A symptom of the conservative movement mentality–something I’d say is bound inextricably to the very concept of a movement, which requires cliquishness and membership requirements and all that jazz just to be a part of–is that there’s always somebody who is more conservative than somebody else. There is always some litmus test or loyalty oath by which to determine who is actually conservative, and who is not. There are various taboos which conservatives simply can’t possibly break if they are to remain, in the movement’s eyes, true conservatives.
Case in point, both Robert Stacy McCain and Helen Rittlemeyer have posts up on “token” conservatives and young conservative journalists and writers, who are either faux-conservatives for their incorporation of progressive social policies, or only support such liberal machinations as same-sex marriage as a token to the larger media establishment and mainstream culture, since same sex marriage is such a definitively anti-conservative issue that no self-respecting or honest conservative could possibly support it. Or something to that effect.
Now, if you talk to these bright young fellows — and I find excuses to talk to them as often as possible — one of the things you learn is how many of them are either (a) in favor of gay marriage as a matter of social justice, or (b) defeatist in conceding that the legal recognition of gay marriage is a political inevitability, even though they personally oppose it…
Yet the Young Turks generally view the gay-marriage debate as following in the historic path of Social Progress, an irresistible floodtide, so that such opposition as there is must speak in tones carefully measured, lest offense be given to the eventual winners of the debate.
Rittlemeyer goes one step further:
And I would add my suspicion that support for same-sex marriage has become a mark, not only of defeatism, but of self-conscious tokenism among young conservatives. Being publicly pro-SSM is the quickest way for a young journalist to signal that he’s one of the right-wingers it’s okay to like. Haven’t they heard that it’s better to be feared than loved? Or, to put it less glibly, the real respectability of a solid argument is preferable to the worthless respectability one gets by being on the Harmless Right.
Somehow all of this is tied into the notion that, as Helen puts it, “young conservatives ain’t intellectual, and the young intellectuals ain’t conservative.” In other words, any intellectual conservative would be well-versed enough in their Burke and Kirk to resist the mainstream acceptance of same-sex marriage (the acceptance of which is little more than a plea for popularity) and oppose it on solidly conservative grounds. And any young conservative who does not do so must either be a liar or a fake or a closet liberal: You’re not conservative, I’m conservative.
This is common fare in the movement. How often was John McCain written off by the conservative commentariat as a fraud? No matter what circle you travel through, some conservative somewhere is pointing a finger at some other conservative crying foul, fraud, fake, cheat, liar! Gottfried regularly lambastes the neocons. David Frum, years ago, accused the paleos and the anti-war conservatives of being un-American and lousy patriots. George W. Bush was no conservative, and neither is Sean Hannity for that matter. For every conservative quality, after all, one can unearth some other thing that contradicts it, or reveal some missing piece that renders the distinction meaningless. Those paleos are anti-war, so they must be anti-American. They don’t care about our national defense, the heathens! Those neocons are just liberals in wolf-suits! John McCain is pro-amnesty! George Bush speaks Spanish better than English! Reagan was God and if you disagree with his Word, you’re not a conservative! No, Reagan was a liberal in disguise!
And the list goes on and on. Conservatives hold tight to their notions of what it actually means to be conservative, and as long as their allies in the movement (or outside of it) hold similar enough views than all is peachy keen, kosher. But stray from the accepted talking points and face excommunication. Support gay marriage or denounce supply side economics and Good Lord, you must be an impostor!
Funny that David Frum should have called out so many of the antiwar conservatives so long ago, playing this very sort of card, and now writes books about how to save the Republican Party that are actually fairly thought-provoking. In the face of the absurd recalcitrance coming out of the Republican camp in the wake of the stimulus bill and the looming push for new entitlement programs, climate bills, etc. he writes:
If change is coming, Republicans need to be part of it. Health care change can be shaped in ways that are better or worse from a Republican point of view. We have red lines: no direct government delivery of health services. But we also have compromises we can live with: the amount of subsidy to the currently uninsured, for example.
The same is true on climate. Cap and trade that delivers big benefits to incumbent industries is obnoxious. A carbon tax that could replace the payroll tax should be very acceptable.
But David, didn’t you know? Compromise isn’t conservative! You’re being a defeatist of the worst kind. Much better to stop all the clocks, end all motion, build dams against all progress. Light fires under the bridges. Wage war on the others.
I suppose I’m a defeatist, too. The overwhelming force of modernity has sapped my will to deny homosexuals their basic human rights and dignity. There must be no truth at all in the notion that through marriage, through the stability and social anchor of that legal and spiritual bond, we as a society can bring a heretofore “underground” culture into the mainstream. Forgive me if I think that Constitutionally the case for marriage equality is strong, if biblically (in the Torah sense of the word) it is not, and the case for separate but equal has already proven to be a disaster socially.
I do understand the need for preservation of our institutions. But there are times for compromise in order to avoid utter defeat. There is no reason to believe that in America, somehow legalizing gay marriage will mark the end of marriage or religion as we know it. That ship has sailed, in any case. Religion is healthy in America; marriage is not. Denying one group the ability to get hitched won’t preserve anything. Politicizing the culture wars has, as with the war on drugs, terror, jay-walking, and any other innumerable war-ons we’ve begun, achieved nothing save polarization of our national dialogue.
In any case, after hearing time and again that such-and-such isn’t conservative enough, or how “kids these days” are just pandering to the Big Liberal Media, I have little left to say to such silly assertations. McCain and Rittlemeyer and the many others who claim to know what conservatism is all about may very well have the bonafides necessary to make such claims, however silly said claims may be. They’re both well respected, smart, and interesting writers whose work I enjoy a great deal. But there’s really very little one can say to this sort of accusation. I’m sure they’re not conservative enough for somebody out there either. Nobody’s ever quite conservative enough, after all. I’m certainly not, young turk that I am….