse?” How many 7th century practices of Islam did Johnson mock on his website? How many times did he make fun of women dressed in the chador?

All of this enabled his legions of “Lizardoids,” many of whom felt no compunction in airing their out and out bigotry of Muslims. For Johnson to use this as a reason for “parting ways” with the right is the height of hypocrisy.

10. Hatred for President Obama that goes far beyond simply criticizing his policies, into racism, hate speech, and bizarre conspiracy theories (see: witch doctor pictures, tea parties, Birthers, Michelle Malkin, Fox News, World Net Daily, Newsmax, and every other right wing source)

How can you take anyone seriously who uses the phrase “every other right wing source” to describe “hatred” of President Obama among all conservatives? Kind of a broad brush you’re using there Charles. Would the Volohk Conspiracy be a hate site? The Belmont Club? Outside the Beltway? Betsy’s Page? Q & O? I could keep going down my favorites page and add a couple of dozen of the larger blogs who offer reasoned analysis, and, if not always respectful, certainly rational critiques of the Obama administration.

And I certainly hope you don’t cast you lot with liberals. The fact that the leftysphere mirrors the right in the number of blogs who express virulent, unreasoning hatred of their political opponents would put you in the awkward position of going from the frying pan into the fire.

As a final thought, I would ask how adult is it to throw a tantrum in public in order to bask in the approbation of your former opponents? I have no reason to question Johnson’s sincerity, just his emotional maturity. Why make an announcement at all except to garner attention like some two year old who throws himself on the floor when he doesn’t get ice cream for dessert? Why not allow your opinions to shine through during the normal course of your writing rather than playing the drama queen and inflicting your exaggerated, insipid ill-reasoned diatribe on the rest of us?

Only Johnson can answer that. And since it is evident that he has neither the temperament, or intellect to engage in any kind of introspective analysis that would reveal his reasons to his own conscience, we’ll probably never know.

By: Rick Moran at 10:45 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (37)

11/29/2009
THE GRAHAM-DeMINT AXIS OF THE GOP

I would hesitate to go so far as to say that the argument taking place in South Carolina by partisans for Lindsey Graham and Jim DeMint is a microcosm of the debate between “moderates” and conservatives across the country. In the first place, someone with a lifetime rating of 90 from the ACU (Graham) can by no means be considered a “moderate” anything. Secondly, Graham’s difficulties have been heightened by his own potty mouth trashing of conservatives who disagree with him. Calling someone a “bigot” because they want tighter border security is not the way to win friends and influence conservatives.

Rather, the debate is over whether Republicans should assist the Democrats in governing the country. This is the real issue, at least in South Carolina, where Lindsey Graham has demonstrated a desire to reach across the aisle to work with Democrats on key issues like cap and trade and the Sotomayer nomination. In short, the difference is in what we used to call the “temperament” of the legislator. And there are many who believe a legislator cannot hold to any principles if they parlay with the enemy.

And DeMint? Anyone who claims allegiance to a political party and makes a statement that he would rather have only 30 true believing GOP senators as opposed to a majority who held varied positions on some issues needs to have an intervention by some adult, and be sent away where he can weave baskets until he comes to his senses. The prescription on the bottle of pills on which he has overdosed reads: “Take two every day and destroy the Republican party.” His idea is that rock solid stupid.

From a New York Times article on the South Carolina situation:

Their grievance list was long: it cited the senator for calling opponents of immigration law change “bigots,” holding the Republican Party “hostage” by participating in bipartisan maneuvers, voting for the Wall Street bailout and tarnishing the ideals of freedom.

It even criticized Mr. Graham, a Republican and the state’s senior senator, as having “stated on many occasions that his primary concern is to ‘be relevant.’ ”

The party had no such criticism for the other senator from South Carolina, Jim DeMint.

In fact, Mr. DeMint, a Republican in his first term, is the leader of a movement to pull the party in the opposite direction from Mr. Graham’s conciliatory approach. The political action committee he founded, called the Senate Conservatives Fund, backs only candidates who are rock-solid conservatives, and adherents to his views have led the efforts to censure Mr. Graham.

The two senators say they are friends whose differences are exaggerated by the news media, and Mr. DeMint has not personally criticized Mr. Graham or called for his censure.

But their contrasting strategies have brought home to South Carolina the struggle over the future of the Republican Party and have put them on opposite sides of important Senate primaries in states like Florida, where Mr. DeMint supports a vocal conservative, Marco Rubio, and Mr. Graham supports Gov. Charlie Crist.

In California, Mr. DeMint supports Chuck DeVore, in defiance of the national party leadership and Mr. Graham, who said he would campaign for Carly Fiorina.

Here in South Carolina, Mr. Graham’s vote to confirm Justice Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, among other positions, has cost him the support of many conservatives, as have his comments that voters want politicians to reach across the aisle and that Republicans need to do a better job of attracting younger voters and minorities.

