From awhile ago, Conor Friedersdorf:
Dear Jonah Goldberg,
I’m writing this letter as a fan – I’ve tremendous respect for the pioneering work you did at National Review Online, your attempts to inject humor into political writing, and the enjoyable debates you’ve done with Peter Beinart. But I’m also a friendly critic, here to challenge your take on the current state of the GOP, the conservative movement, and the country. Perhaps I can persuade you that certain of your positions are wrongly held, though I’d be as satisfied were I moved by counterarguments.
It is to say that if I’m going to prefer Republicans as a general matter, or identify with the conservative movement – as opposed to the political philosophy of conservatism – I’m going to need to see evidence that I’m not signing up for a repeat of 2000 to 2008.
Instead I am seeing Sarah Palin cited as the preferred presidential candidate among the base in 2012, never mind concerns about her inexperience, because she’s “authentic,” and she “excites people,” and she “understands what we’re up against in the War on Terror,” and because “she’s been treated worse by liberals than any other politician, and that must mean she is doing something right.” I’ve seen this movie before. It doesn’t end well.
That’s why I am sympathetic to the “conservative dissidents,” despite my many policy differences with them. Unlike the base, I don’t think politicians who are squishy on substance did in Republicans. I think what brought down the right is a corrupt conservative movement, without insufficient capacity for constructive criticism, and beset by heretic hunters who denounced anyone engaged in critical thinking. Long live the dissidents. Long live debates. Long live partisan and ideological disloyalty if it means routing out corruption.
Michael Brendan Dougherty at The Awl:
Dear Conservative Movement,
That was crazy in Massachusetts! Right? I mean, it was like two months ago that liberals were all up in our faces. They said, “NY-23! We beat that Doug Hoffman, teabaggers!” Yeah. They beat a third-party candidate. And then Ted Kennedy’s still-warm seat was just handed to us. They can console themselves with a congressional district, while we strangle the most important liberal reform since the Johnson administration.
So, yeah. We’re supposed to be happy. I know we’re all talking about the glory days of 1994, or 1984. I’m sure there is some mid-level staffer at National Review, trying to conjure the tears of Barry Goldwater on behalf of Scott Brown. But in case you’ve forgotten, even by your own standards, you’re kind of in terrible shape.
First, you’re obsessed with yourself. You try everything in the culture—The Incredibles, Wal-Mart, Crocs—and you ask: Is it conservative? This makes us look like creep socialists from the 1930s, debating endlessly about whether something is sufficiently proletariat. Weren’t we supposed to defend truth, beauty, and goodness (like St. Thomas Aquinas?) You ask us to measure Bill Watterson, Bill Cosby and Bill Clinton by one measure: conservative/not conservative.
If one of us tries to walk a fine line between these two, we’ll be accused of either disloyalty by the hacks or of hackery by the principled and aloof. One way merits a secure gig in the movement’s intellectual ghetto. The other may win a few of us a higher status but a more insecure job at a respected outlet.
This situation makes actual arguments difficult, since everyone assumes we are simply enacting long-term branding strategies, rather than stating our views honestly. You’ve made it impossible for us to have a conversation.
Because you’ve made yourself a prostitute for the GOP, a cynical and corrupt organization since Reconstruction, all of your young geniuses are tainted. People don’t respect their ideas, because they can’t assume they are genuinely held, rather than cynical ploys to keep Joe Palinsupporter in line.
And so, young conservatives hate themselves. They live in fear that if they do state their actual views, they’ll be forbidden from any meaningful work in the future outside the movement.
The reason Ross Douthat won’t share his views on gay marriage in detail is simple. He knows gay marriage opponents will be portrayed as the Bull Connors of the near-future. And he wants to keep writing film criticism and noodling theology for educated readers.
How many times did William F. Buckley have his tepid, once-moderate sounding defense of segregation quoted to him? A million times. By liberals, and paleo-conservative racists both. But Buckley was indestructible. Douthat and the rest of us aren’t. We know that for the foreseeable future, liberals have the whip-hand in forming the “prevailing structure of taboos.”
Which brings me to the last point. You’re a failure, and your ambitions are so limited, it makes me cold.
