Another response to Conor

[moved to an earlier time, off the sidebar, yada yada yada…]

“Perhaps we’re getting at what puzzles and galls me so much about recent posts at The League of Ordinary Gentlemen about how dissident conservative writers ought to conduct themselves. The notion is that these writers should assess an ideological subset of the American public, discern their sensibilities, and craft all subsequent writing so as not to offend them. What a fool’s errand. There are times when people react badly to hearing the truth plainly stated. It is a journalist’s job to tell them that truth anyway, as forthrightly and accurately as one can put it.” ~ Conor F. in his interview with Scott

Yes, I culled the same quotation as Mark.  It’s the obvious starting point for a rejoinder.  But there’s more to the quotation:

Do you want to corrupt public discourse? Ask those engaged in the fights over ideas to pull their punches whenever what they regard as the truth might upset a segment of the public. Tell writers that if they find wisdom in the political philosophy of conservatism, and desire that its insights be incorporated into the governance of American society, they ought to refrain from writing things they regard as true whenever doing so will cost them credibility among some folks with whom they’d share a political coalition in a more rational world. [emphasis added]

What Conor is suggesting is that a war against the pundits – against Beck and Limbaugh, et al. – is a fight over ideas.  I would argue that calling people like Limbaugh out for some stupid thing(s) he’s said is not in fact a battle of ideas.  It’s just your classic personality politics.  A number of dissidents on the right have fallen into this very trap, engaging their loud, swaggering opponents on their own terms rather than within the framework of ideas.  And all this does is alienate the base.

Regardless of whether Conor or David Frum or any other dissident is correct in their assertions, what their actions achieve is alienation and excommunication from their supposed target audiences.  Liberals laud the efforts of Charles Johnson who has recently been calling out the conservative shenanigans, but in a lot of ways all that Johnson has achieved is to distance himself from the conservative movement.  What good has that done for conservatism?

One door opens – a population of independents and liberals that is very receptive to attacks on their least-favorite television and radio personalities; and one door closes – the conservative base which, however misguidedly, marches behind the Limbaughs and Levins of the world.  Instead of fragile allies, they’ve become sworn enemies.

My critique is simply this: engage in a fight over ideas, often and passionately.  But engage.  Don’t try to unseat the champions of the right.  Try to change their hearts and minds, or at least use them to reach their audiences.  It’s not as flashy or as fun, but I think it will serve a better purpose.

Or as Mark put it – change conservatism, not conservatives:

To be sure, if the primary goal is to put an end to extremist rhetoric, then by all means focus on extremist rhetoric; if, on the other hand, the goal is to reform conservatism and make it a philosophy capable of governing well, then focusing on the symptoms rather than the disease will do nothing.

What it comes down to is this: one cannot reform conservatism if one believes that the problem with conservatism is conservatives, and refuses to challenge core assumptions of conservatism. Indeed, what made Orwell’s critiques so effective and important was not that he publicized the evils of individual actors; it was that he drew the connection between evil and ideology in an attempt to reform that ideology. Conservative wonks and opinion journalists should be introspective enough to do likewise rather than merely seeking to blame conservatism’s problems on a small cadre of individuals.

That pretty much sums it up.

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21 thoughts on “Another response to Conor

  1. I find this mildly convincing, though it does implicitly assume that most conservatives are merely distracted by identity politics from their true conservatism, which doesn’t exactly jive with my experience.

    I think the only way that your plan might work is if you presuppose continued GOP electoral failure for the foreseeable future, and wait for the demographic trends on the right to diminish the power of Limbaugh/Beck/Hannity. I’ve read that the average Fox News viewer is 67 years old, so by the end of Obama’s second term (and yes, I am making that assumption) their power in the conservative coalition should be diminished to a large extent. Plus, after eight years of Democratic rule I imagine that most Republicans would be desperate to be in power again and might go with a reformist type.

