Thursday, November 13, 2008
STILL JUST PUNKS. This post has no real import. It's just funny. And sad. Actually, mostly sad. The way things can be in this explosive new media environment. It's a vignette, really. About Daily Pundit, alias Bill Quick, the blogger who coined the term "blogosphere" and helped usher in our grand new age. I've had some communications with him in the past, and he seemed a decent guy, but I'd lost track of him until one of the commenters here at InstaPunk checked in yesterday with this:
Today I got into a disagreement with Daily Pundit proprietor Bill Quick for having the temerity to suggest that 1) IP is a better-written blog than most; and 2) that conservatives need to be more aggressive:
His response was less than encouraging; he started by belittling this place, then by attacking me for apparently responding to a post in which he specifically called for comments.
Really, with friends like that . . .
In response to queries, he elaborated, as follows:
In my comment to Daily Pundit I was trying to make a point about conservatives being soft and not being sufficiently fierce about the language they use when attacking or defending certain policies. He apparently thought I was off-topic; I then re-commented to explain myself. Which I did pretty well, I thought. I also thought I did it in a non-personal way. His follow up said I'd insulted him. Which I hadn't. However, in the spirit of not being too big a jerk, I told him no offense intended (which was true). Now I'm wondering whether I should have!
That being said, the whole exchange was instructive for me.
The funny thing is, I don't think his posts are badly written, generally speaking. They don't have the eloquence of a lot of the stuff here, but hey that's life.
I was curious, because as I mentioned, I've had contact with Bill Quick, and so I followed the link in the comment and found that the "belittling" included traffic data for his blog, Ace of Spades, and other famous righty blogs compared to the much lower traffic figures for Instapunk. His scornful conclusion was that we don't matter because we're a ratings loser. Kind of like "Knight Rider," I guess. I thought that was funny, so I posted a jocular comment of my own based on our previous acquaintance:
Well, youíve turned into a nasty old bugger, havenít you?
I, for one, have never held your high traffic against you. Iíve never once compared you and Ace to Jacqueline Suzanne and Stephen King, who were after all the greatest writers of their time because their sales were so high.
Is the ACP ó and all the weighty responsibilities associated with it ó sapping your sense of humor? I fear so. Tell you what. Try watching a few episodes of AbFab, South Park, and House. See if your dangerously inflated amour-propre doesnít shrink a quart or two after a few hubris-puncturing laughs. Youíll feel better for it. I promise.
Late this afternoon, I decided to visit his blog and see if he'd read or responded to my joust. But I couldn't get there. I don't mean I couldn't make a comment or access existing comments. I couldn't get to DailyPundit.com at all. Instead, I got a series of "403" error messages telling me I was "not authorized to access this site." I tried various other ways of getting there, including cutting and pasting the link from the comment that had first piqued my interest. I even ventured over to instaPundit and clicked from his blogroll. Nothing doing. So I consulted with my webmaster, who was able to access the site, and he sent me Bill Quick's response to my comment:
But what's more interesting is the part where Bill Quick says, "I was only peripherally aware that your blog even existed."
Which doesn't quite square with my own records.† Quick announced six months ago that he was interested in founding a new political party to replace the failed Republican Party. He asked for volunteer contributors. I volunteered by email (under my own name but with reference to Instapunk) and received an almost immediate response, which I quote verbatim:
I'm happily familiar with Instapunk.
I'm trying to organize this on the principles Glenn Reynolds talks about
in An Army of Davids - let it more or less self-organize within certain
broad confines.† (As an example of "confines," I turned down one
applicant who was honest upfront and asked me if there would be any
objections to an editor with a "cynical voice."† I told him he was more
than welcome to comment, but editors, at least in the early stages,
would need to be more idealistic than cynical about the overall project
- at least when they are nominally representing it.
