“I’m Crazy For Trying And Crazy For Crying…”

David Klinghoffer at Los Angeles Times:

Once, the iconic figures on the political right were urbane visionaries and builders of institutions — like William F. Buckley Jr., Irving Kristol and Father Richard John Neuhaus, all dead now. Today, far more representative is potty-mouthed Internet entrepreneur Andrew Breitbart, whose news and opinion website, Breitbart.com, is read by millions. In his most recent triumph, Breitbart got a U.S. Department of Agriculture official pushed out of her job after he released a deceptively edited video clip of her supposedly endorsing racism against white people.

What has become of conservatism? We have reached a point at which nothing could be more important than to stop and recall what brought us here, to the right, in the first place.

Buckley’s National Review, where I was the literary editor through the 1990s, remains as vital and interesting as ever. But more characteristic of conservative leadership are figures on TV, radio and the Internet who make their money by stirring fears and resentments. With its descent to baiting blacks, Mexicans and Muslims, its accommodation of conspiracy theories and an increasing nastiness and vulgarity, the conservative movement has undergone a shift toward demagoguery and hucksterism. Once the talk was of “neocons” versus “paleocons.” Now we observe the rule of the crazy-cons.

Donald Douglas:

I can’t speak for Andrew Breitbart, and I actually reject a good bit of the “craziness” on the right, but as you finish Klinghoffer ask if American politics, realistically, will be returning to a more wistful, respectful era? (And also ask if being “crazy” is code for being “racist”?) Besides, National Review‘s not my top source for right wing news. I prefer Commentary and Weekly Standard, to say nothing of Ace of Spades HQ, Instapundit, and The Other McCain. And I read these sources, among others, because they provide me with the intellectual sustenance to “save civilization,” which is what Klinghoffer suggests is “what he signed up for” when he became a conservative.

And here’s the thing: A lot of us became conservative because we saw society’s moral foundations in tatters, and it was the Democratic-left holding the shears. You can always hold up your hands and scream “clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right,” but you still have to choose. We have no viable third party movement, and the GOP at present is the best place to form a conservative-libertarian coalition for political victory. And as a party out of power, the most strident voices at the base are going to get a lot of play, especially when new media is driving most of the key political memes. I choose conservatism. It’s a no-brainer. But notwithstanding the citations above, I’m not wedded to any particular talking point. I think for myself, thank you. For example, is it crazy to call President Obama a socialist? I think he is (but on an intellectual level, e.g., see Jonah Goldberg, “What Kind of Socialist Is Barack Obama?“). But that kind of talk gets one attacked as an extremist by the left-wing media machine. How about if you don’t submit? Breitbart’s attacked mercilessly as a “liar” and a “unprincipled” scoundrel because he gets results. Yet, almost daily I find some MSM outlets reporting not just factual errors, but outright lies, and then people like me are crazy for calling out this sh*t? I don’t think so. People are mad. And when people get mad they starting gravitating to more polarizing messages, and some of it can get heated. For me though, Klinghoffer and others like him (which no offense to him, would include idiots like Charles Johnson) simply prop up the left’s Media Industrial Complex, and in that sense they’re enabling the very anti-conservative forces Andrew Breitbart is finally beginning to take down.

Rick Moran:

Maybe it’s the heat. Perhaps it’s an al-Qaeda plot that has dumped LSD in public cisterns throughout the country. Or, it could be simple, old fashioned, bat guano crazy wishful thinking.

Whatever it is, the very silly season has arrived on the right and with it, diminishing chances that the American people will drink the same flavor of Kool Ade and join conservatives in giving the Democrats a well-deserved paddling at the polls.

A kind of irrational combination of fear and exuberance has infected the right in recent weeks as the number of vulnerable Democrats grows and the realization that at the very least, the House may fall into their laps takes hold. And if the hysteria was limited to the fringes, one might dismiss it as not worthy of discussion.

Instead, illogical ranting has gone mainstream with a call by former Rep. Tom Tancredo in the Washington Times for the president to be impeached, and now the belief that there may be another American Revolution on the way emanating from the pages of the staid, and usually rational Investors Business Daily.

