Thursday, October 2, 2008

conservatism's self-criticism problem

Ross Douthat is a wise man.

So I tend to read a lot more heterodox conservative blogs than regular/mainstream/movement conservative ones. (Unsurprisingly.) But I try to read the Corner every day or so, and I try to follow links, because I think it's important to get a little bit more of the Republican mainstream, and because I can read posts by Jonah Goldberg about how certain politicians are unqualified for their positions and have a good laugh. I end up doing a lot of skimming, though, because there is precious little argument at the Corner; there's a lot of complaining.

I am hardly and unbiased observer and it's my experience that ones position on such things is almost entirely ideologically determined. But it seems to me that the biggest problem facing conservatism is not the failure of leadership, or policy positions that have swung out of popular favor, or even the enormous hit conservatism has taken as a brand. No, I think the largest problem facing conservatism is demonstrated in this tiff with Conor and that Redstate jerk, and on the Corner, and throughout movement conservatism in general. I think conservatism lacks any functioning self-critical mechanism. (Case in point: this diavlog with Jonah Goldberg, in which he spends pretty much the entire time complaining that conservatism doesn't need to do any self-evaluation at all.)

What strikes me about the Corner is what a huge percentage of the posts is devoted to complaints about the media and marginalization. Post after post after post is dedicated to just how unfair this or that media narrative is, how marginalized and powerless conservatives are (after 8 years of conservative executive control), how Republicans just can't get a fair deal.... I'm on record as saying that I think the successful effort to brand the mainstream media as a tool for liberals is the profound political victory of the last couple decades. But I think that narrative has now begun to do great damage to the Republican philosophical and intellectual vanguard. Because every reported problem for Republicans is immediately assumed to be just another plot by the vengeful and biased MSM, there's no opportunity for intelligent Republicans to meaningfully address actual problems-- ideological or political-- that confront their party. "Bias, bias!" has made a lot of hay for Republicans and conservatism in practical terms, but it has also hollowed out the ranks of the conservative intellectual class in a very damaging way.

The number one message of the Corner is this: nothing is ever actually wrong with conservatism; there is never any bad news for conservatism; and the suggestion that the previous two statements are ever incorrect is a vicious liberal ploy. There isn't self-reflection, or sober consideration of the weaknesses and vulnerabilities of the Republican party, ever. There's just incrimination and excuses and liberal media, liberal media, liberal media. This is a function of a weird dynamic in conservatism, where the dominant party of the last 20 years continues to act as if it were a tiny minority. Rather than recognizing that that the Republican party has become a huge shaggy dog of special interests and entrenched powers in need of grooming, the folks at the Corner and similar environs insist on acting like conservatism is a tiny minority that needs wagon-circling and message discipline. Majority parties need fresh outlooks and self reflection, not resistance to interal dispute.

Of course, the Corner is as far as I know as mainstream and Bushite as conservative blogs go, outside of activist sites like RedState. There is a reform conservatism movement that is quite robust and active. The problem is that mainstream conservative sentiment is to exclude these heterodox voices; I find the argument about Palin instructive. There really is a sort of Culture11 conservatism- RedState conservatism divide. The latter, though, has the strength of numbers, and has the ability to exclude the self-critical voices that could save conservatism from itself. Thus a guy like Daniel Larison, who sees the writing on the wall for conservatism as it now exists, isn't just disagreed with. He is banished from the kingdom. We now have the self-evidently absurd situation where The American Conservative is derided as a "closet leftist" magazine. The same TAC that is ardently anti-illegal immigration, anti-gay marriage, anti-abortion, sympathetic to race science, etc. No, they aren't loyal Republican footsoldiers, so they must be leftists. Internal reformers aren't just ignored; they're cast out. Daniel Larison is precisely what conservatism and the GOP need right now, but he's exactly the kind of thinker being marginalized.

The latest Republican vogue? The bad polling numbers are, you guessed it, just more liberal bias. How much longer can these people stand their fiddling while the ship goes down?

1 comment:

  1. the most damning criticism of dubya in my opinion was his lack of curiosity and self-reflection...now we're seeing that dead-enders on the right embody this as well, which is why they produced and gave us dubya as our leader in the first place...and i used think it was just him, it turns its a significant faction of the GOP!

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