I have taken pains in the past to point out that DeMint’s idea of conservatism and someone who lives in the northeast (where only 6% of the population have a favorable view of the GOP) may differ wildly - ON THE ISSUES. The fact that so many conservatives confuse “issues” with “principles” shouldn’t surprise anyone considering they get most of their information from people like Rush Limbaugh who make the exact same mistake. A northeastern conservative can hold to the exact same principles as a southern conservative but differ in the ideological lens through which they view the world. Why this makes a northeastern conservative suspect goes to the heart of the debate in the party today.

Issues and principles are not the same, have never been the same, and will never be the same. And someone like Graham who gets a 90% lifetime conservative rating and is seen as a “moderate” by many conservatives proves my point spectacularly. In this case, DeMint conservatives are confusing temperament with principles. Just as many on the right believe that criticizing their idols like Palin, Limbaugh, and other cotton candy conservatives makes someone, somehow, less beholden to conservative principles than they. Principles be damned - it’s whether you are sufficiently hateful toward the opposition that is the yardstick where someone’s conservative bona fides are measured. If conservatism was a philosophy today instead of a rigid, ideological religion, such nonsense would be laughed out of the room.

Madness.

I disagreed with Graham on Sotomayer, cap and trade, and the judges compromise. And I resented his intimations that he held a superior moral position on immigration reform - something that smacked of arrogance even if he was pandering to Hispanics by playing it that way. But Graham has been a reliable conservative vote on so many other issues, one wonders why his apostasy in these few cases would condemn him to be cast into the outer darkness by conservatives. It only proves that the DeMint notion of a party in lockstep and a prisoner of its own rigid ideology, will probably dominate the landscape in 2010.

At what cost? Let’s be frank and acknowledge that the DeMint idea of conservatism is much more ideological than pragmatic, more beholden to the holy writ of purity than reason and logic, and requires a plethora of litmus tests on issues to join his scowling band (ideologues have no sense of humor at all). Couple that with the belief that saying anything halfway nice about the president or the political opposition disqualifies one from membership and you have the perfect recipe for a permanent, minority party.

Perhaps this has to happen in order for a revival to take place. Perhaps the DeMints of the party have to be beaten so badly that they are once and for all, totally discredited in the eyes of conservatives in the rest of the country. Only then can a reasonable, pragmatic conservatism emerge that acknowledges adherence to DeMint principles, but lowers the ideological temperature to be more inclusive.

It may very well be that DeMint’s southern fried conservatism will do very well in 2010. Certainly the Democrats are helping out a ton there. But beyond that, the future is clouded by notion that events may very well play more into the Democrat’s hands in 2012 and whatever gains made at the polls in the Mid-Term elections would be washed away.

America is not an ideological country. And believing the route to majority status can be achieved by being more wild eyed and rigid than the opposition is a losing proposition. I’m not sure that Graham’s approach is 100% the way to victory. But it’s a damn sight closer to what’s needed than where DeMint wants to take the party.

Destination DeMint: Over a cliff.

By: Rick Moran at 11:03 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (12)

10/22/2009
THE PHILISTINES AMONG US

I am in something of a “Lamenting Mood” lately, as I have examined health care reform from the standpoint that it could be better, global warming from the standpoint that it should be less political, and my recent series on intellectual conservatism from the standpoint that it should be, well, more intellectual.

Now comes a truly excellent lament from the pen of Chilton Williamson, first appearing in a 2006 issue of The American Conservative, available today on their website. He writes that we Americans are a bunch of “Philistines” as far as our intellectual life is concerned because we have lost our independence of thought and have given in to a kind of “ideological pragmatism” that is shallow and dishonest.

What makes this article both brilliant and prescient is that he describes to a “T” modern day public intellectuals and how being a slave to conformist thought may make one popular and wealthy, but hardly serves the great cause of “Truth:”

There never was a time in all of history when the reward for propagating one opinion was not greater than that bestowed for disseminating its opposite, when currying favor did not pay off better than ignoring or defying it, when catering to majority taste and sentiment failed to get you further than appealing to minority and private sensibilities, when prostrating yourself before the Great Lie was not, in the worldly sense, a far better bet than standing up for Truth—an act which, in previous times as now, could be positively fatal. That is how the world was, is, and ever shall be.

His diagnosis will be very recognizable to those who read this site, and others like it, where the writer makes an effort to eschew popular themes and attempt - however pitifully in my case - to be honest with oneself regarding their own beliefs and thoughts:

The new, bantam-grade eggheads have been effectively conditioned to reject both the message and the messenger whenever and wherever they fail to match exactly with every received expectation and preconception. For this reason, the pressures exerted upon serious men and women of intellect to conform to the demands made upon them are simply terrific.

Partisans in the so-called Culture War have been insisting for a quarter-century now that every intellectual choose his side, declare himself for Progress or Reaction, Enlightenment or Ignorance, Humanity or Inhumanity, Superstition or Religion, the Glorious Future or the Benighted Past, Freedom or Slavery. In this war, neutrality on the part of any member of the intellectual class has become intolerable. What is more, a general acceptance of the hoary motto of the Left—“Everything is political!”—has resulted in the translation of the cultural conflict into partisan political warfare, setting Democrat against Republican, Blue State against Red State, no matter that the margin of disagreement between them is often very slight, the opposing sides having more in common than not owing to shared fundamental principles underlying the modern project. Society is riven by apocalyptic civil war (so the argument runs), the Forces for Good being pitted once and for all against the Forces of Evil. And so, quaint old rules regulating public discourse in the high bourgeois era, and still quainter standards of thought, logic, knowledge, and truth developed from classical times, are not irrelevant only, they are positively subversive of the war effort.

