Round 2 of the debate on the future of the American Right between John Hawkins of Right Wing News and Conor Friedersdorf is up. It is again quite civilized even as both participants remain unapologetic and honest about their positions.
Hawkins opens with a couple of haymakers, but also throws some straw men into the debate when he treats “moderates” as indistinguishable from “reformers.” He notes, correctly, that few of the Bush Administration’s worst abuses were “conservative” in any meaningful sense, but also makes the unsupportable statement that these policies were “a case where conservative politicians were convinced by people of Conor’s ideological temperament to abandon conservative governance, and it led to disaster.” The reality of course is that the advocates of many of these policies came from both the movement and what is now the reformist camp. They were in large part the result of political strategists (who, again, fall into both camps) filling the policy void left in a party without any kind of unifying positive agenda, as I’ve argued before. Indeed, many of the reformist criticisms of the Bush Administration are precisely the same as the criticisms by the movement – specifically, that the Bush Administration pursued an un-conservative agenda.
After missing this right hook, Hawkins then lands a doozy in discussing why movement conservatives don’t trust the reformers, noting that the reformers often seem more interested in throwing personal jabs at the Right, disowning conservatism, and supporting the Left than in actually working with the Right. This is followed with a right-left combination, as Hawkins asks “Why do the people who get accused of being racists, xenophobes, and too dumb to understand politics always have to be the ones who forgive while the same blockheads who never learn from their mistakes insist on getting their way again?” The first punch in the combination on racism and xenophobia hits home hard – it’s tough to earn someone’s trust if you’re making claims like that about them. The second punch – “learn from their mistakes…” – misses because it again ignores that the mistakes of recent years came from strategists from both camps running the show rather than wonks or the base itself.
Notably, Hawkins sprinkles in a few successful blocks by conceding that the base exhibited too much partisan loyalty to Bush throughout the first term and that there needs to be more open discussion of ideas in the conservative media (though he tries to throw a gratuitous cheap shot that the Left is less willing to openly discuss ideas than the Right – obviously Hawkins doesn’t read many liberal blogs).
Conor, however, comes back swinging, wearing Hawkins down with some strong blocks and dodges. He opens his part of the round by narrowing the issues beautifully, conceding a number of Hawkins’ best points from Hawkins’ first post. Then he goes on the attack with a magnificent roundhouse, writing “As a conservative, I presume you believe, as the Founders did, that political power tends to corrupt. Indeed, long experience teaches that all political and ideological movements sooner or later tend to become corrupted, intellectually lazy, blind to internal weaknesses, captive to orthodoxies of thought, and forgetful of their ostensible ends.
How can the right mitigate these ills so that when Republicans return to power, they’ll govern effectively? You’d think answering that question would be an urgent priority, especially for movement conservatives who regard today’s Republican Party as out of touch at best, and corrupt at worst, even as they pine for its return to power. But I can’t recall ever seeing the matter addressed, except by folks who are dismissively derided as “conservative dissidents.” This analysis applies whether the Republican Party moves to the right or to the center, whether or not it more successfully wins minority voters, etc.”
Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. This is in many ways exactly the point that I’ve been trying to make for weeks now. This little flurry brings the crowd to its feet, shouting “Conor! Conor! Conor!”
And Conor isn’t even done. He follows this punishing sequence with some very hard truths about the policy issues facing this country: welfare isn’t the problem, middle class entitlements are; the looming pension crisis; defense cuts; and the fiscal limits on our foreign policy.
This sequence puts Hawkins on the ropes, and Conor looks poised for the knockout. But just before the bell rings, Conor runs out of steam and throws a few weak punches denigrating the quality of the conservative media as compared to the quality of the explicitly liberal media. This series of punches misses because it’s not clearly tied with the theme of the rest of Conor’s argument and Conor lacked the time at the end of the post to set this line of argument up properly. The truncated resulting argument thus comes off as unconvincing and quite likely as a gratuitous shot at conservatives that Hawkins will no doubt use heavily to his advantage in the final round.
Still, the first 3/4 of Conor’s round were near-flawless and landed some clear haymakers, where Hawkins’ round was inconsistent despite landing some solid blows. Friedersdorf wins the second round of a tough fight. After two rounds, I have it scored 19-all. However, had Conor left out the last paragraph, Hawkins may well have suffered a knock-down that would have left the round 10-8.