February 7, 2010 - January 31, 2010
I'm going to react here to three conservative bloggers I respect but
disagree with. Patrick
Ruffini makes a good faith effort to respond reasonably to Ross
Douthat's argument that conservatives should stop attacking their own
"elitists" and work for a stronger conservative coalition instead, one
that might actually have a chance of winning. Jim Treacher
writes today to suggest that those of us who feel the presidential race
is over are simply falling prey to what the Dems want us to believe. He
thinks a 24-hour "timeout" will restore our optimism. And Rick
Moran of Rightwingnuthouse.com takes time out of his dedicated
pro-McCain blogging to remind us all that if Obama is elected, he is
our (i.e., Moran's) President, no matter how he got there, and we
shouldn't succumb to the temptation to act like KosKids or the crazies
at Democratic Underground..
I understand all their points and the rationales behind them. I'm not disagreeing with their arguments as far as they go, but I think they're all missing the elephant in the living room. And it's that elephant which has so many red-state conservatives in a state of mounting -- and justifiable -- rage and despair. The elephant explains why we won't be overlooking the behavior of the elitists even in the final stages of a presidential election, why we know the race really is already over, and why we won't be tamely falling in line behind "our President" when he takes office in January.
Back in 1999, William Bennett wrote a book called "The Death of Outrage." It was a moral commentary on the successful defense of Bill Clinton by liberals during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Liberals peddled -- and Americans bought -- the notion that the scandal was only about sex and should therefore be overlooked because "everybody lies about sex" and sex is a personal and private matter. Of course, the charges for which Clinton was investigated weren't about sex per se. They were about perjury, obstruction of justice, and related felonies associated with the coverup of the affair and the use of presidential influence to move her and other witnesses out of the line of fire.
The upshot was that Clinton was acquitted in the Senate and in the eyes of the American people, though he was subsequently disbarred -- not for sex, but for lying under oath. The media mythology since then has persuaded many, if not most, Americans that Clinton was unfairly persecuted for private peccadilloes that shouldn't have anything to do with his fitness for high office. As a culture, we learned that it's possible, even necessary, to compartmentalize immoral behavior. As long as a politician is popular in his pursuit of policy priorities affecting the American people, his status as a good or bad man by our own lights is irrelevant. Any personal outrage we might feel about his private conduct is more a reflection of our own intolerance and prejudice than of any failing in the officeholder. That was Phase I.
Phase II followed almost immediately. It's the converse of Phase I. If we disapprove the polices and positions of a politician and regard them as, in some sense, immoral according to our own ideology, then absolutely everything about that politician is fair game for attack, including private and personal matters that would be exempt from rebuke in a politician whose politics we approved. That's how it came to pass that George W. Bush, his wife, daughters, extended family, and all members of his administration and party were acceptably in the eyes of the public subjected to almost inconceivably vile, vicious, and pornographic libel from brand new institutions like Moveon.org that were founded for the express purpose of mounting such assaults. As Phase II intensified, two additional effects surfaced. The MSM learned, much to its delight, that any prohibition which once existed against a clearly political double standard was also gone. Republicans could be pilloried, judged -- in advance of trial or any legal proceeding -- guilty of, yes, sexual misconduct that would never be -- and had never been -- career ending for Democrats, and there would be no public outrage.
So far, at least two Republicans have been destroyed and reduced to lewd punchlines for ultimately unproven allegations of homosexuality while Barney Frank continues to hold office and MSM respect despite having dalliances which involved obviously illegal conduct -- one with a page who ran a prostitution ring from Frank's house and the other a Fannie Mae executive who was as involved with subprime mortgage shenanigans as he was with Barney Frank. Phase II embodied the elegant simplicity of dividing the world in two. Democrats who committed lascivious private acts were protected by the natural right of privacy all well intentioned people share. Republicans were not protected because any such acts made them hyopcrites. The final flowering of Phase II was the MSM discovery that they, too, could trade in rumors, abusive characterizations, and an unabashedly obvious double standard without receiving any real rebuke from anyone. Hence the MSM-orchestrated gang rape of Sarah Palin that's been ongoing since her nomination.