I don’t think I’ve ever read more insightful thoughts on our political discourse - where objective “truth” is marginalized and, “subversive” to the effort to tear down, demonize, and grind to powder the other side.

Think Coulter. Or Limbaugh. Or Olbermann? Or any of the pop conservatives, or jelly bean liberals who spout exactly what their audience expects - exactly what they want to hear. No deviation is possible without a fall from grace. No independent thinking allowed lest it contaminate the masses they reach and threaten their very livelihood.

Could Obermann get away with saying anything nice at all about the right? Would Beck remain as popular if he began to point out areas of agreement with Obama? Occasional forays into this kind of apostasy would probably be tolerated, but not after stern warnings from the Keepers of the True Faith on the internet and out in Punditland.

So what are the consequences to those who refuse the inducements offered by adherence to dishonesty?

The modern intellectual is encouraged to abandon and dishonor his true metier by temptations of the negative as well as of the positive sort. Either way, they are formidable inducements. On the one hand, there is the nearly certain prospect that the determination to tell the truth as he sees it, always and everywhere, will lose him close and important friends, alienate powerful people, deprive him of influence, put a luxurious and even, perhaps, comfortable life beyond his means, and end by making him a pariah among his fellow men.

For this, think Peggy Noonan, David Brooks, David Frum, and a host of others who make an effort to write honestly about conservatism, about politics and culture - about the world as they see it, regardless of whether their thinking measures up to what everyone expects. While all of the above make a fairly good living, just think of the riches and influence that would be theirs if they were to go the Coulter, or Hannity route? As it is, these conservatives are “pariahs” among many of their fellows, and denied a place of influence at the table.

But suppose they were to abandon any claim to honesty and begin to pander?

On the other, there is the only somewhat less certain chance that a readiness to tell the truth as the world sees it —or wants it seen—will win him fortune, fame, praise, intimacy with the rich and powerful, and, very likely, a degree of power itself. Never have the rewards inherent in the intellectual life loomed so stupendously; never has the failure to acquire them appeared so disappointing and ignominious. Why, in a world that so frankly and shamelessly believes in nothing beyond success, should the man of intellect squander his life in defense of that something in which no one but ignoramuses and hypocrites professes to believe and that has only scorn, contempt, impotence, and relative poverty to offer as reward?

Is it right to accuse cotton candy conservatives like Hannity, or helium liberals like Olbermann of selling out? Damn straight. If they have not, then why do they never seem to deviate from the ideological “truth” espoused by those who are making them rich? Both those gentlemen have reached the apex of the ideological ziggurat and are balanced precariously at the top, knowing that deviation from the “norm” is akin to professional suicide.

This is also part of the phenomenon of having to constantly outdo oneself in outrageous statements and behavior almost on a daily basis in order to maintain one’s position at the top of the pyramid; more hate, more nastiness, more strawmen arguments, more hyperbole is necessary to keep the rabid, slavering “Philistines” who tune in to hear exactly what they want to hear from going elsewhere for their ideological reinforcement.

Finally, Williamson laments the lot of those who seek “Truth and Beauty” instead of wallowing in pseudo-intellectualism:

The pseudo-intellectual, the pandering entertainer passing himself off as an artist, like the rich man gets his reward on earth. We need not concern ourselves here with him. Far more dangerous than temptation to the man of genuine intellect is the threat of demoralization the modern world offers him. Though there is of course no way of knowing, it seems unlikely that even the staunchest and most loyal devotee of Truth and Beauty is utterly impervious to the danger, which implies a further temptation of its own: the fatal despair that produces a sense of intellectual, artistic, and moral failure, the suspicion that one has accomplished nothing, that one has thrown one’s life away and is thereby guilty of mortal sin. The temptation is as natural as it is tragical. It must be resisted, and there is one way, and only one, to do it. That is for the conscientious intellectual to make a serious examination, not of himself alone, but of the nature and meaning of the pursuit to which he has been called.

Been there, done that, although while I have made it plain that the “examined life” is a goal worth pursuing, the thought of exploring the “nature and meaning” of my writing has escaped me. I may be a navel gazer but I stop short of looking for the lint.

I see some of me in this essay, but let me hasten to reiterate that I do not see myself as an intellectual. Williamson solves that dilemma for me by referring to “intellectual workers” who toil in the field of ideas. That’s close enough to what my “calling” may be that I’ll accept that as an identifier.