I'd like to see this venture's web presence eventually approach the
level of Daily Kos, but from a conservative pov.† My notion right now is
to sign up as many conservative voices as I can who are interested in
pushing the project forward.† I don't expect anything of any individual
editor except that.† In this case "editor" might† be better defined as
I'm hoping that out of this initial mix of contributors and commenters,
we will begin to naturally develop an organizational structure, an
ideological stance, and, at some point down the road, an actual
political party.† But even before that, we might find ways to act as a
pressure group and a fundraising and support entity for candidates of
any party who seem to deserve our support.
Go here to log in:
Your username will be: XXXXX (case matters)
Your password will be: XXXXX- please change to something else
after you log on.
Your display name will be: XXXXX (you can change it to something
else after you log on).
I'll use the email on this letter as your official email.† You can
change it after you log on, if you'd like.
I did post. I posted this, in fact:
The American Conservative Party. It's a big idea. Bill Quick has to be commended for setting this monster in motion. He's asking us all to take a step back from the cut and thrust of everyday politics and think. About who we are. What we want. How we might conceivably get there.
Anyone who's seen my site, Instapunk.com, will suspect that my whole purpose is to make trouble. That's not true. I am a real conservative. I have two credentials most of you don't have -- which is good news for you, because having my credentials would make you as old as I am. I was raised by rock-ribbed conservatives who lived through FDR and Truman, despising every minute of it, and then I went to Harvard, where I encountered a concentrated propaganda effort intended to make me hate my forebears.
It was the heart of the Vietnam era. I won't dwell on it, but I experienced the demonstrations, the mimeographed hate letters to the United States, the nonsense of tenured professors prostituting their reputations to condemn their own country for opposing the most murderous totalitatarian regime in recorded history. I participated in the draft lottery--† after my WWII vet father told me not to volunteer for a war our country didn't want to win -- and I lost. The top third of the lottery, into which I fell, was expected to be drafted. Except that year was the first in which no one was taken. The war was over when I turned nineteen.
The easy conclusion is that I missed the war. But I didn't. The Vietnam War has never gone away. I've lived to see the people who swore they'd never fight it become congressmen, senators, cabinet officials, and presidents. I've lived to see them in charge of U.S. foreign policy. And I've lived to see all the avowed draft dodgers take over the best colleges and universities in the country. There is now an entire generation in power which has never been tested against their own fear.
I went to Harvard because my father was determined that his children would be educated in the Ivy League. What he couldn't control was that I would come of age in South Jersey, where you were judged by how well and how fast you could drive. For the sum of $300 I bought a 1970 Chrysler Newport convertible and rebuilt it with a high-performance 440 engine, headers, dual exhausts, Koni shock absorbers, metallic brakes, and police pursuit radial tires. It became a 4,000-pound car that could do zero to sixty in six seconds. One night, in my hometown, I raced an IROC Camaro up the narrow main street, passing within several inches of the bridge oiver the town's river. I barely made it but I beat his ass. That's how I learned fear. And the way to conquer it.
Does all this seem off point? It isn't. Life is about fear. It's also about the difference between social acceptability and self-confidence. I'd like to suggest that politics begins with personal† experience. You learn to drive like hell, run like hell, block like hell, throw or bat like hell, or you settle for being a liberal.
Which is another way of saying that being a conservative is about aspiration. Conservatives expect more of themselves, their families, their business partners, their representatives.
As I said up top, this is only a first step. Being a conservative is not about being rich, cautious, or retiring. It's about the joy of living, even when the bureaucracy is determined to view you as a unit.
Government is not about the joy of living. It's about the joy of controlling others. And mostly, the control is designed to keep those others from seeing the weaknesses of those in charge.
The American Conservative Party should be about living. That's the ideal. Which suggests that the name might be wrong. Our mission isn't to protect, defend, hold the line, keep the faith, or other backward-moving concepts. It's about freeing people from those who would tell them exactly how to live. It's about letting the fresh air in.
I'll elaborate on this in another post. In the meantime, don't think defense. Think aspiration.
Bill didn't exactly like this post. He commented (yes, personally) that the name of the party was not up for debate. But I wrote a second post anyway:
What's in a name?