Clark Stooksbury at The American Conservative:
About ten years ago—before Bush—I knew that I was different from movement conservatives, but I figured I at least had a little in common with them. I have long since given up on that illusion. Conservative politicians can’t govern and the intellectuals and activists in the movement don’t seem to care. I noticed several years ago that the animating feature of the Bush administration was their contempt for reality. It took me a few years to realize that the pretty much the whole Republican party and conservative movement are as reality-challenged as Dick Cheney or Don Rumsfeld.
On a related issue, I’ve seen some people remarking on an ABC News/Washington Post poll question that featured a strong majority (58%) in favor of “smaller government with fewer services.” This filled Freeman Hunt and Glenn Reynolds with glee, but it’s meaningless without specifics. Do these people want to end the American Empire or abolish Social Security and Medicare? Perhaps they want to put Yellowstone up on the auction block, or get rid of the EPA. If you read the very next question, you see that a majority opposes “legalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use” even though that would be a small step toward “smaller government with fewer services.”
John Guardiano at FrumForum:
Are young 20- and 30-something conservatives whiners and conformists? It’s hard not to draw that conclusion when reading some of the supposedly “cutting-edge” writing by young hipster cons, many of whom strike a pose of pseudo-intellectual disillusionment with “the movement.”
Consider, for instance, Michael Brendan Dougherty and Conor Friedersdorf. Dougherty has a piece in in The Awl in which he complains that the conservative movement is so intellectually stultifying that “the smartest people on the Right are basically ashamed to be associated with [it].”
Friedersdorf and Dougherty protesteth too much. If they were issuing their complaints in 1950 (before the rise of National Review) — or even 1990 (before the rise of the internet), then I’d be far more sympathetic. In 1950, after all, conservatives had few serious places to think, argue and publish. That’s why, in 1955, William F. Buckley, Jr. founded National Review.
Similarly, in 1990, the internet didn’t yet exist (or it wasn’t yet a mass communication medium). Consequently, writers, activists and policy entrepreneurs couldn’t simply build a website to develop and to espouse unpopular or neglected ideas. No, sir, they had to suffer — and often in relative silence and isolation.
But it’s not 1950, and it’s not 1990; it’s 2010. The internet is now thriving — and so virtually anyone with an idea can now build a website to champion their idea, and at a really minimal or negligible cost.
What’s more, many of these new internet sites — the Huffington Post, Red State and Hot Air, for instance – are tremendously popular and growing in stature and influence. By contrast, the old-line legacy media — the New York Times, the network news, your local newspaper — are dying media brands.
Yet, Dougherty, Friedersdorf, and other young hipster cons pine for mainstream liberal-left respectability. They want to so much to be a part of the older and more established crowd; hence their lament, their complaint; their whine.
Young hipster cons like Dougherty, Friedersdorf, and Douthat apparently lack the courage of their convictions. They’re intellectual cowards because they don’t want to be castigated as outcasts by the liberal elites who, Dougherty explains “have the whip-hand” in deciding what is and is not politically correct.
In a certain respect, I sympathize with the young hipster cons. There are certain issues, mostly certain social issues involving so-called gay rights, which are very difficult for us conservatives to argue and discuss. Our arguments run up against a rights-based political culture which too often neglects the importance of cultural capital and social norms. And our desire to uphold a standard of moral excellence is too easily caricatured and trivialized as an attitude of intolerance and exclusion.
But as my Marine Corps drill instructors often reminded me, “No one ever told you it was going to be easy.” The fact that making an argument is difficult and may not make you Mr. or Ms. Popularity is no reason to whine about the supposedly sad state of the Right.
The fact that America’s cultural elites are moral and social libertines who dogmatically oppose social and cultural conservatism is no reason to abandon the fight. The fact that most conservatives seem unwilling to accept your dissenting (but still right-leaning) views is no reason to cast aspersions upon the conservative movement.
In short, stop whining, young hipster cons, and pick up the mantle of change. Don’t just curse the darkness, light a candle and show the way. Do something! Fight. Build a website. Argue your case in the court of public opinion. Show us the error of our ways. Explain where we’ve gone wrong and tell us how we can do better.
