[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.