I read Steven Hayward’s article on intellectual conservatism with some interest, mainly because I thought Hayward – as a scholar with the American Enterprise Institute and frequent contributor to The Weekly Standard – would have enough movement credibility to convincingly argue that talk radio populists aren’t conservatism’s best standard bearers. The substance of this critique has been around for awhile, and anyone who frequents this site is probably already familiar with the case against Happy Meal Conservatism. Hayward’s article, however, seems tailor-made for a skeptical audience – unlike perennial talk radio-bashers David Frum or Andrew Sullivan, he is incredibly (some would say overly) solicitous of the Becks and Limbaughs of the world. The piece makes no mention of Beck’s questionable history, praises his “intellectual curiosity,” and readily acknowledges the importance of conservatism’s populist roots.
So it was depressing to hear the exact same epithets that are routinely hurled at a Sullivan or a Frum directed at Hayward, who was immediately derided as elitist and out of touch with the movement’s grassroots for criticizing conservative populism. The closest I’ve come to finding an actual refutation of Hayward’s arguments is from Redstate’s Erick Erickson, who seems to have given up on defending the conservative movement’s intellectual bona fides in favor of denying that a lack of carefully thought-out policy ideas is a problem in the first place.
It is not surprising to read the Right’s vituperative reaction to, say, David Brooks’ latest column on talk radio. Whatever his faults, Brooks, at least, has never been a movement hack. But if people aren’t willing to give someone like Hayward a respectful hearing, I wonder what it will take to convince the base that following Levin, Limbaugh and Beck off a cliff isn’t a blueprint for conservative revival. At this point, one suspects that if Glenn Beck renounced his talk radio populism tomorrow, he would immediately be dismissed as a traitorous elitist.