Monday, July 10, 2006

Re: Crunchy Cons

Both Rod Dreher and I seem to have gotten angry over my review of Crunchy Cons, his critique of my review, etc., etc.

Rod's friends have sprung to his defense, as might be expected. Since I don't have any friends -- at least, no blogger friends who give a crap about an internecine dispute like this -- I'll have to defend myself.

First of all, I like Rod. I've never met him in person, though we've exchanged e-mails and I interviewed him when Crunchy Cons was first published. We have mutual friends, like the mighty Cinecon, and probably have some mutual enemies as well. Besides which, I am a "Rogers and Hammerstein" conservative: I believe the traditionalist farmer and the libertarian cowman can be friends.

Paleo, neo, me-o

Nothing so wearies me as the bitter infighting among rival conservatives, either as individuals or factions. Especially I regret the murderous jihad between paleoconservatives and neoconservatives. My strongest allegiances are among palecons, but I have many neocon friends, and it so happens -- a long, long story -- that I am more pro-war than my paleocon brethren, most of whom take an Old Right/libertarian/isolationist stance against foreign military adventures. So when David Frum assails "Unpatriotic Conservatives," he's badmouthing some of my friends, and when the paleocons fire back, some of my other friends get hurt.

My desire to de-escalate such feuding is largely personal and self-interested -- as a Madisonian, I see nothing untoward in the honorable pursuit of legitimate self-interest. Among other things, the paleo-neo combat makes it much harder for me to earn a living, since paleoconservatives are persona non grata at National Review, and the Weekly Standard would hire Osama bin Laden to freelance a cover story before they'd give a dime to anyone who'd ever written for Chronicles.

The "No Paleos Need Apply" signs prominently displayed outside the offices of the largest-circulation conservative journals are the major reasons why this feud is still so bitter and ugly. You might think that -- just on a whim -- Rich Lowry might say, "Oh, let's ask Pat Buchanan to review this book," or that Fred Barnes might look at Bill Kristol and ask, "Why not ask Peter Brimelow to do an immigration piece?" But no: When you're a Jet, you're a Jet all the way ....

As vehement and rancorous as I can be when I get worked up about something, when my passion cools, it's quickly forgotten, and I try to let bygones be bygones. Life is too short to waste time holding grudges over every political quarrel I've ever had -- but others are not nearly so forgiving. And so when I see two conservatives going at each other like a pair of rabid pit bulls, I know that the wounds inflicted will be remembered far longer than the immediate dispute --- and that other people will suffer as a result.

Let me tell this story: A few months ago, I sent out an e-mail that was CC'd to several friends. One of these friends is a paleocon histoian who wrote a book which had been (unfairly) savaged by another historian who is a friend of one the neocons I'd CC'd on the same e-mail. Pretty soon, I found myself a CC'd spectator to an angry exchange of messages between the neocon and palecon. This seemed to me a tragic situation -- if we could all go out for dinner, we might not all agree, but at least there would't be such enmity and resentment.

And that, you see, is why I am both:
  • Deeply sorry that I lost my temper in dispute with Rod Dreher; and
  • Seriously concerned that Crunchy Cons is a wrong turn in the debate over conservative principles.
Bradford & Bennett

The paleo-neo feud, so far as it has a definite beginning, goes back to the dawn of the Reagan era. Many staunch conservatives supported University of Dallas professor M.E. "Mel" Bradford to be chairman of the National Endowment of the Humanities. But others, who supported University of North Carolina professor Bill Bennett for the job, seized upon Bradford's writings critical of Abraham Lincoln -- and on Bradford's involvement in the earlier independent presidential candidacy of George Wallace -- to paint him as, if not necessarily a racist, then certainly a potential embarrassment to the new administration.

It is generally conceded, I believe, that columnist George Will struck the fatal blow against Bradford, thus catapulting Bennett to eminence and, ultimately, to great wealth. Bradford was not exactly consigned to outer darkness, but he had been grievously wronged. No apology has ever been offered by his enemies, and his friends have never forgotten it. Nor should they. I suggest that anyone who would bother to read Bradford's unequalled volume on the Constitution, Original Intentions, will find the author a man of great learning and judgment, a worthy heir of Kirk and Weaver.