In the current election cycle, we have advanced to Phase III, which is the direct opposite of Phase I. If a politician with whom we agree has a reputable private life, then it's acceptable and even necessary to overlook all and every evidence that he is profoundly, politically and/or morally corrupt. Obama looks nice, he sounds reasonable, he presents himself as a selfless idealist, and his family is handsome and untainted by scandal. Therefore, it is appropriate to give him a complete pass on his two decade-long alliance with black-nationalist racists posing as religious leaders, his ties to organized crime figures in Chicago, his associations with avowed marxists and anti-American revolutionaries for whom he funnelled funds to other dubious organizations during the only part of his career that can be said to involve action of any sort, his incredibly suspect fundraising practices as a presidential candidate, his McCarthyite alacrity for demonizing all opponents and critics as racists, AND his tacit acceptance of the -- dare I say the word? -- outrageous leftist abuse of Sarah Palin's motherhood, her womanhood, and basic human dignity (even including her private parts) since the Republican Convention
Worse than all this, the MSM are blatant activists in all three phases of the "death of outrage." Even ten years ago, Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews would have been run out of their profession for the appalling misconduct they have committed during the past two years. Polls indicate that a majority of the public is aware that the MSM is heavily biased toward Obama and against the Republicans. Yet they have been taught to feel no outrage, at least not sufficient outrage to declare that they will not vote for a party which thinks it's acceptable to make jokes about a mother's vagina and her Down Syndrome baby.
And what, pray tell, is the response of the most highly educated and "refined" of the Republican intelligentsia? Do they notice that their party's campaign has been savaged by the very lowest sort of political and personal vitriol imaginable? Do they twig at the idiocy of the charge that McCain is running a negative campaign while Obama hides behind the skirts of his Hollywood Furies? Does some aspect of their highbrow heritage as "gentlemen" kick in to make them stand up and say "enough is enough"? No. Like the snobs they are, they believe a victim of rape should be hidden away, her face blurred, her appearances in public terminated, her very name forgotten. No. Like the old-school feminists they pretend to oppose, they feel the deepest possible shame at even being associated with her. No.
NO. Rather, they're offended that anyone might hold any personal malice against them. They're not apostates. They're just contemptible scum.
And to the extent that John McCain doesn't see what is happening, can't bring himself to call Obama on his despicable passivity about what has been done to McCain's own running mate, he doesn't deserve to win. Regardless of his biography, he has become scum too. That's why there's despair in the ranks of conservatives. One thing we really do have a right to share with our party's presidential candidate is outrage about things that are absolutely wrong. But he's not outraged. He's just a crabby maverick whose moral compass swirled away in a DC toilet some number of years ago.
The rebuttal of all three blogs referenced above is the same. Outrage. Our party, our country, and our values are being hijacked by a system so corrupt that most of its leading lights belong in prison, or failing that, publicly horsewhipped.
We're not the ones who changed the rules. We're the ones who remember the rules. We're not the ones who made this a cultural war to the death. Make peace with the DC fops, Patrick, if it will make you feel more hopeful. Pretend for a single sunset and sunrise that the political dialogue in your country hasn't fallen into the deepest part of the gutter, Jim. Do your very noble best, Rick, to support your new gangster president when he takes office.
But don't count on all of us appreciating the calm reasonableness of your logic. We don't. And we won't.
If it's war they want, it's war they'll get. And that's not unreasonable. It's civilized. All you out there who know something about being ladies and gentlemen will understand what I mean. The rest of you? The hell with you.
UPDATE. More vague, inarticulate, even incoherent snobbery about Palin. If I didn't know better, I'd be tempted to jump to the conclusion that all women are nuts. Except that Mrs. IP isn't, and Laura Ingraham clearly isn't. But why do so many otherwise intelligent women fall into a black hole of self-destructive self-contradiction as soon as Sarah Palin is mentioned? My theory: She's a one-woman litmus test. If there's any weakness at all in your female self-confidence about your own bravery, independence, competence, ambition, motherhood, beauty, sexual attractiveness, or personal morality, you hate her. Is the great impediment to female advancement in politics in this country really traceable to women's infinite capacity to hate, envy, and despise one another? You tell me. If it is, no woman will ever be elected to the presidency in this nation. That bitch? Over my dead body.