    So, I think there might be a conceivable path back to power for conservatives under the strategy you describe. But what I think makes Frum and other reformist types reluctant to wait is the prospect of the under-30s–you know, the ones that support Obama more strongly than any other age group–will be less than receptive to a conservative message after 8 disastrous Bush years and 8 successful Obama years (let’s presume) in which Rush and Glenn are the official GOP spokesmen. If you view it that way–as a way of trying to marginalize the clowns–it makes sense for Frum & Co. to do what they do.

    I guess it depends on if you see Limbaugh and Beck as stupid and blustery but essentially harmless, or if you see them as mortal dangers to the GOP. As a Democrat it’s probably obvious what I believe, and how I feel. But I do see where you’re coming from. In the end, I’m guessing someone in the GOP will come forward in 2016 as a fusionist candidate that will try to bridge the two groups, like Bill Clinton did in 1992 after decades of bitter division between old-guard New Dealer-style liberals and Gary Hart-like moderates.

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    • Yup Len.
      E.D. is wrong, the base must be reformed inorder to reform the leadership, because the base dictates the leadership.
      Beck and Rush are just cheerleaders for the lowest passions of the base.
      Frum and E.D. and Conor are trying to lead, but they aren’t legit….they represent what? .0001 percent of the electorate?
      The base is a like a riderless horse that has into the barn and is gorging itself on a big grain bin of rightist populism. The grain is going to kill the horse, but Conor and Frum can’t even get its head up out of the bin.

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  2. Fail.
    Engage the demographic timer, E.D.
    Your problem is the GOP has become a wholly religious party, and the leadership is enslaved to the WEC base.
    You can only run WEC or mormon candidates on a platform of evangelical doctrine, which is distintly lacking in appeal to the demographics you desperately need…..college-educated, youth, and minorities.

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  3. I hear what ED and others are saying, but I still have a hard time taking it seriously. Erm, seriously is not quite the right choice of words here. I do take their arguments seriously, but I think they are far too theoretical and not grounded enough in reality. I see very little evidence that the base of Beck/Limbaugh wants to hear anything other than- socialism, czars, and ACORN.

    Yes, there are places on the web where non-batshit crazy viewpoints are expressed and discussed. But the average Redstate commenter is never, ever going to set their eyeballs here or on any of those other ideas-based places.

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  4. What Conor is suggesting is that a war against the pundits – against Beck and Limbaugh, et al. – is a fight over ideas.

    It is, for reasons that need no explication, impossible to engage Beck or Hannity in a war of ideas.

    At any rate, the point that Conor and Frum are trying to make more about tactics than about what are usually called political ideas. Their point isn’t that any of the positions Hannity has memorized are incorrect; it’s that repeating them at increasing volume while calling the president an illegal alien is the wrong way to further them.

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  5. But I don’t see how this amounts to strategy……Rush and Beck are exactly representative of what older, less educated WEC christians want to hear, and what they are willing to pay to hear.
    And currently WEC comprise 20% of the electorate and they all seem to be republicans.
    Half of the electorate trends conservative….half trends liberal. But the GOP problem is they are locked out of the minority, youth, and college-educated conservative demographics, because of Palin, Huckabee, Rush, Beck, etc.
    What Johnson is doing is fighting against branding– he refuses to let racism, homophobia, creationism, and fascism be the “face” of the GOP. Because that brand drives off the youth, college-educated, and minority voters even if they lean conservative in ideology. It is true that at least half the electorate is conservative….but that doesn’t mean they will vote that way.

    I’ve read that the average Fox News viewer is 67 years old

    AND a White Evangelical Christian.
    The GOP has become a purely religious and purely white party…made up of WECs, White K-Lo Catholics, and mormons.
    I think that is very unhealthy.

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  6. Here’s my point – the war of ideas does not require us to engage in a war of personality. You can propose alternative visions without constantly saying “Beck is a loon” and “Levin is an ass.” You can propose alternative visions without constantly evoking the specter of white-evangelical-Christians (oh horror of horrors!) You can co-opt the movement with tact and grace and turn it through nudges rather than berating people and beating them over the head with your indignation.