While I certainly have no desire to cast aspersions on Bennett, I could not help but think of M.E. Bradford when -- in recent years -- Bennett was first scandalized by revelations of his gambling habits, then nearly destroyed by misunderstanding of his comments about race, crimeand abortion. In both of these cases, Bennett was victimized by those who wished him ill. But I could not help but note the irony: If Bennett had been known as a compulsive gambler in 1980, or if he had spoken even hypothetically in 1980 about a possible eugenic benefit to abortion (an idea derived from the book Freakonomics, and one which I suppose every Christian must reject), then it might have been Bennett who was rejected, and Bradford who marched onward to glory.

A debate gone awry

This game of "gotcha" among conservative rivals -- which has since blighted the careers of many others I might name -- is a destructive thing. An old friend of mine used to talk about the "urge to purge" that sometimes crops up in these matters: The desire for "purity" that leads some people to seek to exile, ostracize and blackball their rivals. If you look at the left-wing Moonbats nowadays, you can see this self-defeating tendency in action.

This is why, despite my many disagreements with NRO's Jonah Goldberg, I believed Goldberg was mostly correct in his criticism of Crunchy Cons. (I suspect some personal enmity between Goldberg and Dreher might be involved, but that just shows my cynical bent, I guess.) It seemed to me that Dreher wrongly sought to make invidious distinctions between himself and "the conservative mainstream" over matters that have little if anything to do with the fundamental purpose of the conservative project.

In the decade or so since I finally abandoned my native loyalty to the Democratic Party, I have had many occasions to denounce what I saw as basic mistakes by GOP politicians and their conservative supporters. I was about ready to strangle Christopher Caldwell for his 1998 Atlantic Monthly cover article, "The Southern Captivity of the GOP." Months before that, I had warned that certain "prissy Whig nationalists" were engaged in a dangerous hunt for "new" conservative ideas. Nobody would even publish that essay, but I was proven prophetic when the hopelessly wrongheaded juggernaut of "national greatness" conservatism got rolling, leading to much of what today ails the Right.

Back to basics

What is wrong with conservatism is not, as Dreher insists, whether we live in McMansions or bungalows, dine on organic veggies or bioengineered chickens raised in heinous conditions. What is wrong with conservatism is that it refuses to stick to its basic issue of limited government under the Constitution.

Why is this so? Well, because you couldn't elect Ron Paul to Congress in suburban New Jersey, and because Jeff Sessions could never be elected a senator in Illinois. The people in such places are not conservative. They may not be genuinely liberal, either, but they aren't conservative -- at least not in a way that the people of Alabama or the 14th District of Texas understand "conservative." (Almost any rank-and-file Alabama Democrat is more conservative than the average rank-and-file New Jersey Republican.)

In order to give non-conservative voters to vote Republican, Republicans must do things that are not conservative. This is where the conservative intellectual class gets tangled up in contradictory allegiances.

Conservatism and the GOP

Every day that passes without the privatization of Social Security or the abolition of the federal Department of Education is a rebuke to conservative principles. (I've chosen two notorious examples from a long list of unconstitutional encroachments by the federal government.) But the Republican Party cannot accomplish these things if it hopes to win elections. Therefore, a certain sort of "conservative" intellectual finds an eager audience for his arguments that returning the government to its constitutional moorings is not really important, or even that it would be un-conservative to attempt such a thing.

Thus, rather than do what they should be doing -- using their persuasive powers to convince the masses of the merits of genuine conservatism -- many "conservative" intellectuals instead spend their time discouraging the Republican Party from pursuing conservative policies. These are the sorts of people who saw great promise in "National Greatness" conservatism, which is nothing but the Welfare State under Republican auspices. While there may be good (and conservative) reasons to entrust the GOP with the supervision of the trillion-dollar Leviathan, that's small potatoes compared to the fundamental question of whether the Leviathan is legtimate. (It isn't.)

Conservative intellectuals have got to stop acting as if they're afraid somebody will embarass the Republican Party by speaking the plain truth. No Republican congressman is going to lose an election because Ann Coulter got carried away with her hyperbole, or because Rush Limbaugh said something that offended some swing voter in the suburbs of Chicago. The GOP's share of the Hispanic vote in 2006 is not dependent upon whatever Michelle Malkin or John Podhoretz write about immigration. We need to quit overreacting to every hyped-up faux pas by some talk-show pundit and to every overheated ideological conflict between columnists.