Most of you don't know real women. You know stunted, sick, sad
imitations of women. It must really distort your sense of what's going
on. Like maybe you think Dowd is cool and Palin is dumb. You've never
been married to this:
. A lot of pundits and commentators on both sides have
been groping for appropriate historical analogies to put the coming
Obama presidency in context. I'm the only one who's sussed it out correctly. So pay attention.
On the left, the favorites have been JFK's Camelot and Lincoln, meaning the second Lincoln term we never got because of John Wilkes Booth, in which all the amimus of the Civil War would presumably have been soothed away by the kind of oratory we remember from the Gettysburg Address and The Great Emancipator's Second Inaugural Address.
On the optimistic right, the most popular (and delusional) comparison has been to the disastrous one-term presidency of Jimmy Carter, whose rigid naivete paved the way for the Reagan Revolution.
On the pessimistic right, there has also been abundant resort to Carter analogies, but their emphasis is less on the brevity of Carter's tenure in office than on the longevity of his catastrophic legacy -- legitimization of Islamic fascism, negotiation with terrorists, appeasement of openly declared enemies, sabotage of the U.S. military, self-destructive energy policies, wrong-headed economic measures, and a holier-than-thou relationship between the executive branch and ordinary Americans who would rather be Americans than global citizens. A very few on the libertarian right (e.g., Glen Beck) have reached all the way back to 1860 for a better parallel, positing that our union faces as grave a crisis as the Civil War itself, one that threatens to shatter our national unity forever.
All these analogies are wrong. Nobody but a bare majority of voters on one particular Tuesday in November 1976 ever liked Carter, let alone loved, admired him, and saw him as some kind of messiah. To the extent they approved him at all, it was because they imagined him humble, which he wasn't, and they swiftly came to despise him. Obama's following approaches cult status. He is the kind of political figure who can do absolutely everything wrong, fail at every task to which he puts his hand, and still retain the devotion of those who have projected onto him their wildest utopian fantasies. That's the only way he could have survived a candidacy which has made so many missteps and changes of position that the man literally has no fixed points left on the public record other than his party affiliation. Carter was a man (don't know what he is now, besides contemptible). Obama is a symbol. He has enormously greater latitude for screwing up than Little Jimmy ever did. The optimistic right fears him too little. So does the pessimistic right. We'll get to the Civil War later.
The Dems aren't in much better shape. Obama has none of JFK's wit and common touch, and he is 180 degrees opposite JFK's muscular foreign policy. (Michelle and Jackie might as well be from different planets.) In fact, the only things Obama and JFK have in common are a cool presence on camera, a perfect figure for clothes (tautology?), and striking inexperience in any executive capacity. Obama does have a couple of attributes in common with Lincoln. Both are nominally sons of Illinois, though both were born and raised elsewhere. And the second term of Lincoln is as purely imaginary as the massed expectations of an Obama presidency. Since his self-serving and lavishly praised speech on race, already virtually gone from the public record, the Obama faithful have been promising us a Lincoln. What we're going to get is a Johnson.
No, not Lyndon Johnson. Andrew Johnson. The father of post-Civil War Reconstruction. That's right. The most appropriate year of comparison is nothing in the twentieth century and it's not 1860, either. Lincoln was no pacifist or appeaser. He fought the Civil War tooth and nail, and he helped make it the most ferociously savage war yet fought, so much so that the term "Total War" was coined to describe its excesses. We remember his speeches not because they were the highpoint of his presidency, but because they are reminders of his strength as a moral decisionmaker. If he'd been more like Obama, we wouldn't remember him at all.
Obama is a post-Lincoln kind of guy, a pure politician in a time of pure politics. That's why the year that fits best is 1865, when a second, less violent but more pernicious war began, this one against all those who had opposed the powers Lincoln' reelection had given the upper hand over a defeated enemy.
I'm NOT arguing the historical pros and cons of Reconstruction as it unfolded in the nineteenth century here. I'm aware that the historical debate still rages over whether it lasted too long or not long enough. I'm just saying that it's the closest equivalent to where we are right now. Whatever its perceived merits afer the fact, Reconstruction began as an attempt to punish and humiliate the South, even unto ruination. Its direct effects included the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, the subsequent adoption of Jim Crow laws and their innumerable dreadful consequences, as well as the impoverishment of the former Confederate states into the late twentieth century. Reconstruction as it was administered -- regardless of its motives -- was the American equivalent of the Versailles Treaty that followed World War I and helped bring about World War II.