In my first post here (2/6/08) I suggested that 'American Conservative Party' might be the wrong name. Here's why I believe that and why I think it's important.
We think of ourselves as conservatives because the positions we tend to share are based on time-honored verities of American experience. We believe in limited government because the founding fathers' greatest fear was big, tyrannical government. We believe in a strong national defense because that was one of only a handful of roles the Constitution specifically assigned to the federal government. We believe there is a role for religion in public life because the original intent of the "separation of church and state" was to protect religion from government, not the other way round. We believe in the sanctity of life, particularly with respect to abortion, because there is no basis whatever in either the Constitution or our religious tradition for depriving the smallest and most helpless among us of their right to live. Our specific policy positions tend to arise fairly directly from these bedrock principles of the past. Thus, we see ourselves conserving that legacy.
But this is a fantasy, possibly a dangerous one. The reality is that almost no one alive has ever cast a vote prior to the New Deal political era that fundamentally changed the relationship between Americans and their government. Throughout our own lifetimes we have witnessed a political evolution from large, intrusive federal government to incredibly larger, almost paralyzingly intrusive government. In this context, the real conservatives are those who have resisted periodic Republican attempts to slow down this evolution or undo some of its more dramatic expansions of unconstitutional federal power.
Democrats are no longer agents of change in the American political system. They are the reactionaries, constantly promulgating the same tired old prescriptions and platitudes for every new circumstance in a rapidly changing world. That's why Clinton and Obama never really say anything in their speeches and debates. They're the ones whose message is reducible to "stay the course." If we have a problem, they will legislate an expensive federal program to put a bandaid on it. If we have a problem that can only be dealt with by a demonstration of national character and courage, like the war against Islamofascism, they will turn their backs on it, because the character which forms the backbone of the Constitution was muscled out of our system a generation ago. It is the Democrats, not the self-styled conservatives, who are clinging to a past which encompasses the entirety of almost all our lives.
Why does this matter?. Isn't it just a semantic distinction I'm drawing, a vain argument about a meaningless label? No.
There are only two kinds of political parties. There are 'club' parties which provide a refuge for members of a like-minded minority who can't bring themselves to associate with the mongrel philosophies of those in power. And there are parties which really do seek to govern by creating alliances among people and constituencies like-minded enough to work together for what they agree is most important. Which kind of party do you want to belong to? I prefer the latter because I've lived through many years when the Republican Party had, in reality, become the former. That situation only changed when a new vision opened the door to forming alliances with people old-style republicans could never have imagined in their cohort -- all those blue-collar Reagan Democrats.
We face a similar opportunity right now -- if we can give up licking our wounds long enough to see and grasp that opportunity. If we can just give up the notion that we are hanging grimly on to a tradition that grows fainter by the day, we might begin to understand that our real mission is to innovate a better future for our nation, its children, and its diversifying citizenry. We might also recognize that we are really the ones who have as much faith in the tools of right now and the future -- technology, global economic systems, and the potential breakthroughs of scientific research -- as we do in the philosophical roots of our history.
There are at least two significant constituencies who, if they only knew it, should be flocking to a new party with core beliefs like ours. Young people in the workforce -- between 22 and 35 -- will be the most immediate and hard-hit victims of whatever form of national health care the Reactionaries manage to pass into law. The dirty secret of all the proposals is that they will be funded by compelling the financial participation of those who are presently opting out of the existing insurance system because they are willing to accept the risk for other rewards of their own choosing. They are looking straight down the barrel of a monstrous, effective tax hike.
The same is true of whatever plan the Reactionaries eventually adopt to "save" Social Security. A dramatically increasing population of old people will be raiding the pockets of young workers at an accelerating rate. They should be with us, fighting to protect their own financial futures by forcing government to back off and seeking innovative ways to apply free-market efficiencies to both these swords of Damocles. Yet where are they while we bicker here about who's the real conservative and who we just can't bring ourselves to support in our fierce little bubble? They're cheering wildly at the utterly vacuous rhetoric of Barack Obama. They are proud to be liberal, progressive Democrats because they know Conservatives are wicked old ignorant fuddy duddies.