As luck (or Karma) would have it, Conor Freidersdorf writes along a similar vein here. He bemoans the state of affairs in our commentariat where thoughtfulness is seen as newsworthy, as he comments on a NY Observer article describing a forum where Ross Douthat experienced, according to the reporter, an “uncomfortable moment” when asked a difficult question:

I mean, really? That’s your lead? A guy on a panel was “uncomfortable” for “a moment”? Call Drudge and cue the siren! What kind of weird place have we reached when it’s news that a guy, being peppered with the most difficult questions a roomful of smart people can muster, once during a session displays a moment of discomfort? I’ll tell you what kind. We’ve reached a place where a stunning number of folks you see commenting on television or other public venues care so little about the substance of what they’re saying that even when they and everyone else knows their words are utter idiocy, they still refrain from displaying actual discomfort, because to them it’s all a game, unconnected to any sense that words have consequences, or that integrity is partly a matter of challenging one’s own own ideas out of a lingering sense that commenting on public affairs confers some responsibility, and that it is shameful to frivolously and lightly proffer arguments that one isn’t able to defend.

Only a society that long ago reached that place has gossip sheets writing excited leads about a polished speaker feeling a moment of discomfort when challenged with a difficult question, one that is causing him intellectual ferment. Why look, honey, that man is grappling with his thoughts! Let’s all laugh at his quaint display of intellectual honesty! This is particularly noteworthy because, as The Observer makes clear, after that shocking moment of discomfort, Mr. Douthat gathered his thoughts and cogently addressed the subject at hand.

A society that values intellectual honesty, thoughtfulness, independence, and rigorous self examination would not reward the Coulter’s, the Olbermann’s, the Hannity’s, or the Kos’s by setting them up as the ideal of intellectual attainment to be feted as legitimate doyens of our politics and culture. But that is the world as we find it, and we must embrace it or, as Williamson suggests, offend the sensibilities of the Philistines and toil in the outer darkness, always on the fringe, a stranger in a strange land.

Glad I don’t have to make the choice. The world will not rise or fall by what I write here. I only have to please myself, trying to be true to my beliefs as much as my character and humanity will allow.

Sure would nice to be popular, though…

By: Rick Moran at 9:08 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (12)

10/7/2009
INTELLECTUAL CONSERVATISM ISN’T DEAD: CHANNEL YOUR INNER ELDER

This is the third in a series of 5 articles on the state of intellectual conservatism. Part I can be found here. Part II.

Few speechwriters of the modern era can match the record of Peggy Noonan when it comes to memorable presidential addresses. Teddy Sorenson was of a different era but managed several significant, and remembered speeches for JFK, including Kennedy’s inaugural address which is often considered one of the best. Ray Price and Pat Buchanan added a combative style to presidential addresses (Price was especially good at sticking the knife in). James Fallows penned some good speeches for Carter that were delivered atrociously.

But Noonan was lucky enough to work with a president who was not only a dynamite speaker, but a wordsmith in his own right. Her best efforts with Reagan were collaborative, as Noonan would shoot the Gipper a draft, who would return it with numerous notations and changes. She had a great sense of Reagan’s speaking cadence which was evident in one of the best speeches of the 20th century; Reagan’s D-Day address to the “Boys of Point du Hoc.” Rarely has the moment so gloriously reflected the words uttered by an American president.

But Noonan the political analyst? Most conservatives have dismissed her columns on conservatism as elitist, and not all that conservative to begin with. She has said nice things about Obama. She has said bad things about movement heroes like Rush Limbaugh. She has criticized the inchoate rage of the extreme right.

In short, she has been reasonable, pragmatic, desirous of engaging the opposition, and doesn’t see the president with horns and a tail.

Heresy, that.

Yes, Peggy Noonan is an elitist. Yes, she has misread the pull/push relationship between populists and reformers, ascribing opposition to her brand of conservatism as a nascent anti-intellectualism. She is befuddled about why the base hates her so, considering the fact that she was working for the conservative cause while most of her detractors were still in books, or not even born. This makes her somewhat pathetic in my opinion. She hasn’t much of a clue about the real conversation that is going on right now and this is reflected in her writings.

She is clueless about engaging on the internet. Her website is a simple repository for her numerous articles. She famously devoted an entire column following one of her more clueless articles, bemoaning the loss of civility in internet comments. Why anyone would be surprised in this day and age about the viciousness of anonymous posters is indicative of a kind of quaint, child like innocence about the world that is both attractive and gobsmackingly dense.

But she is still a great writer. And she usually has something to say that is somewhat relevant, although it is usually a hit or miss proposition.

Here’s a definite “miss”
as she comments about the loss of William Safire:

Anyway, everyone there knew we’d suddenly lost one of the great ones, the Elders, and there is lately a sense of a changing of the guard.
***

Who are the Elders? They set the standards. They hand down the lore. They’re the oldest and wisest. By proceeding through the world each day with dignity and humanity, they show the young what it is that should be emulated. They’re the tribal chieftains. This role has probably existed since caveman days, because people need guidance and encouragement, they need to be heartened by examples of endurance. They need to be inspired.

We are in a generational shift in the media, and new Elders are rising. They’re running the networks and newspapers, they own the Web sites, they anchor the shows. What is their job?

It’s to do what the Elders have always done, but now more than ever.