The probable response of those two media organs would be that these are valid points of view and they are performing a public service by airing them. At least, that’s what the New York Times says when they publish off the wall looniness from liberals.

In truth, they are not valid. They are not rational. They are not sane. Tancredo especially, forces one to ask the question; what country is he talking about?

For the first time in American history, we have a man in the White House who consciously and brazenly disregards his oath of office to protect and defend the Constitution. That’s why I say the greatest threat to our Constitution, our safety and our liberties, is internal. Our president is an enemy of our Constitution, and, as such, he is a danger to our safety, our security and our personal freedoms.

Now, if you’re familiar with the conservative internet, this is not an uncommon idea. All that’s missing is the charge that President Obama is a Marxist.

Oh, wait…

Mr. Obama’s paramount goal, as he so memorably put it during his campaign in 2008, is to “fundamentally transform America.” He has not proposed improving America – he is intent on changing its most essential character. The words he has chosen to describe his goals are neither the words nor the motivation of just any liberal Democratic politician. This is the utopian, or rather dystopian, reverie of a dedicated Marxist – a dedicated Marxist who lives in the White House.

That’s right. Tom Tancredo believes the president of the United States is a Commie. He’s not even a pinko. He is a dead red, dyed in the wool, “dedicated Marxist.” Left unsaid, but easily inferred from Tacredo’s unbalanced rant, is that President Obama is deliberately out to destroy the country. This is a Rush Limbaugh talking point and many of his 17 million daily listeners fall for it. One would think a former congressman should know better, but evidently, such rationality requires adherence to a worldview that doesn’t see the political opposition as the reincarnation of the Devil.

Is President Obama intent on “changing [America’s] most essential character?” Unfortunately, yes he is trying. He is doing it not because he wants to destroy America but because he thinks he is improving her. This misguided, imprudent, and ultimately doomed attempt to alter the relationship between the people and the government can be opposed rationally (as defending it can be argued without resorting to hyperbole or name calling). Tancredo chooses to believe (or lets on that he believes) that in order to oppose the president, one must resort to hysterical exaggerations and deliberate misinterpretation of Obama’s motives. But doing it the logical way will not garner him headlines or make him a hero on the right.

Such is the level to which conservatism has sunk in some quarters.

Doug Mataconis:

Indeed, and as I’ve said to many of my friends on the right upset by the latest news from Washington, it was the failures of George W. Bush and the Republicans that made Barack Obama’s election not only possible, but likely. Obama’s mistake, it would appear, is assuming that his election constituted an endorsement of his agenda rather than a rejection of the other guy.

Moran is concerned that rhetoric like this will hurt the GOP at the polls in November. While I don’t know that ranting by a guy like Tom Tancredo or an op-ed at Investors Business Daily are going to have that much of an influence on the electorate. However, as the examples of Sharron Angle and Rand Paul show us, one of the most viable Democratic strategies over the next 90 days may be the argument that “Yea we’re bad, but look at them. They’re crazy.

Will it work ? Maybe not in 2010, but if the right continues down this road then it will be handing Barack Obama back the White House on a silver platter.

Steve Bainbridge:

These days it’s getting increasingly embarrassing to publicly identify oneself as a conservative. It was bad enough when George Bush 43, the K Street Gang, and the neo-cons were running up spending, fighting an unnecessary war of choice in Iraq, incurring massive deficits, expanding entitlements, and all the rest of the nonsense I cataloged over the years in posts like Bush 43 has been a disaster for conservatives.

These days, however, the most prominent so-called conservatives are increasingly fit only to be cast for the next Dumb and Dumber sequel. They’re dumb and crazy.