The other big chunk of the electorate who should belong to our party is African-Americans. It was the Democrats who trapped them in the nightmare of the welfare state in the first place, who doomed them to perpetual doubt in the workforce through the pernicious implementation of affirmative action. It is the Democrats -- and their blood alliance with the teachers unions -- that have amputated the best possible route to economic freedom and properity by preventing adoption of a voucher system that would give even poor people an opportunity to choose among competing† elementary, middle, and high schools.
And now it is everyone but the hated conservatives like us who are dealing them the most deadly body blow of all -- cutting away all the lower rungs of the economic ladder they have to climb by facilitating the influx of an endless supply of cheap labor that costs unskilled native-born Americans the ability to negotiate fair living wages with private employers. More than that, as they do manage to climb higher on that ladder, they will be compelled to fork over more and more of their newfound prosperity to an indigent immigrant population that has paid nothing like the dues which have been historically paid by African-Americans.
What's in a name? To these groups, an "American Conservative Party" is pre-branded as an irrelevant, probably backward-looking party of the club type. It doesn't matter how unfair that pre-branding is. A lifetime of liberal propaganda has convinced them they know who and what you are. Besides, it's not completely unfair. Conservatives have fostered their own delusionary culture, one that compels them to keep looking back -- to Newt, to Reagan, to Eisenhower -- and therefore denies them the energy of their faith in the future-building power of character, values, technology, and an optimistic view of the potential of the unfettered human spirit.
What if, for just a moment, everyone reading this put the word "conservative" out of mind, out of the philosophical universe altogether? If you wanted to initiate revolutionary change, rethink the systems of government and statecraft to make them more capable of unleashing the power of ordinary Americans to gain more, and more prosperous, control of their own lives, how would you go about it? Who would you campaign to attract to your side? How ambitious would your goals and aspirations be? What kind of future can you imagine in your wildest dreams?
If your answers are anything like mine, you can't even come up with an appropriate qualifying (i.e., limiting) adjective to take the place of 'conservative.' You might find yourself thinking of The American Party.
After that, I ceased getting emails from Bill Quick and the American Conservative Party, and my access dried up. It appears that he continues to toil away at his grand delusion, which is like many creations of the internet a fantasy, but the ACP ste has steering committees, sponsors, organizing committees, and lists galore.
Despite his wrath, I wish him well. But I will mildly rebuke him for assuming that this site is seeking the kind of notoriety and clout that is being so earnestly solicited by organizations like, say, the American Conservative Party. I also resist the charge that we have done, "Oh, thatís right, nothing."
It's an interesting accusation coming from such a devout conservative -- that is, one of those who believe so particularly in the inviolability and autonomy of the individual. Is it really a crime that Instapunk has chosen to embrace the value of the individual voice rather than organize and assemble compulsively to form a thundering (or whispering) herd capable of commanding the attention of media, other competing organizations, and advertising dollars?
Is it nothing that we write sincerely or satirically or dismissively about the great events of the day from decidedly individualistic perspectives? And if it is nothing, why is it nothing? Because it's objectively without value? Or because it's not of measurable value in an increasingly mass culture driven by polls, counting algorithms, sales figures, and audience share?
Well, when the fame bug bites you, your values tend to change. I suspect our biggest sin here is that our values haven't changed. We just go on doing what we do. In one of his responses to the commenter who had the unfortunate run-in with Bill Quick, CountryPunk advised him not to be dispirited because:
There are plenty of good bloggers out there, but they're mostly the ones who aren't peddling their podcasts, running for Conservative Blog of the Year, or starting their own political organizations.
Blogs are letters to the editor. When
they try to be more than that, they generally wind up being nothing.
But when he wrote that, he didn't know that Bill Quick owned the
monopoly on the definition of 'nothing.'
As always, we'll trust you to make your own decisions about all that. And if you don't mind, we'll indulge ourselves with a small chuckle that technorati is certain not to overhear.