You know the current media environment. You think I’m about to say, “Boy, what’s said on cable, radio and the Internet now is really harmful and dangerous.” And you’re right, and it is. Some of the ranters don’t have the faintest idea where the line is. “They keep moving the little sucker,” said the William Hurt character, the clueless and unstoppable anchorman, in “Broadcast News.” They’ve been moving the little sucker for 20 years. But it’s getting worse, and those who warn of danger are right.

This is nonsense, obviously coming from someone who is not only clueless about the “generational shift” in the media but its true significance as well. New “elders” aren’t being created. There are no more elders, or youngers, or tweeners. Such designations are irrelevant in a media landscape with literally thousands of outlets, and many thousands of writers who are just as qualified, just as smart, just as talented as Noonan herself or any other “elder” who ever lived, scratching out their opinions, paid and unpaid.

The “elders of which she writes came of age when the Saturday Evening Post was still a viable publication; when Life, Look, and Time Magazine sold tens of millions of copies; when there were perhaps a half dozen newspapers where “elders” sat on high and pontificated to the rest of us; and where there were only three gigantic TV networks.

This is not to say that excellent writing and thinking doesn’t rise to the top of the ziggurat and is recognized, or that there aren’t any writers with influence. But compared to Noonan’s “elders” the effect of today’s media stars is extremely limited. The fact that no one publication can attract millions of Americans to read what they put out is a direct cause of why print media is dying. Even syndicated columnists like Noonan, Will, Krauthammer, Samuelson, or Dowd can only reach a fraction of the readers of those who came before them.

But does Noonan have a point?

A few days ago, I was sent a link to a screed by MSNBC’s left-wing anchorman Ed Schultz, in which he explained opposition to the president’s health-care reform. “The Republicans lie. They want to see you dead. They’d rather make money off your dead corpse. They kind of like it when that woman has cancer and they don’t have anything for us.” Next, a link to the syndicated show of right-wing radio talker Alex Jones, on the subject of the U.S. military, whose security efforts at the G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh show them to be agents and lackeys of the New World Order. “They are complete enemies of America. . . . Our military’s been taken over. . . . This is the end of our country.” Later, “They’d love to kill 10,000 Americans,” and, “The republic is falling right now.”

This, increasingly, is the sound of our political conversation.

It is not new to call this kind of thing destructive, though it is. It is a daily agitating barrage that coarsens and inflames. It tears the national fabric. But it could wind up doing worse than that.

Of course she’s right. It is a fact that in order to stand out in this fractured, media multi-verse, the louder and angrier you are, the more you resonate on an emotional level with the audience.

Noonan believes this to be “dangerous.” I’m not sure of that at all. It may be sad. It may be pathetic that Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck actually enjoy the respect and admiration of so many - those who think that because they “sound” like they are making sense or they “feel” that what they say is true is indicative of wisdom and logic. An entire subculture of conservatives have grown up believing that strawman arguments, hysterical exaggeration regarding one’s opponents, fear mongering, shallowness, and even hate is a substitute for reason, for thinking.

How can anyone possibly mistake this typical rant from Limbaugh for reasoned, rational, discourse?

The people that run our country now have a much closer proximity and they’re much closer to the world’s tyrants and dictators than they are closer to the people who founded the country. This is not accidental. They have chosen it. This is the ideology that they have chosen. This is what’s best for them. And you’re going to learn this if you stay focused and stay interested and keep learning as you grow older, you’re going to learn this. You’re gonna learn that they’re not innocent idiots. They are dangerous, devious central planners who have designs on everybody’s liberty and freedom. That’s what matters most to them because that’s where they derive their power.

I have to say it because Limbaugh either believes this, or knows his audience too well; he is saying all of this about our fellow Americans; that they are “closer to tyrants” than Thomas Jefferson; that they are “dangerous, devious central planners who have designs on everybody’s liberty and freedom” - as if their motives were to enslave us.

This kind of rant hits all the emotional buttons of Limbaugh’s listeners while eschewing logic and promoting fear. Nearly 20 million people listen to this crap every day and nod their heads in agreement, thinking how “true” this sounds” and how it feels like an intelligent analysis of liberalism.

Now, a visit to just about any liberal website will reveal similar things said about conservatives and conservatism. But the point made by many on the left - that Limbaugh is considered so mainstream and respected that even political leaders cower in fear of his influence with the base - is well taken. When some pissant lefty blog, or the equally invisible Olbermann/Maddow/Schultz trio at MSNBC (which is the nexus of lefty kookery) spout off about conservatives, you don’t find too many Democratic Congressman imitating them (although Alan Grayson sure tries hard, doesn’t he?).

But hey! Beck got Vann Jones fired and Rush arms his dittoheads with talking points that they can take into internet forums and chat rooms to do battle against evil. Surely there is some good that comes out of this, isn’t there?

There are those who have been telling me that conservatism needs these populizers to excite the troops and motivate them to achieve political victory. What kind of “victory” is it worth to lose your mind to gain a majority?

And that, dear readers is the bottom line. This is why it is imperative that intellectual conservatism - or at least a reasonable, hard headed, tough minded approach to political combat - is so far superior to the Limbaugh/Beck/Savage school of slash and burn, take no prisoners conservatism that dominates today.

