Monday, April 4, 2011

Catch of the Day

What I like about the extended and probably quixotic campaign Conor Friedersdorf is carrying on against Republican entertainers is that he grounds it in conservativism. I think that's largely correct. I don't think that Mark Levin and Andy McCarthy and the rest of them are, for the most part, doing much harm to liberals; they undermine any effort to build a sensible conservative political movement. So you have conservative "wins" such as keeping Gitmo open or today's decision about military commissions that basically have nothing whatsoever to do with any sort of consistent intellectual conservative ideas, but have more to do with whatever kinds of junk talk radio or Fox News hosts can come up with to keep their relatively small audience coming back for more.

Well, I do think liberals lose, but only in the sense that the entire nation loses when one party winds up farming its thinking out to the political equivalent of the Morning Zoo. What I mean is that I see little evidence that there is much, if any, electoral effect of all those Ann Coulter and Glenn Beck books that have been sold; after all, if anything the incentive of those people is for their party to be out of office. However, they probably do affect what Republicans actually do when they have a chance to govern, and also which liberal ideas Republicans try to block when they are in opposition. If you're a real conservative (and I'm including, there, those who are "extreme" in their conservativism), that's a bad deal.

Long windup, short pitch: Friedersdorf is absolutely brutal to Rush Limbaugh on Libya.


  1. What strikes me most about Conor, Andrew Sullivan, David Frum, and other conservative critics of talk radio is the way they continually wax sentimental about a "true conservatism" they believe has been hijacked.

    What's striking is that I see no equivalent sort of criticism on the left toward the left's screamers and charlatans. Many of us have strong reservations about Al Sharpton or Michael Moore or Keith Olbermann, but we don't think of any of these people as a threat to "true progressivism" or "true liberalism." To us, it's a matter of their temperament and tactics, not an ideological threat.

    I have to admit that I struggle to understand what this "true conservatism" amounts to. I read an entire book by Sullivan in which he attempted to explain it, and I still came out puzzled. Conor's arguments about Libya are a case in point. If skepticism toward the Libya intervention is "true conservatism," then how does it differ from "true" progressivism? Maybe he'd argue that the left and right may converge on occasion by being true to themselves. To which I say--fine.

    I just think that he's ignoring what has been the face of conservatism for a lot longer than Rush Limbaugh's career. For better or worse, movement conservatism has been deeply hawkish since at least the Vietnam era. And before the Cold War, it was isolationist, which I don't think would be Conor's preference either. Conor is perfectly entitled to diverge from this conservative consensus and still call himself a conservative. But to suggest that this consensus is itself a divergence from "true conservatism" seems a stretch to me. The farther back you go, the harder it becomes to make sense out of labels like "conservative" or "liberal" as fundamental principles. The conservatism of today isn't the conservatism of the 1930s, but that doesn't mean one is any truer than the other.

  2. Kylopod,

    Really interesting comment.

    On the one hand, I do agree with you if it's defined in those terms: there's no golden age of "true" conservative thought, and there's no real single coherent intellectual tradition for any of what we think of as ideologies.

    On the other hand, however, the stuff that Friedersdorf is fighting against is, in all cases I'm aware of, really worth fighting against -- as I said, especially for people who think of themselves as conservatives of any stripe.

    I think one can make the same case on the liberal side about the people you mention, but the truth is that they are just far, far, less influential.

  3. The point about comparative influence is a very important point. But I don't think it captures the difference between the left and the right when it comes to self-definition. Conservatives are just a lot more likely to think of conservatism as some kind of Platonic ideal than progressives tend to think of progressivism, and this difference is reflected in the way they react to their loudmouths.

  4. @Kylopod -- one does sometimes see claims that "the truly liberal position would be to ..." -- to embrace charter schools, to oppose affirmative action, to support invading Iraq, to condemn Israel more vocally, to talk like communitarians -- whatever, so long as it's an area where the speaker feels vastly outnumbered within her own coalition. That's why JB's point about influence is relevant: because, although there are particular areas of disagreement, there is not really a group of liberals that people listen to who feel divorced from liberals as a whole the way Friedersdorf and Sullivan and Larison (but not Frum; he fits your tactical disagreement model) feel from conservatives as a whole. Some such split threatened during the Iraq War, and occasionally a civil libertarian will make such noises, but this strikes me as an area in which conservatives have the more diverse, less unified coalition. I suppose in the '70s there were people shouting about socialism on street corners who considered themselves truer liberals than those sell-outs in Washington, but they were marginalized in the '80s I take it. Anyway, the question of influence explains the lack of liberals proclaiming an ideal liberalism brought down from Sinai at least as much as vice versa.

  5. Don't worry, Jon, Conor will soon be telling us how serious Tim Pawlenty is. Then you can link approvingly and get a link from Andrew Sullivan in return.

    It's all part of God's great plan.

  6. Kylopod:

    For better or worse, movement conservatism has been deeply hawkish since at least the Vietnam era.

    I recall Limbaugh being very critical of Clinton's 'humanitarian' wars in the Balkans.

  7. Kylopod:

    Conor's arguments about Libya are a case in point. If skepticism toward the Libya intervention is "true conservatism," then how does it differ from "true" progressivism?

    Where does Friedersdorf say that agreeing with him about Libya is a litmus test of 'true conservatism'?

    Regarding 'true progressivism', here's Juan Cole:

    I would like to urge the Left to learn to chew gum and walk at the same time. . . . If we just don’t care if the people of Benghazi are subjected to murder and repression on a vast scale, we aren’t people of the Left.

  8. Interesting discussion in this thread, thank-you all.

    Regarding "true progressivism", I'd suggest that early 21st century Americans are cautious about definitions due partly to the communist bloodbaths in mid-20th century Eurasia, partly to the sudden collapse of the liberal consensus in the US in the mid 1960s and early 1970s.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Who links to my website?