Conservative intellectuals surrender their independence the minute they start thinking of themselves as PR agents for the GOP. And there is an annoying tendency of some in the conservative establishment to act like third-grade hall monitors:

"Michelle was mean to Denice Denton!"
"Ann called Ahmedinejad a bad word!"
"I saw Peter Brimelow kissing Pat Buchanan!"

Well, anyway, you get the idea.

Blue State conservatism

I am deeply sympathetic to Rod Dreher's desire to distinguish himself from the run-of-the-mill GOP flacks and wonks who inhabit the conservative punditocracy. Based on my own personal observation, what most of these people tend to have in common is not an ideology, but a socioeconomic profile.

Most conservative intellectuals in Washington are natives of Blue States, from upper-middle-class backgrounds, who graduated high school near the top of their class, attended a prestigious university, and went directly from campus into the hive of conservative activism. Among other things, the "pointy-heads" of the conservative movement tend toward nerdiness (thus the seemingly endless discussions of sci-fi TV on NRO's the Corner) but that's not the worst of their problems.

Most conservative intellectuals in Washington -- and I speak here specifically of the up-and-comers under 40 -- have nothing in common with the rank-and-file voters who elect Republicans. Most conservative intellectuals don't own guns or trucks. Nor do they usually listen to talk radio. The tend to live in close proximity to Starbucks. They are temperamentally cautious, and generally lack the easygoing confidence of ordinary folks in the Red States. I have attended many think-tank discussion seminars in Washington where there wasn't a man in the room who looked like he'd ever won a fistfight or driven more than 15 mph over the legal speed limit.

I realize these are broad generalizations, but I'm pretty sure most folks who'd spent much time in conservative circles in Washington would agree with this characterization. Conservatism in America is a phenomenon of Red State grassroots and Blue State leadership, and nowhere is this dichotomy more evident than in Washington, D.C. Try this:
  • Look down a roster of recent speakers (excluding members of Congress) at events sponsored by the major conservative think tanks in Washington;
  • Google the biographies of these speakers, noting their hometowns;
  • See if you can figure out how often a Mississippi drawl or an Oklahoma twang is heard in the assemblies of Washington conservatives.
Are there no conservatives with college diplomas who were born south of the Potomac River? Then what can explain the striking absence of Southerners from the conservative intellectual establishment in Washington? There must be something systemic at work, something that's hard to describe in concrete terms. But I submit that the reason you find silly debates over Star Trek vs. Star Wars in The Corner is the same reason you don't see many graduates of LSU or Florida State addressing the seminars at AEI.

And this is a problem for the conservative movement, in that it is very hard for elite-educated Manhattanites to give voice to -- or even to understand -- the sentiments that motivate Republican voters in Tulsa, Tullahoma or Talladega.

Rod in NRO-land

Did Rod Dreher, a humble expatriate Louisianan, feel like a fish out of water amongst all those city slickers in the Manhattan offices of National Review? No doubt. But in expressing his alienation from this "mainstream conservatism," I believe, he missed the big point. What's chiefly wrong with National Review -- other than its location -- is that, like the conservative movement generally, it has become intellectually insular, an echo chamber. It's like one of those big churches with a tiny, aged congregration, where the ministrer is concerned more with preaching to the converted than with winning souls.

Where once upon a time National Review was home to a mixed bag of Taftites, ex-Commies and dissident Democrats, it is now a sanctum sanctorum, staffed almost entirely by those whom we might call Professional Conservatives -- people who've never earned a living outside the arena of political debate.

It is the professionalization of the conservative intellectual class which has caused this insularity. Today's conservative movement seizes upon downy-cheeked college youth, runs them through minor league training camps, and whichever ones show the most promise are then boosted up to the big leagues. If you're not a syndicated columnist, a published author or a "senior fellow" by the time you're 30, you might as well hang up your conservative cleats. And if you ever fall afoul of the system -- say the wrong thing, offend the wrong people -- you're off the team.

Through the systematization of its recruiting and training, the conservative movement has achieved an increasing homogenization of thought. It's perhaps not so much about enforcing an ideological party line as it is about achieving a harmony of class interest, a certain characteristic attitude, a stylized manner of discourse.