Public intellectuals like Richard Posner, Yuval Levin, and other, younger thinkers like Conor Friedersdorf and Reihan Salam - whose critiques of liberalism are every bit as devastating as anything Limbaugh et al can conjure up - are whispering in a typhoon of irrationality and bombast. While it may be true as Richard Viguerie and Steven Allen point out in an Examiner op-ed today that conservative intellectuals (”elites” Viguerie calls them) in the past never really enjoyed much cache with movement conservatives, the fact is they were always there to add depth and legitimacy to the national political conversation.

Would that it were so today.

By: Rick Moran at 10:33 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (17)

10/5/2009
INTELLECTUAL CONSERVATISM ISN’T DEAD: IT’S RESTING

No less than 5 recent articles (and a spirited debate between two very smart conservatives in David Frum and David Horowitz) have taken on the question regarding the demise of intellectual conservatism and the rise of movement or “populist” conservatives.

The intellectuals go under several names, depending on which side of the divide you sit. They are “reformers,” or RINO’s, or “Elders,” or “squishes.” And to varying degrees, they have either died off, disappeared, or been marginalized by the populists.

Or not.

With such a huge divide between the two camps in even trying to define conservatism, much less agree on what the public face of conservatism should look like, it is apparent that there will not be a meeting of the minds anytime soon. Nor will the two sides be pooling their intellectual capital to fight the liberals on the battlefield of ideas where it would do the most good, rather than in the arena of soundbites and bitter, exaggerated denunciations that only makes the right look like angry kooks or worse.

I will examine each of these articles and critique them, beginning from the premise that the intellectual right is not dead, but made quiescent by the surge of the populists and their ability to dominate the discussion through the sheer brutality of their critiques which drown out the far more reasonable, and reality based analyses of - what should they be called? I guess “reformists” is as good as any moniker although it doesn’t exactly speak to the critique of movement conservatives whose whole idea of reform seems to be kicking the reformists in the teeth.

Let’s start today with an excellent defense of Glenn Beck and the populists tactics by David Horowitz, who took part in an informal “Symposium” at FrontPage.com:

There are two issues here. One is a remarkable conservative outburst against the broadcaster Glenn Beck which includes you, Mark Levin and Pete Wehner among others, and which collectively wishes for his early self-destruction. The message from the three of you is that for the good of the conservative cause he should be silent — and the sooner the better. Wehner expresses the judgment I detect in all three of your blasts in this sentence: “The role Glenn Beck is playing is harmful in its totality.”

More than anything else, it is this is that I am reacting to. I think this attitude is wrongheaded, absurd, destructive to the conservative cause and a blatant contradiction of the “big tent” philosophy which you otherwise support.

[...]

Glenn Beck is daily providing a school for millions of Americans in the nature and agendas and networks of the left – something that your fine books do not do, and Mark Levin’s fine books do not do, and Pete Wehner’s volumes of blogs and speeches and position papers – all admirable in my estimation, also do not do. How are conservatives going to meet the challenge of the left if they don’t understand what it is, how it operates and what it intends? And who else is giving courses in this subject at the moment?

Now I have to confess my own vested interest in this. Because the fact is that I have been attempting to do this from a much smaller platform than Beck’s for many years. Five years ago I put an encyclopedia of the left on the web called Discover the Networks. It details the chief groups, individuals and funders of the left and maps their agendas and networks. Since I put it up five years ago, 20 million people have visited the site, many of whom have written articles and even books from its information. So far as I can tell, this site has never been mentioned by you or Wehner or Mark Levin or National Review or the Weekly Standard or the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal. But it has been read by and profoundly influenced the producers and anchors at Fox News. Among these no one has used it so systematically and relentlessly and to such great effect as Glenn Beck.

Horowitz gives David Frum what has become the standard attack on moderates and intellectual conservatives:

It seems to me you are suffering from a kind of political Stockholm syndrome. You inhabit a mental universe shaped by media like Newsweek and the New York Review of Books, in which you are a hostage of the Left. As a result you’ve absorbed some of their attitudes, and look at Palin and other non-U conservatives through their eyes, instead of your own.

Spoken like a true believer. Of this argument, I will say this; Hogwash!

Horowitz presupposes that all news media is biased and that only he and his band of intellectual dilettantes can see it. That notion, by itself, is ignorant. It rejects the idea of professionalism of any kind in the media, while insulting the intelligence of the American people who, sheeplike, are led to feed at the liberal trough without a clue that they are being “indoctrinated.”

I prefer to take my biases one reporter/writer at a time, thank you. There are good, solid, objective (as possible) correspondents and then there are biased ones - both liberal and conservative. To lump them all into a liberal universe is ridiculous - as is the notion the only good source of news is Fox or some other conservative outlet. It seems to me that people who accuse me of being held “hostage” by a liberal media are themselves in thrall to a one note, equally biased media where they get most of their information from Fox News and ranting talk show hosts.

Come back and see me when you are able to discuss an issue from all angles, thus proving to me that you have taken the time to truly understand the subtleties and nuances - the clash of interests and ideology. It is my belief that unless you can argue both sides of an issue effectively, you don’t know it and should keep reading. Those who see only black and white, good or evil, suffer from one dimensional thinking - a disease far too prevalent among Horowitz and those he is defending.