Just as the War between the North and South ended at Appomatox, the state of Total War between the Left and Right which has raged since George W. Bush's election in 2000 will end with the election of Barack Obama in 2008. He has presented himself as a trans-racial unifier, a post-partisan healer who is able and determined to bring a divided country back together. But nothing could be further from the truth.
Obama is a one-man Trojan Horse, an apparent peace offering filled with implacable instruments of vengeance. Nothing could be clearer than that the Democrats and all their allies hate their Republican and conservative opposition. They will not be content with electoral victory. They need annihilation. And in Obama, they have the exact right man for the job. That's why they tossed Hillary (and their few thousand diehard feminists) to the wolves and with her Bill Clinton, the moderate Democrat who showed them how to govern from the comparatively safe center. There's absolutely nothing safe about Obama. That's why they preferred him. After Bush, they were no longer interested in governing. They wanted revenge.
Barack Obama was raised by a Marxist mother as a mixed-race, stateless anomaly, in an isolated colonial acquisition of the United States, sent abroad for education in Third-World nations that had themselves experienced the brunt of European colonialism, and then released for a power elite education into exclusively urban locales within the continental United States. He knows nothing of life in the 48 states that don't contain one of the four most populous cities and precious little of life outside those cities. His major acts as an independent adult were to form alliances with a racist black nationalist preacher tied to Louis Ferrakhan, join the inveterately corrupt Chicago Democratic political machine, intimidate his electoral opponents into quitting the race before election day, and ally himself with a radical sixties political terrorist for the purpose of funnelling money to 1) educational programs designed to radicalize minority students and 2) a renegade national organization in the business of promoting minority voter fraud and minority access to fraudulent mortgage contracts. This is not a trans-racial second-term Lincoln stand-in. It is far and away the most left-wing political personage who has ever been nominated by a major party to run for the presidency of the United States.
His unexamined candidacy has also demonstrated the lengths (and lows) to which he is willing to go. His internet-based campaign finance "bundling" operation has devised ways of receiving foreign moneys, even from places like Iran, which cannot be called to account. He has succeeded in demonizing all who question his negligible qualifications and dubious political partners as racists. He has been ruthless in using left-wing tactics to suppress and/or libel specific accusers and accusations, including mass phone and email attacks undertaken by his own campaign managers -- and ambiguously sponsored groups whose more extreme statements can be disavowed if necessary. He has been such a chameleon on public policy matters, thanks to his quasi-messianic rhetoric and mass-media appeal, that he cannot be pinned to any specific position he has taken, since it will probably change tomorrow without being detected or challenged. He has become so much a symbol that being a cipher no longer matters.
Meanwhile, both Democrats and Republicans play directly into his hands. Democrats are willing to endure the costs of the Reconstruction he will wreak on the nation because it will hurt Republicans more than Democrats. If his vengeance should prove to be race-based, so much the better for them. They are on the side of the angels in this, they believe, and their sense of poetic justice is nourished by the lies they have continuously told themselves about the nature of their red-state antagonists. Even the most cynical of them seem unaware that the underhanded tactics they connive in might also be used, one day soon, against them too. If race relations should be set back a hundred years by what is done in the name of punishing conservatives, eradicating racism and other forms of "hate," and redistributing the wealth of a greedy capitalist system, they figure they'll still have a seat at the table where the spoils are shared. But there is no honor among thieves -- or pirates. They know it but keep forgetting that they're not necessarily the smartest pirates on the open sea. Bad news for them. Worse news for everyone else.
So the man who has, apparently, convinced a majority of us that he is the only one capable of bringing us all together is, in reality, the one who has the best possible training in eliminating all his -- and his sponsors' -- political enemies. He will have the full support of a veto-proof Congress as he sets about the task of denying free speech (on "hate" grounds) to his enemies, facilitating the socialization of not only the healthcare system but also the nation's financial system, and gradually, suborning both the U.S. Constitution and national sovereignty to authoritarian international systems like the United Nations, the European Union, and the World Court.