And here's the big thing: Whether the Republicans win or lose the next election, whether gay marriage is triumphant or vanquished, whether Roe v. Wade stands or falls -- whatever the outcome, the Professional Conservatives will still be employed. They will still have their think tank offices, their book contracts and their Fox News guest appearances.

To real rank-and-file Republican voters, the political fate of the conservative cause is vitally important. To a masthead editor at a right-wing magazine or a "senior fellow" at a think tank, it's all just fodder for his next op-ed column. If Democrats sweep to victory in November, a dozen such characters will sign book contracts to explain why it happened, with a concluding chapter featuring a 10-point formula of "What We Must Do to Take Back America." All of these books will be at least partly in error, and several of them will probably be entirely wrongheaded, but what all these books will have in common is that the author got paid to write them. Win or lose, they get paid.

I don't blame Rod for hating such an environment. I hate it, too. But hating what the conservative movement has become should not, on the one hand, lead us toward a distracting concern with apolitical trivia. Nor, on the other hand, should it lead us to disdain the primary objective of the America conservative movement: namely, to put the federal government back into a Constitution-sized box, and keep it there.

Envy? Guilty as charged

Clark Stooksbury writes:
The real reason for McCain's antipathy seems to be jealousy. In Reason he wrote, "Right now, I'm envious of Dreher, whose anti-materialist conservative book is selling like crazy at"
Well, of course. I was merely confirming Dreher's observation that "Western economics is ... based on exploiting greed and envy." Western economics also exploits lust, pride, gluttony and the rest the Seven Deadly Sins. Three cheers for profitable exploitation!

Or would you prefer to live in Zimbabwe? Pyongyang? Sweden? No. None of us who call ourselves conservatives would truly prefer to live in some non-Western "utopia" like that. For better or worse, we like our freedom -- including the right to bitch and moan about what our fellow Americans do with their freedom.

I don't like seeing chicks in low-rise jeans displaying their whorish tattoos and the whorish bellybutton rings. I don't like the lousy rock-'n'-roll that passes for "country music" nowadays. I don't like Starbucks or MTV, and I don't like "The O'Reilly Factor" -- especially because O'Reilly's producer wouldn't book Lynn on the show, where a 6-minute appearance might have sold 5,000 copies of DONKEY CONS.

Rod's in his third printing, so of course I'm envious of his success. I got paid to write a book -- or half a book -- and I am a highly competitive person. The only sport I was ever any good at was football, and in football "second place" is just another word for "loser." I have therefore done everything in my power (including praying for divine assistance) to sell DONKEY CONS (buy TWO).

Lynn has the "face for Fox," and I've got a face for radio, so I told our publicist to book me onto every talk-radio show that would have me. I've also been blogging like a fiend to promote the book, and spent my own money on promotional mailings. I spent over $400 of my own money to purchase copies to send to reviewers. I spent $125 of my own money to produce a poster-sized blow-up of the cover, which I used for my Capitol Hill speech, which was televised by CSPAN-2.

Shameless? Of course!

Now, all of this will be tax-deductible, but was based on my belief that Lynn and I have written a book that has an important and timely (and therefore commercially valuable) message for America: Democrats are historically more prone to crime and corruption than Republicans (a fact statistically demonstrated in Chapter 2), and thus that anyone who goes to the polls in November and votes Democrat out of disgust with the "culture of corruption" in Washington is going to make the problem much worse, not better. (A conclusion that Reps. William Jefferson and Al Mollohan have recently helped validate.)

Not only that, but DONKEY CONS (buy TWO) delineates several distinct patterns to Democratic corruption. For instance, Chapter 5 talks about the role of corrupt unions in the Democratic Party, Chapter 7 talks about the Democrats' pro-criminal policies, and Chapter 8 discusses how Democrats have wrecked America's cities.

Of all the chapters in DONKEY CONS, however, I think I am most proud of Chapter 9, which you can now download free in PDF format. This chapter is -- or would be, if anyone would ever bother to read and understand it -- a stake right through the heart of the Democratic Party, because it attacks head-on the party's most powerful myth, namely that it stands for the interests of "the little guy."

On dozens of talk radio shows, after I've described the various wrongdoings of Democrats over the years, I've been asked, "How do they get away with it?" And that's when I bring up the basic point of Chapter 9: It's the class warfare, stupid! By posing as the champions of the poor and downtrodden, Democrats immunize themselves against scandal.

