Mark says it all too well:
Conservative wonks simply aren’t doing their jobs. What they are doing is picking apart liberal proposals, picking apart conservative proposals, attacking the low-hanging fruit of conservative extremism, and occasionally making suggestions to liberals on ways of either improving liberal proposals or making those proposals more palatable to conservatives. What they are not doing, and largely are not even trying to do, is to drive the GOP agenda. They are, in effect, content to leave the GOP agenda as little more than “vote no on everything” and tear down whatever the liberals do. [….]
Liberal wonks are not going out of their way to antagonize their base, calling them names, questioning their intelligence, and attacking their integrity. The liberal base meanwhile does not go out of its way to antagonize its wonks, calling them names, questioning their loyalties, and attacking their integrity. Instead what they are doing is lobbying each other, with the wonks making the base better informed about what should and should not be important, and the base making the wonks better informed about what is and is not politically possible.
Which leads me to this post at Right Wing News recounting some reactions to their “Least Favorite People on the Right Poll.” After summarizing reactions from David Frum, Andrew Sullivan, and Charles Johnson (all of whom made the cut) John Hawkins writes:
See, this is why I find people like Frum, Conor Friesdorf, Kathleen Parker, David Brooks, Meghan McCain, etc., etc., so worthy of utter contempt.
Frum, runs a website called “A New Majority,” so one might presume he wants to a build a “New Majority” of some sort. Yet, look at the reality of what he is best known for doing: He attacks conservatives for the amusement of liberals. But, how do you build a “new majority” doing that?
Liberals have no interest in David Frum’s ideas. They simply want to use him as a stick to beat conservatives with. Conservatives obviously have no use for someone who drips with contempt for them — and moderates, well, being moderates, you can’t build anything with them. They simply don’t have the fire or the ideological coherency to build a movement around.
Out of this batch of squish “reformers,” the only one I have noticed who doesn’t fall into this trap consistently is Ross Douthat. I often don’t agree with Ross, but I at least respect him because he is smart enough to realize that if he is going to change the Republican Party, he is going to have to do it by bringing conservatives on board with his ideas, not by pooping in his hand and hurling it at the conservatives he doesn’t like.
Another perspective from Steve Benen:
If the political world had an honest, serious debate, in which credible experts explored real-world solutions, chances are very good progressive reform advocate would win. When it comes to health care and the broken system, the facts just aren’t on conservatives’ side. Indeed, the NYT piece noted some of the conflicts among conservative wonks who realize that a) they want to cut costs from the health care system; b) the most effective ways to save money in the system come from centralized, government decision-making; and c) they’re against centralized, government decision-making.
So, The Wonks don’t get invited to Tea Parties or onto Fox News. They don’t write nutty pieces for the Wall Street Journal editorial page. Their opinions are not sought out by Republican policymakers.
Instead, we’re left with liars and fools, spreading propaganda and nonsense, leaving us with a discourse unbefitting our democracy. It’s a shame the voice of the opposition is stark raving mad, and the idea of an enlightened debate is a naive daydream.
Lots to chew on….
I think Benen is wrong, of course, that progressive arguments would always win. Progressives are fallible, too. Looking across the pond, we can see where many left-leaning policies have begun to be scaled back with conservative, market-friendly policies helping to cut costs and reduce waste.
I also think Hawkins goes overboard, though we shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss his point. While Frum and others are coming up with some very good policy, they’re also doing a pretty good job at making sure the conservative base never listens to any of it. And why should it be so hard to suggest smart policy and refrain from attacking the conservative base’s heroes like Limbaugh and Levin? I mean, if you don’t like Limbaugh just ignore him. Just come up with better, more substantive ideas that conservatives – not just liberals, and not just fellow dissidents – will also listen to.
This is what I gleaned from Mark’s post. He’s right – the liberal coalition is far more accepting of their wonks, and their wonks are far less likely to tear down the base or the Democratic political leadership. Maybe the right is in too disheveled a state to benefit from this analysis. Maybe its core constituency, and more importantly, its leadership, is simply too bogged down and insular. And perhaps the civil war will take place on the right between the tea partiers and the leadership, between the dissatisfied base and the ineffectual party leaders, and the wonks can sit by the sidelines making no enemies until its over. Cooler heads can prevail if they have any audience left.