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    • No you can’t.
      I’m sorry, E.D., but pandering to the base, like telling them “oh noes, youre not RELLY racists” is Fail.
      You need to admit your base composition.
      In a country where there is an accepted separation of church and state, a religious party is non-viable, particularily as the WEC demongraphic declines.
      The party’s enslavement to the base guarantees you can never front candidates except for WECs and Mormons….and those candidates have zero appeal to the demographics you need to court.
      Conservatives have to chose who they are….if the GOP is WECs only…well then you’re DOA.

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      • What is wrong with just telling the base the truth?
        That is what CJ is doing. He say– ok, you’re racists…..but racism is wrong….and you have to get over it, or the GOP is going the way of the Whigs. Rush and Beck are feelgood narcotics for the base– they say– You are not the racist/fascist/social undesireable— the libruuls are!
        If the GOP is to remain viable you have to flatout admit that racism is wrong, homophobia is wrong, and trying to force IDT/creationism into high schools is wrong.
        That is what Johnson is doing.
        He is treating the base like adults.
        I don’t see his traffic falling off.

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      • Matako – you’re WEC-GOP-base story is just a convenient myth. One you have bought into and believe despite the fact that it is only that – a myth, a creation of your own perceptions, your own filtering of the media and pop culture. The problem with the GOP is this: they failed in the last 8 years. But they’ll be back, and so will conservatism, and the WEC’s aren’t going anywhere.

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        • In 2008 WECs were 50% of the GOP in exit polling.
          The current GOP candidates are 1 mormon, 3 WECs.
          My hypothesis is WEC/GOP >> 50% now, because non-WECs are leaving the GOP to become independents.
          I could prove this by buying a month of house bias from Rasmussen in order to see the crosstabs….but I’d rather spend the money on something else. ;)
          Someone is going to do it, sooner or later.
          And then the weeping an gnashing of teeth will begin.
          ;)

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        • Your pendulum theory is affected by environment.
          Scientific advances and demographic evolution are going to damp the return swing.
          If the GOP cannot broaden its appeal to minorities and youth, the declining WEC population can’t carry it.
          In 2008 for the first time minority children under 5 outnumbered non-hispanic cauc children under 5.
          In 2030 non-hispanic cauc becomes a minority in the electorate.
          As long as the GOP is pure white, they are doomed.

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        • E.D. I’m obviously sympathetic to matoko’s views. And I think you offhand dismissal of her views as “myth” and “pop” culture is extremely glib.

          Please spend a few minutes with the linked article, the author offers a lot more than opinion.

          Here is the authors conclusion:

          “Since the potential for additional Republican gains among married white Christians appears to be limited, Republican leaders will need to find ways to reduce the Democratic advantage among voters who are not married white Christians in order to maintain the party’s competitive position. However, given the generally liberal views of this group, this will not be easy. In 2006, according to data from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study, 57 percent of these voters supported a woman’s right to choose an abortion under any circumstances, 66 percent opposed a constitutional amendment to prohibit gay marriage, and 71 percent favored a single-payer health care system. Any attempt by Republican leaders to significantly increase their party’s support among voters who are not married white Christians would therefore require changes in some of the party’s longstanding policy commitments — changes that would clearly upset a large segment of the current Republican base.”

          http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2008/05/the_incredible_shrinking_repub.html

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          • ‘zactly.
            This is why I get so frustrated with you guyz.
            If you want to be leaders, LEAD dammit.
            Quite tiptoing around the base like a bunch of political eunuchs.
            Put a damn bridle on the populist horse and get back in the saddle.
            If your memes are worth a damn, why then, forward seat, kick on, and let the devil take the hindmost!

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  7. It seems weird that we’re talking about putting humpty dumpty back together. We need at least two viable parties (preferably more) for our system to work. There are places (like the NW) where that just isn’t the case. Washington is pretty much a one party State. What we need are regional manifestations of what conservatism can mean. One of the problems is that there isn’t enough difference between State parties and the National. For a party that at least ostensibly favors federalism (meaning division of powers) investing in regional autonomous units that seek to formulate new coalitions would seem the obvious answer. Motoko’s WECs may very well be necessary in Iowa but she’s right; they will be the death of the party in many other parts of the country. As the new wave of atheism seeps into the culture and more of the older generations die off, this will be even more true.

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