Ted Kennedy is a drunken, lecherous buffoon, but as long as the people of Massachusetts remain convinced that Ted cares about poor little children -- and if you listen to a true-believer Democrat, they'll try to convince you that Ted cares more about your children than you do -- that drunken, lecherous buffoon will have a vote in the U.S. Senate.

Of course, Ted Kennedy is a pampered son of privilege, whose most notable personal qualities are his extreme vanity and intellectual flaccidity. To my knowledge, Ted's never been accused of committing any act of charity unless it was a publicity stunt to gain some political advantage.

And Ted is just the tip of this particular iceberg. Throughout DONKEY CONS, we chronicle how Democrats lie, cheat and steal to enrich themselves, and in Chapter 9 we contrast this dishonest avarice with the party's altruistic rhetoric.

Demonizing free enterprise

I have no quarrel with a man getting rich by his own labor and ingenuity. What I cannot stand is the towering hypocrisy of liberals, who tirelessly promote political schemes to defraud honest people of their earnings -- indeed, to wreck the entire free-enterprise system and thereby impoverish us all -- while at the same time greedily (and often dishonestly) enriching themselves. (Dorothy Rivers is a textbook example.)

Worst of all, by demonizing honest enterprise -- the hard work and thrift necessary to success in business -- Democrat discourage the poor from pursuing their best prospect for escaping poverty. Democrats' demonization of business, by its implication that all successful men got their success through dishonest and selfish "exploitation," encourages poor people to turn to crime, or to sink into dependency and drug-addled self-pity. I used to be a Democrat, and I know that I never could have achieved anything in life if I hadn't finally broken free of their class warfare lies.

One of the problems with Professional Conservatives is that most of them have never been anything but Republicans. They take for granted that the Democrats' class-warfare rhetoric is false, and too often take for granted the basic truth that the free-enterprise system is the system which offers the most hope for the improvement of the condition of the poor. So they have an annoying tendency to get bogged down in squabbles over minor issues and fail to keep urging the merits of the market economy.

Ronald Reagan -- like me, an ex-Democrat -- never made that mistake. From the 1950s onward, Reagan unrelentingly sang the praises of the free market, because he knew that this upbeat, positive message changes hearts and wins elections.

Once a majority of Americans understand the importance of economic freedom, and understand the threat to that freedom posed by Democrats, the Democratic Party will be permanently out of power. With no power, they'll have nothing to offer their donors, and with no donors, they'll be out of business.

What the conservative movement needs is people not merely dedicated to defeating the Democratic Party in the next election, but dedicated to driving the Democratic Party completely and permanently out of existence.

Ronald Reagan once summarized his plan for peace with the Soviet Union thus: "We win. They lose." Why not take the same attitude toward the Democrats? Once conservatives have driven the Democratic Party to extinction, then maybe we can do something about fixing the GOP, which is in a mighty sorry condition lately. I would suggest fixing the GOP first but -- given the newfound influence of DailyKos and among the Democrats and considering that Hillary Clinton's their best candidate for '08 -- I think Operation Abolish Democrats will be quicker and easier.

I never voted for Mr. Reagan (remember, I was a born-and-bred yellow dog Democrat until the mid-'90s), but as fortune would have it, The Washington Times assigned me to write his memorial obituary. This I consider one of the signal honors of my career.

The Invisible Hand

Mr. Stooksbury, you say that you got paid to review my book for an upcoming issue of
Chronicles, just like I got paid to review Rod's book for Reason, so it seems that the Invisible Hand's working overtime for all of us. I concluded my review of Rod's book with a benediction:
Hate the sin, but love the sinner. I’m praying for Dreher, who, thanks to the Invisible Hand, gave me the chance to write this greed-motivated review. God bless you, Rod. Go in peace.
Whatever faults you have found in DONKEY CONS, Mr. Stooksbury, I hope you will point them out in a similar spirit of Christian goodwill. But whatever the case, all of us -- you, me and Rod Dreher -- write for money, and each hopes to prosper. Being competitive by nature, I hope to sell more books than Dreher, and will count myself a loser if I fail to achieve that goal.

Failure, however, will only spur me to try harder next time. As a matter of fact, I recently pitched a few new ideas to my publisher:
So far, I haven't heard back from the publisher, but I'm optimistic.