Richard Cohen Explains Conservatives


On the last day of 2012, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen inadvertently clarified two huge matters regarding the left.

The first was the ignorance about conservatives and conservatism that permeates the left. The second was the primary reason decent people identify with the left: the effective caricaturing and demonizing of the right. Were it not for caricature and demonization, most otherwise intelligent and decent people would not be on the left.

This is what Cohen wrote in his column, “Republicans Adrift:”

“It is conservatism that is both intellectually exhausted and nearly indefensible. It is the movement of the ideologically ossified, of gun zealots and homophobes, of the immigrant-phobic and the adamantly selfish. It insists that government must be small (an impossibility!), education must be local (a stupidity) and that debt, no matter what the reason, is immoral and reckless. The movement has lost its reliable monster. Godless communists have been replaced by the church ladies of Planned Parenthood. History giggles.”

This caricature of conservatism was penned not by some anonymous contributor to the comments section of MoveOn.org, but by a longtime liberal columnist of the Washington Post.

Let’s begin:

“Intellectually exhausted and nearly indefensible. It is the movement of the ideologically ossified … ”

All one has to do to show how ignorant this description of conservatism is to cite the names of the two conservative columnists at Cohen’s paper, the Washington Post: George Will and Charles Krauthammer. Are these men “intellectually exhausted” and “ideologically ossified”? Are their views really “nearly indefensible”? I mean no insult when I say that the intellectual gap between the columns of those two conservatives’ and the columns of their liberal colleagues is quite substantial.

Even outside the Washington Post, where are the liberal Charles Krauthammers and George Wills? Or the liberal intellectual equivalents of Daniel Henninger and his colleagues at the Wall Street Journal; or Jonah Goldberg and his colleagues at National Review? And what about Commentary and the Weekly Standard? Are they, too, “intellectually exhausted”? And name one black liberal thinker who inhabits the same intellectual universe as Tom Sowell, Walter Williams, Shelby Steele, Clarence Thomas or Larry Elder, just to name a few black intellectual giants of the right.

“… of gun zealots and homophobes, of the immigrant-phobic and the adamantly selfish.” I have never attended an NRA meeting, let alone been a member, but I happen to think that it is a good thing when good people are armed. Am I “gun zealot”? And if there are “gun zealots,” are there not “anti-gun zealots”? Or is zealotry a conservative monopoly? That I suspect is exactly what Cohen believes — just as he undoubtedly believes that there are religious zealots but no secular zealots.

As for “immigrant phobic,” Cohen got carried away here, too. Virtually every prominent conservative voice wants an increase: in immigration – of legal: immigration, of people who can contribute to America’s development. It is: illegal: immigration that conservatives oppose. Is that distinction too subtle for Cohen to appreciate?

“Adamantly selfish” may be Cohen’s corker. Conservative Americans give more charity and volunteer more time than liberal Americans (controlling for income level). On what possible basis, then, does Cohen make the charge — as false as it is defamatory — that conservatives are “adamantly selfish?”

Conservatism “insists that government must be small (an impossibility!) …”

America has been great in large measure precisely because it has understood that the bigger the government, the smaller the citizen. Moreover, the real “impossibility!” is not small government but the left’s ever bigger government. It is neither economically nor morally sustainable, as we are seeing both in Europe and here in America.

“… and that debt, no matter what the reason, is immoral and reckless.”

This is just demagoguery. Conservatives have little problem with manageable debt: a level of debt that does not rob from future generations, and debt that does not jeopardize America’s supremacy in the world. And “no matter what the reason” is almost a lie. It depends entirely on the reason. The last time we had the debt percentage of the GDP we have now was World War II — and conservatives believe that was a fine reason to get into debt, just as the Cold War was.

“The movement has lost its reliable monster … Godless communists.”

What an admission by a leading liberal — first, that communism was not a real evil, just a “reliable monster” for conservatives, on a par with “church ladies of Planned Parenthood.” Second, that “Godless” is a joke, not a real threat to the moral foundations of society — as if the death of Christianity in Europe didn’t lead to Fascism, Nazism and Communism.

“History giggles.”

This is pure leftism. Since Karl Marx, the left has believed with religious certitude that its views are inevitable. “Scientific socialism” Marx called it. Everything opposing the left will end up in the dustbin of history, said Lenin.

We’ll see if history giggles at Cohen or Krauthammer.

Dennis Prager’s latest book, “Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph,” was published April 24 by HarperCollins. He is a nationally syndicated radio show host and creator of PragerUniversity.Com.

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