I am not an intellectual - obviously. But I think it important to rigorously examine both your own biases and predilections as well as your opponents before coming to any conclusions. Any other approach is shallow sophistry, knee jerk emotionalism which has become the hallmark of the Glenn Becks, Rush Limbaughs, and Sean Hannity’s of the right.

David Frum says something important about this that Horowitz doesn’t address:

It is true that I have criticized some famous conservative talkers like Rush Limbaugh and now Glenn Beck, just as I have previously criticized right-wing opponents of the war on terror like Pat Buchanan and Lew Rockwell. But my “crusade” as David Horowitz calls is not a crusade to criticize. It is a crusade to repair and modernize a very troubled conservative movement.

I agree with David’s implied point that a thriving conservative movement needs a variety of talents: politicians and academics, thinkers and activists, intellectuals and popularizers.

Both have their appropriate roles. But it seems to me that latterly the conservative intellectuals have not properly fulfilled theirs.

And the result is that the conservative intellectual movement has become subservient to the political entertainment complex – with seriously negative consequences for conservative political success. It’s very sobering to compare how much conservatives got done in the 12 years before the creation of Fox News in 1996 with how little they have achieved in the 13 years since. And the problem has only intensified since the election of 2008, with the conservative entertainment complex helping to trap conservatives in a cycle of shrillness, rage, and paranoia that radically off-putting to the centrist voters who will choose the next president and Congress.

We are still a center-right country - but with the emphasis on “center.” People may be of a mind to reject Obamacare but are in no mood to embrace the extremely ideological conservatism that posits the left as minions of Satan and that anything Obama does is not only wrong, but inimical to freedom. It justifies opposing him and the left using the most outrageously exaggerated rhetoric that, if you really believe it, marks you as a paranoid, or more often, uninformed and illogical.

It’s not just a question of “manners,” although keeping debate within the boundaries of respect for others is necessary in a democracy. It is a question of detaching rank emotionalism from reason; it’s rejecting argument by demonization and substituting logic; it’s not employing paranoid exaggeration when realistic descriptions of what the president and the left are trying to do is easily done.

In each case, the former marks one as an unthinking, shrill, unbalanced ideologue who think Americans must be frightened into agreeing with them; the latter, someone who believes that Americans are persuadable without the histrionics employed by cotton candy conservatives on talk radio and elsewhere.

One face of conservatism is off putting to the majority; the other, indicative of a movement that takes itself seriously and doesn’t listen to clowns, and deliberate provocateurs who care more about ratings and ad money than whether conservative ideas triumph. If Rush Limbaugh actually believes that his hysterical view of liberals and Obama (as well as his shallow understanding of conservatism) contributes to conservatism’s popularity and the perception that our ideas should win out over those of the left, he is only kidding himself.

His audience, while huge by radio standards, is still relatively small compared to the number of voters at large. And considering his unpopularity outside of the right, he can’t possibly believe that his rants do anything except resonate with an audience that already agrees with him. The same holds true for the other pop conservatives who, while fulfilling a vital role of “popularizing” conservatism, nevertheless end up being a net minus for the right because of their antics and extraordinarily skewed version of reality.

I am not interested in purging the popularizers. I am interested in reducing their influence - as I am interested in reducing the influence on policy in the GOP by the religious right - and the perception that their methods and views reflect a majority of those of us on the right.

If so, it will be a long road to hoe for reformists who will continue to wander in the wilderness created by the scorched earth conservatives whose excessive ideology poisons the well of ideas from which so little has been drawn in recent years.

By: Rick Moran at 10:57 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (59)

9/16/2009
RUSH AND RACE: THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY

Face it, my fellow conservatives. We just don’t have what it takes to play the race card effectively.

This was amply proven by that ample talk show host, cotton candy conservative, and pop righty Rush Limbaugh who took a story about a beating of a white nerd by black bullies on a school bus and tried to turn it into a spiel involving dire portents of a coming race war enabled by our president:

RUSH: Hey, look, folks, the white kid on that bus in Belleville, Illinois, he deserved to be beat up. You don’t know about this story? Oh, there’s video of this. The school bus filled with mostly black students beat up a white student a couple of times with all the black students cheering. Of course the white student on the bus deserved the beating. He was born a racist. That’s what Newsweek magazine told us in its most recent cover. It’s Obama’s America, is it not? Obama’s America, white kids getting beat up on school buses now. You put your kids on a school bus, you expect safety but in Obama’s America the white kids now get beat up with the black kids cheering, “Yay, right on, right on, right on, right on,” and, of course, everybody says the white kid deserved it, he was born a racist, he’s white. Newsweek magazine told us this. We know that white students are destroying civility on buses, white students destroying civility in classrooms all over America, white congressmen destroying civility in the House of Representatives.