But John McCain is self-righteous about informing his terrified supporters that they needn't fear an Obama presidency, because "he's a decent man." Which does more than any Obama attack to defeat McCain, because it proves him the worst kind of fool. No wonder high-profile conservatives are scrambling for cover. It won't be pretty when the Obama DOJ starts investigating Sarah Palin for malfeasance in office as Governor of Alaska. (Tina Fey will no doubt be happy to help with funny funny skits...)
Four years of this will not be undone by any congressional electoral rebellion. Obama's legacy will make Carter's look like the first attempts of an amateur graffiti vandal. In this respect, he is no tyro. He has been raised for this purpose as single-mindedly as Sarah Conner's son was raised to fight the conspiracies of SkyNet.
How now will you defend Troy?
. Earlier in the week, David Brooks called Sarah Palin a
on the Republican Party." Today, he excommunicated
conservatives who don't work for The
New York Times or National
His conclusion, of course, is that Sarah Palin is the catastrophic
climax of a process of devolution that has destroyed the conservative
movement in America. It's an astonishing piece, as revealing as it is,
We have here a whole series of untruths, misrepresentations, and confusions of cause and effect. I am sure that this is an accurate representation of the conservative universe from David Brooks's viewpoint. It's just that it's historically and conceptually false. If you read the whole essay, for example, you will discover that he has essentially confined the entire Reagan Revolution to one three-sentence paragraph, almost as an asterisk to the real work that was done by Buckley and other conservative intellectuals like himself. I'll come back to the falsehoods later, but first it's time to take note of another, equally provocative essay that appeared online today.
It's by Chris Buckley, son of the late patron saint of the National Review, William F. Buckley. Son Christopher has decided to endorse Barack Obama. Here are some representative excerpts of that gem of insight, longer than I would like but necessary to convey the flavor.
The Brooks piece and the Buckley piece may seem substantially different
-- one a formal construct of argumentation and the other a personal,
almost casual memoir of conversion -- but what they share is far deeper
than any of the points they make. Both rest on the unacknowledged
assumption that what is called intellectual is, in fact, meant to be
synonymous with intelligence itself, specifically the kind needed to
make decisions for a rowdy people that can never be trusted to do such
basic things as read character, employ logic, understand consequences
in the short and long term, and run
their own damn country.
In Christopher Buckley's piece in particular, I found reinforcement of a suspicion I have always entertained, with much reasonable doubt to be sure, about William F. Buckley. To make this suspicion clear, I'll need you to look at the following YouTube clip from Brideshead Revisited, the miniseries of Evelyn Waugh's exploration of the British aristocracy in the Edwardian (pre-WWII) era. The scene in the clip portrays the first exposure of the staid protestant protagonist, Charles Ryder, to the glamorous society of Oxford's decadent Anglo-Catholic demi-monde.
The relevance of this scene is not Blanche's ostentatious
homosexuality. It's his determination to dominate by being outrageous.
He succeeds brilliantly in his goal of attracting attention. He is more
a master of style than of substance. But in his social context, he
might be pardoned for believing that verbal quickness and cleverness
are the most effective proof possible of authentic intelligence. After
all, people listen to what he has to say. They are defenseless against
That, forgive me, was always my concern about Buckley the elder. For two reasons. First, because I had run into blueblood "conservatives" at Harvard myself and when you scratched the surface, they were not so much (small "R") republican federalists as anglophile monarchists. Like the Anglo-Catholics of Waugh's book, they looked down on the lesser American elites of Kennedys and Massachusetts descendants of the founding fathers. They regarded membership in the Democrat Party as an unbecoming stain on true aristocracy. Their objection to the power of labor unions wasn't a political distaste for the New Deal Coalition so much as an unpleasant olfactory response.
Second, the Buckley verbal style always grated on me. It was so mannered, so somehow self-satisfied in its refusal to be clear and direct, that I immediately associated it with the posturing of Anthony Blanche. And if you think the comparison is far-fetched, how is it that an American born in this country and educated at Yale continuously displayed the most perfect possible example of the infamous "Oxford stutter"? Worse, his columns embodied exactly the same refusal to communicate clearly and directly. His sentence structure was perverse, his syntax rococo, his use of vocabulary deliberately opaque, and his anti-egalitarian insistence on being incomprehensible to those who did not know Latin or Greek made me regard him as more poseur than political evangelist. I never bought the act that he was reaching out to everyday Americans. If he was, he was a terrible writer. If he wasn't, he was an American version of Anthony Blanche -- a pretentious (however learned) cocktail party hero.