[…]

Let’s tick off ten things that make this conservative embarrassed by the modern conservative movement:

  1. A poorly educated ex-sportwriter who served half of one term of an minor state governorship is prominently featured as a — if not the — leading prospect for the GOP’s 2012 Presidential nomination.
  2. Tom Tancredo calling President Obama “the greatest threat to the United States today” and arguing that he be impeached. Bad public policy is not a high crime nor a misdemeanor, and the casual assertion that pursuing liberal policies–however misguided–is an impeachable offense is just nuts.
  3. Similar nonsense from former Ford-Reagan treasury department officials Ernest Christian and Gary Robbins, who IBD column was, as Doug Marconis observed, “a wildly exaggerated attack on President Obama’s record in office.” Actually, it’s more foaming at the mouth.
  4. As Doug also observed, “The GOP controlled Congress from 1994 to 2006: Combine neocon warfare spending with entitlements, farm subsidies, education, water projects and you end up with a GOP welfare/warfare state driving the federal spending machine.” Indeed, “when the GOP took control of Congress in 1994, and the White House in 2000, the desire to use the levers of power to create “compassionate conservatism” won our over any semblance of fiscal conservatism. Instead of tax cuts and spending cuts, we got tax cuts along with a trillion dollar entitlement program, a massive expansion of the Federal Government’s role in education, and two wars. That’s not fiscal conservatism it is, as others have said, fiscal insanity.” Yet, today’s GOP still has not articulated a message of real fiscal conservatism.
  5. Thanks to the Tea Party, the Nevada GOP has probably pissed away a historic chance to out=st Harry Reid. See also Charlie Crist in Florida, Rand Paul in Kentucky, and so on. Whatever happened to not letting perfection be the enemy of the good?
  6. The anti-science and anti-intellectualism that pervade the movement.
  7. Trying to pretend Afghanistan is Obama’s war.
  8. Birthers.
  9. Nativists.
  10. The substitution of mouth-foaming, spittle-blasting, rabble-rousing talk radio for reasoned debate. Michael Savage, Glenn Beck, Hugh Hewitt, and even Rush Limbaugh are not exactly putting on Firing Line. Whatever happened to smart, well-read, articulate leaders like Buckley, Neuhaus, Kirk, Jack Kent, Goldwater, and, yes, even Ronald Reagan?

Jonathan Adler:

Professor Bainbridge lists “ten things that make this conservative embarrassed by the modern conservative movement.”  I’m not as enamored with David Klinghoffer’s lament (see also here), nor would I equate Hugh Hewitt with Michael Savage, but I largely agree.

Mike Rappaport:

Bainbridge seems to be missing something here.  Yes, the Republicans of 2000-2006 were excessively big government.  Now, why does the Tea Party want to see Marco Rubio instead of Charlie Crist, and the others?  Because the Tea Partiers believe, quite rightly, that Charlie Crist supported Obama’s stimulus and would behave much like the Republicans of 2000-2006.  I would take my chances with Rubio and the possibility of real constraint.Bainbridge can’t really have it both ways.  You can’t criticize the Tea Partiers for wanting better conservatives and also criticize the old Republicans who were elected based on the idea of “not letting perfection be the enemy of the good.”

You can count Professor Bainbridge among the folks who love David Klinghoffer’s L.A. Times piece (criticized here earlier today). Via Jonathan Adler at Volokh, Bainbridge offers a remarkably unconvincing set of ten reasons that he claims are reasons that “It’s getting to be embarrassing to be a conservative.” Upon closer inspection, however, the “reasons” turn out mostly to be reasons that conservatives should not support the Republican party — a quite different proposition entirely. Added in there, for good measure, is a heaping helping of overly broad generalizations about Tea Partiers.

Bainbridge’s complaints include: a lament that Palin is being considered a leading contender for the 2012 GOP nomination; complaints that the GOP is running candidates that are too extreme to take seats that should be ripe for the picking; complaints that certain Republicans have (in Bainbridge’s view) criticized Obama unfairly and too harshly; and criticism of birthers, “nativists,” and the “anti-science and anti-intellectualism that pervade the movement.”

Heavens! T. Coddington Van Voorhees VII would most certainly agree!

Bainbridge also moans about “mouth-foaming, spittle-blasting, rabble-rousing talk radio” including . . . Hugh Hewitt (?!). (Really? When is the last time Bainbridge was on Hewitt’s show?)