We can redistribute students while we redistribute their parents’ wealth. We can redistribute everything. Just return the white students to their rightful place, their own bus with bars on the windows and armed guards. They’re racists. They get what they deserve. Newsweek magazine told us this, post-racial America. I wonder if Obama is going to come to the defense the assailants the way he did his friend Skip Gates up there at Harvard. I mean the assailants are presumed innocent due to the white racism we all know runs rampant in America. The Drive-By Media is ginning up all this criticism of Obama. Again today it’s all based in racism, the criticism of Obama’s health care plan or whatever, it’s all based in racism and so, if he’s going to apologize for America, Obama needs to apologize for the right reasons. White Americans are racists who have created what they call free markets that really just enslave the rest of America and her trading partners. It was white Americans that ran off Van Jones.

The amount of hyperbole in that snippet could fill the Superdome. There are so many straw men set up by Limbaugh (make sure you read the rest of this priceless rant), that one would think he was holding open auditions for the part of the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz.. Outright falsehoods, gross and unfair exaggerations, and the preposterous notion that Obama is responsible makes this sarcastic, bombastic, idiotic nonsense the reason that thinking people should not listen to Rush Limbaugh - ever. He makes my head hurt and my bowels churn when he takes off like this.

Yeah…but is it racist?

Sorry, no. The effect, however, as Ron Dreher points out, is bad enough:

It’s undeniably true that black males, as a group, are disproportionately responsible for violent crimes today (and blacks are disproportionately victims, too). This is important to talk about. This means something. I hate the kind of political correctness that demands we pretend not to see what we see. But as far as I’m concerned, if the Limbaughs of the world are going to be doing this kind of thing, and trying to blame, with no logical grounds whatsoever, a black president for black-on-white violence, and if they’re going to do this in an increasingly hysterical atmosphere of protest against that black president, I don’t want to talk about these things at all. Now is not the time. With this kind of inflammatory rhetoric, they are quite simply tearing the country apart.

Where do they think this is going to go?

I think Dreher overreacts a little but his point is well made. I am not convinced that the “hysterical atmosphere of protest” against the president is increasing. Seems about the same to me as it was a few months ago. I think some of the opposition is irrational but I would not refer to it as “hysterical.”

But am I reading too much into Limbaugh’s rant by thinking he is talking about some kind of race war being started by Blacks? I think not. It seems that Limbaugh believes that this one incident that police now say did not have any racial overtones (and the video proves that) is the start of a pogrom against white school children - or something. Is he joking when he says,”You put your kids on a school bus, you expect safety but in Obama’s America the white kids now get beat up with the black kids cheering,…?”

What is the purpose of this out of control, hyperbolic, loony charge?

Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Hannity, Savage - they’re all jousting for attention. This leads to a syndrome that begs the question, “How can you top ‘over the top?”

I wrote about it when examining something outrageous Ann Coulter said a few years ago:

In the end, this is Coulter’s dilemma. And the great trap she has set for herself as she has climbed the ladder of success to achieve fame and fortune. In this celebrity, media soaked age where the ravenous appetites of the news nets, “lifestyle” shows, and political talk radio are constantly demanding more and more controversy, more and more outrageous personalities to fill the time and attract more audience, the danger for any one personality like Coulter is that yesterday’s jaw droppers and head shakers can’t be repeated. She must come up with entirely new derogatory sobriquets to call her political opponents and ever more outrageous metaphors to describe her political pet peeves. By definition, she must go “over the top” on nearly a daily basis.

Limbaugh is an expert at “over the top.” He knows full well rants like the one above will draw enormous criticism on the left and Huzzahs! on the right. He is no dummy. He is a seasoned entertainer who has been hawking his wares on radio for a quarter of a century. His planned rhetorical bombs are set to go off and splatter all over the media landscape generating controversy, noteriety, and ultimately, higher ad rates.

It doesn’t matter to him who gets hurt or what emotions he stirs in his 15-20 million daily listeners. All he wants is to get their heads nodding in agreement as he plays to their emotions while deliberately failing to engage their minds. For if his listeners paused in mid-Rush-rant to think about what he was saying - I mean truly examine his thesis, his arguments, and his logic, they would understand that Limbaugh, at bottom, is nothing but a clown. A clever, articulate, experienced clown - but a clown nonetheless.

Conor Friedersdorf:

Already Mr. Limbaugh’s behavior is raising the ire of folks who already dislike him, but this transgression against honesty and prudence is so obvious and grave that his audience members should take it upon themselves to contact the talk radio host, politely articulate why his commentary in this instance is so irresponsible, and request that he never engage in such behavior again. It is Mr. Limbaugh’s listeners who have the most pull here. Those who say nothing, and continue tuning into this kind of rhetoric, share partial responsibility for worsening the country in which they live, though the bulk of responsibility will always reside with the millionaire race agitator himself.

A racist clown? I refuse to toss that epithet about as casually as the left. “Race agitator” sounds about right. But what Conor Friedersdorf suggests is unrealistic. Those who have tired of having their emotions manipulated by Mr. Limbaugh have long since stopped listening to him and have seen through the bombast, the sneering put downs that passes for humor among many on the right, and the bilious sarcasm that drips so often, and so expertly from his lips.

I will go to my grave wondering how in God’s name so many people who think themselves “conservative” can find anything of value by listening to such a pompous lout.

By: Rick Moran at 10:56 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (43)