And please, whatever you do, don’t worry about your popularity, or whether the “in-crowd” (either liberal or conservative) in New York, Washington, and Hollywood likes you for what you do or do not say. Any intellectual worth his salt must freely speak his mind.
Indeed, full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes as they say in the Navy. “One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up,” said the late great Arthur Koestler.
Conor Friedersdorf at FrumForum:
Can you blame me for finding his argument galling?
Here I am a full time freelance writer who made my name in political journalism as founding features editor at a start-up conservative magazine. Did I not build a Web site? Did a manifesto not precede it? I now do part of my blogging at The American Scene, another Web site filled with young right-of-center writers. Does my output there seem like it belongs to someone hesitant to join the fray? How about my Daily Beast columns? Or my second blog at True/Slant? Or the sundry other freelance pieces I write often enough to keep me housed among coastal liberals, eating arugula and making good on NPR pledges? I’ve even written at FrumForum (about my efforts to poll GOP County Chairmen all over America). Failure to “pick a fight and come out swinging” isn’t among my countless faults.
Of course, I am a relatively obscure writer, and Mr. Brendan Dougherty, a talented, outspoken writer for The American Conservative, is only somewhat better known, whereas Mr. Douthat is a devoutly Catholic, socially conservative, staunchly anti-abortion New York Times columnist. The author of an Atlantic piece arguing that pornography may be adultery, he co-founded The American Scene, literally wrote the book on the way forward for the Republican Party, and pens film columns for National Review in his spare time. So bizarre as I found Mr. Guardiano’s attacks on Mr. Dougherty and I, we weren’t even treated the least charitably! Was it the NY Times piece on overturning Roe vs. Wade or the one titled “Cheney For President” that led to the argument that Mr. Douthat is afraid of disagreeing with the liberal elite?
Defending against attacks like this is tedious and awful, especially when you’re their object. Recall what it is like to write a college essay or get asked in a job interview, “What’s your best quality?” Readers who are neither corporate lawyers nor I-bankers surely understand how uncomfortable it can be when a task demands a lengthy, favorable assessment of yourself. But I’ve grown terribly tired of attacks on so-called dissident conservatives that utterly misunderstand or misrepresent the subject at hand as much as they mislead about our output. I’m inspired by the vim and vigor of Mr. Dougherty’s excellent piece in The Awl, and my one-time professor Katie Roiphe always counseled that I shouldn’t shy away from polemical writing when the occasion demands it. So brace yourself, Mr. Guardiano, for a rebuttal that picks a fight, forgives your negligent ignorance only because it seems earnestly argued, and ruthlessly cleaves the corrupt wings of movement conservatism with the coldest, bluntest shears at hand.
Think you know what motivates “dissident conservatives?”
In an upcoming post, you’ll have the story of how one young political independent with conservative and libertarian philosophical beliefs came to Washington DC, familiarized himself with the conservative movement, and left utterly, rightly disillusioned with it. It’ll correct Mr. Guardiano’s ill-informed presumptions about what motivates people like me to write — asserted with stunning confidence given that he has never interviewed me, and attributes to me beliefs that I’ve never written and don’t hold — and more importantly, it’ll definitively set the record straight for everyone on the right who harbors mistaken assumptions about anyone who dares to criticize folks who are “on our own side,” as it is sometimes put.
More Friedersdorf at The American Scene:
Most people scoffed.
— “Your writing is far too earnest to be hipster. Sometimes to a fault. And I wouldn’t have bought those particular glasses.”
— “Maybe if you start letting Julian Sanchez dress you.”
— “Hipsters don’t like Jimmy Buffett.”
— “Are you kidding me?”
These were my friends, so I didn’t ask my enemies. I just weakly said, “Does having a crush on Natalie Portman help?” But then I didn’t know if I should’ve said Wynona Rider or something.
I’d put money on my not being a hipster, but I don’t mind if I am one. Some of my best friends are hipsters! But I am quite certain that Mr. Guardiano doesn’t know what a hipster is if Ross Douthat is among the trio to whom he applies the label, and Michael Brendan Dougherty is too. I half expected to see George Will on the list with us.
Perhaps Brooklyn resident Elizabeth Nolan Brown could define hipster for me. Or Beck could guest post here at The Scene. He’s a hipster, right?