In addition to the above nonsense, which has nothing to do with conservatism and everything to do with the shortcomings of the GOP, Bainbridge also has a perfectly legitimate complaint regarding the GOP’s lack of fiscal restraint during the Bush years. But, again, why should that GOP failure to act in line with true conservative principles make anyone ashamed to be a conservative??

Jonah Goldberg at Los Angeles Times:

Conservatives, being conservatives, have a soft spot for the good old days, but this is getting ridiculous. It seems every day another colleague on the right wants to click his ruby red slippers — or Topsiders — and proclaim, “There’s no place like home” — “home” being the days when conservatism was top-heavy with generals but short on troops.

The latest example comes from my old National Review colleague David Klinghoffer in this paper. “Once, the iconic figures on the political right were urbane visionaries and builders of institutions — like William F. Buckley Jr., Irving Kristol and Father Richard John Neuhaus, all dead now,” Klinghoffer lamented. “Today, far more representative is potty-mouthed Internet entrepreneur Andrew Breitbart.”

As someone who knew Buckley and Kristol (and was a brief acquaintance of Neuhaus), I think David’s got it wrong. For starters, no one confuses Breitbart for Buckley — first and foremost, Breitbart himself — and the only people making that comparison are those wishing to indict contemporary conservatism for one reason or another.

Let’s start with the left, which certainly has different motives than Klinghoffer’s. The urge to lament how far today’s conservatives have fallen from the “golden age” of Buckley & Co. is a now-familiar gambit. You see, this is what critics on the left always say: “If only today’s conservatives were as decent or intellectual or patriotic as those of yesteryear.”

The best conservatives are always dead; the worst are always alive and influential. When Buckley and Kristol, not to mention Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan, were alive, they were hated and vilified by the same sorts of people who now claim to miss the old gang. The gold standard of the dead is always a cudgel, used to beat back the living.

As for the right, there are many competing agendas among those lamenting the populist enthusiasms of the right today. Some seem to want to displace and replace today’s leaders; others are simply beautiful losers in forgotten struggles eager to tear down the winners.

But what undergirds a lot of this is simply nostalgia. A conservative populism is sweeping the land, and although I think it is for the most part justified and beneficial, you cannot expect millions of people to get very angry — deservedly angry — and expect everyone to behave as if it’s an Oxford seminar.

James Poulos at Ricochet:

Jonah’s reminder that the right’s intellectual lions actually deigned to have a practical political project is more than helpful: it’s needful. Yet there’s a danger that he and Klinghoffer — and, more broadly, the loose camps they each represent — will wind up talking past each other. To be sure, yesterday’s deep thought and institution-building created the preconditions for today’s popular political activity. And we all know that popular political activity, even (or especially) in America, makes plenty of room for demagogues, hucksters, opportunists, and careerists. The question is whether a fresh crop of erudite heroes, very unlike the technocratic eggheads who set the agenda for the left, would be of any help in pressing what Jonah calls “the battle” that’s been joined.

Few on the right would respond in the negative. But for a number of those like Klinghoffer who answer yes, a suspicion is growing that new intellectual heavyweights are not only helpful to partisan conservatism today but essential. The trouble is simple: these mental mandarins are nowhere to be found on the right. Or the left. Or somewhere in the middle, or off in some unclassifiable corner of our political map. No wonder their influence is nil. Jonah would likely insist that this is nothing, necessarily, for anyone to be ashamed of. True; it’s entirely possible that one or two or two dozen will burst or creep onto the scene over the next, say, ten years. Really, there are too many names to watch to name. The issue, now, isn’t nostalgia versus populism. The kind of public theorists who dominated the American right in its contemporary infancy aren’t available to lead conservative politics. Why waste any time crying out for them, or crying over their absence? Ask, rather, what kinds of smart people are most needful today. Some of them, I imagine, will be better suited to calling and running plays on the ground. Others will remain pretty high up in pretty narrow towers. And a third kind of genius will do the most good explaining precisely what kind of intellectual leadership conservatives require most today.

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