Saturday, October 4, 2008

Conor still fighting it

Conor Friedersdorf keeps pushing back. But I have to tell you, I don't think it's going to work.

On the subject of that post, it's like I've been saying again and again. (I'm sure you're all quite bored with it.) The conservative mainstream cares about attacking people based on culture war buzzwords when it's conservatives being attacked. When it's liberals being attacked, they don't. The conservative mainstream believes it's wrong in principle to deride people based on where they were born and lived, how educated they are, and what their cultural cues are when it's conservatives being derided. When it's liberals being derided, they don't. The cultural war is a crime when waged against conservatives, and moral duty when waged against liberals. And on it goes.

More importantly, the remarkable thing about these exchanges Friedersdorf (Conor? I never know the decorum here) has had is how often people express disbelief or anger at his having questioned the conservative candidate. They say things like "I didn't expect this kind of article here" (meaning Culture11), or "You aren't really one of us", or "[Palin's] defenders wonder what side the critics are on". Conor spends some time in that post establishing his "salt of the earth" credentials, and believe me, I can understand why. But I wish he wouldn't. First, because certainly it doesn't matter where he's from or how rich he was and is, or how many times he's been abroad or where he went to school. What matters is what he says, and the intellectual and moral integrity with which he says it.

And, secondly, I don't think he should tell these people what his conservative bona fides are because it doesn't matter. If he was born on Main Street in a small-town in Texas to a entirely Anglo and yet still somehow "down home" family, went to Christian private schools and had a junior NRA membership as a kid, he wouldn't satisfy them. Because the truth is, the franchise isn't actually extended based on who your cultural cues say that you are. Oh, they'll cast you out for that stuff, but it's not enough to keep you in. No, this is the truth of contemporary conservatism: you are as much a part of the movement in inverse variation to how much you criticize the movement. The effective definition of a conservative, these days, is whether or not you march in line with the movement orthodoxy. The appropriate test for whether someone is a conservative has nothing to do with belief on economic policy, or federalism, or the size of government. It's not based on beliefs about abortion or gun rights or gay marriage or sex ed. It isn't about foreign policy. It's about being on the team. You can't break the cocoon, because the group is the cocoon.

(I'm aware, by the way, that having a militant leftist like myself defending him does Conor no favors. Luckily my blog ranks up there with a dead link on Digg as far as traffic goes, so no harm done.)

It must be a lonely feeling for these heterodox conservatives. (I know that probably sounds annoying, coming from me, but I say it with sincerity.) Friedersdorf has many compatriots, of course, and many of them are brilliant and well connected. But nobody likes to be outcast from the fold. Unfortunately, so many of the rank and file movement conservatives now see it as their duty to practice this kind of eliminationism. My genuine question is, do Friedersdorf and other reformist conservatives actually believe that their ideology is capable of saving? To call the politics of grievance, anti-intellectualism and cocooning entrenched in the conservative movement would be a massive understatement. I am of course a biased witness. I believe however that this is genuinely a question of process and not of politics. Indeed, the number of matters of public policy that Friedersdorf and I agree on is vanishingly small. I further invite anyway to click the link to the right and read Friedersdorfs commenters at the Confabulum. I believe you'll see the kind of extreme retrenchment and purity tests I'm talking about.

I suppose that tactically it's to my advantage, and my political party and ideology's advantage, for this to keep happening. It saddens me, however, and I am well aware that the pendulum will swing back again well before I am ready for it. And what then? The future of this party, after all, is not John McCain. The question is, will it be Sarah Palin? If so, it's to the great sorrow of the Republican party, and our country. Sarah Palin represents the worst of the last eight years, faux-populism, anti-intellectualism, culture war, hatred of the different and the foreign, style over substance, appearance over reality, cowboy hats and accents and babies over policy and credentials and education. The Republican party has thrown it's lot in with naked politics of resentment, in the form of Sarah Palin. The question is, will there be any room for the Conor Friedersdorfs when it's over?

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