I reserved judgment about Buckley because he did ultimately bond with and support Reagan. Reading Chris Buckley, though, who is one further generation from Edwardian England, I am frankly repelled at his anglicisms -- "mum and pup," "don't have the kidney," "the bleeding obvious" -- and casual Latin pretentions "pace Oliver Wendell Holmes." I'll readily admit I haven't read Chris Buckley's fiction, but I'd place a small wager that he writes more like Waugh than any other American you might name. I'm also suspicious that he's so easily seduced by Obama's "writings." If he cares enough about the candidates to libel John McCain for trying to win an election, he should also care enough to consider evidence that Obama may not have written his "first-rate" memoirs. (Oops. What would that do to his "airy-fairy" endorsement? What, what, eh?)
And bearing just a bit longer with the Waugh analogy, it does seem to me that the best way to understand the high and mighty American Republican elitists is to see them as the minority Anglo-Catholics in the liberal aristocracy that dominates all the professions and universities. The political battle they think they perceive with their superior intellectualism is actually a social contest undertaken in the very provinces where David Brooks feels himself losing -- "Silicon Valley, northern Virginia, the suburbs outside of New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and Raleigh-Durham," among other watering holes of the rich and privileged. These places are no more liberal than they've ever been. What's changed is the snobbery standard. Nobody likes Bush and the cognoscenti are embarrassed he went to Andover and Yale. Academic institutions among the elite have been marxist for a century. That hasn't changed. Lawyers switch parties whenever their opportunity to sue is threatened. T'was ever so. What's different is the company highbrow conservatives are compelled to keep -- or at least defend.
When I was much younger, my experience wth such snobs convinced me that there was a fifty-first state no one knew about. It included Grosse Point, Michigan, Lake Forest, Illinois, Chestnut Hill in Boston, the Philadelphia Main Line, the Upper East Side, New York, and dozens of other wealthy preserves where the children were destined to attend the same prep schools, the same prestigious universities, and the same private summer communities. Call it the "Commonwealth of Intelligentsia." Its citizens tended to know one another, no matter how far apart they lived, and they shared what Fitzgerald called a "vast carelessness," nourished by the certainty that real consequences are always visited on those a level or two down in the social order. For the past eight years, parties have been a drag for intellectual conservatives. The poor dears. The local politics of Intelligentsia have gotten ugly. Teacups are being dashed to the floor in anger. (Which is tantamount to extreme violence for the Paper People.)
This is the state David Brooks and Chris Buckley are from. The rest of our country isn't real to them. The Reagan Revolution is only worth a couple of sentences in the tomes they write about their own accomplishments, and they missed all the real historical antecedents of conservatism in flyover country because they can't understand or even perceive a movement that begins in people's hearts and lives rather than high-society skirmishes that result in unlikely invitations and lucrative book and media contracts.
Bottom line (I use this term here because they hate it so): Defecting from the cannon-riddled ship of American conservatism at this point in time is perfectly predictable and perfectly illuminating about who they are. They never got into this game to defend hockey moms, moose hunting, and Down syndrome babies. And their astonishment at discovering that in the internet age, writing about politics can lead to such unpleasantness as death threats is also a revelation of their naive presumptions. They've been "conservatives" all this time without knowing what innumerable combatants like Michelle Malkin and Ann Coulter put with daily, hourly? Me, I'm perfectly happy to have them run away to their boat slips in Nantucket and put all the nasty byplay of politics behind them forever.
But the good news is we don't need them. Intellectualism is not the same thing as intelligence. In many ways it is frequently the opposite. (Read Chris Buckley's "pup" quote about Harvard vs the phonebook and then his uncomprehending deprecations of Harvard, Yale, and Princeton politicians. He knows. But he doesn't. QED.) If you want to read the best writing about American conservatism, read "Reagan in His Own Hand." No, he wasn't an intellectual. But he was smarter than all the clowns we've been discussing in this (admittedly) overlong post.