My friend Matt Lewis over at the Daily Caller — who is a terrific guy — tweeted this.
Frum and Malkin are execrable for entirely different reasons. I can’t figure out who’s “punching down”.
— Matt K. Lewis (@mattklewis) September 22, 2012
Calling David Frum “execrable” isn’t insulting so much as it is descriptive. My friend Michelle Malkin, on the other hand, is most definitely not “execrable” and seeing a conservative like Matt refer to her that way, without explanation, seemed rather bizarre.
However, Matt did later explain his thinking.
Late last week an online feud erupted between Michelle Malkin and David Frum. The schism struck me as interesting because — while the two are in some ways mirror opposites — they are quite similar in other ways.
…Unfortunately, a larger point was lost. Frum and Malkin were on my mind because they happened to be fighting. But it could have just as easily been Meghan McCain vs. Ann Coulter – or David Brooks vs. Dick Morris – or any number of other prominent TV pundits who serve as a microcosm of a much larger problem permeating conservative commentary these days: The fact that it’s a schtick!
“Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket,” goes the old saying. There are basically two ways to make it in the conservative pundit business (and don’t kid yourself, it is a business), and that is to either pander to the base by shamelessly throwing them red meat — or to become an establishment media quisling.
If you want money or fame or success, these are your two best options. (There is a third way, but the road is narrow, and that is to be a conservative who is intellectually honest. This lonely road doesn’t have many cheering fans on the sidelines; you’re more likely to find landmines.)
Unfortunately, punditry doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It has consequences. An army of soi-disant “conservatives” who can be trotted out whenever the media wants to undermine conservatism or a Republican candidate merely allows the media to push their liberal worldview, while simultaneously appearing to present opposing viewpoints.
It would probably be better to have no conservatives on a panel than to have only token conservatives who legitimize the media’s liberal narratives. Just look at the Sunday morning talk show circuit for examples of why this is problematic. I would call them “dupes” if they weren’t in on it.
Conversely, throwing red meat to the base requires one to engage in hyperbole and simplistic solutions which sound discordant (or simply not credible) to a lot of Americans. It also breeds tribalism and discourages innovation or introspection — or even grappling with difficult subjects (if you step out of line, they will hammer you back in line.) Conservatives who might otherwise search for ways to appeal to Hispanics, for example, quickly learn that it is in their personal self interest to simply go back to demanding we “build the danged fence.”
The bottom line is this: Conservative commentary these days is probably just as likely to undermine both Republican candidates and the advancement of conservative philosophy as it is to help them. (One side of the conservative punditry coin serves to furtively undermine today’s Republican politicians, while the other guarantees the structural problems won’t be addressed in the future.)
First of all, while I very respectfully could not disagree with Matt more about Michelle Malkin, I do get the general point he’s trying to make. In fact, when it comes to David Frum, I wrote something very similar after he started a slapfight because I denied him a spot in the conservative blogads network.
The mainstream media loves “conservatives” and “Republicans” who will trash whomever the Left hates most. So, if you’re willing to talk about how Sarah Palin is a hick, Glenn Beck is a crank, Rush Limbaugh is bad for the country, and the Tea Party is bad for democracy, the mainstream media will reward you – and because conservatives pride themselves on being open minded, they’ll all too often give you a pass for your atrocious behavior — especially since the MSM doesn’t insist you play their game all the time. As long as you’re willing to say what they want about the people they hate the most, they’ll reward you with a cover story at Newsweek and then in your off time, you can churn out a few articles to point gullible conservatives towards while you’re trying to guilt them into taking you seriously by crying “epistemic closure!”
This is what David Frum does for a living — and don’t think he doesn’t know it. Even the people who write for him know it. I ran into someone who writes for his blog at an event once. He was extremely defensive about writing for them. I must have heard him tell at least three people, myself included, something akin to, “I write for FrumForum, but please don’t hold that against me.”
Long story short, everybody has to make a living. But, I’m not interested in helping people like Frum play this little game where they try to cripple conservatives publicly while coming around on the back end to milk us for money. If Frum wants to be a dancing monkey for the Left, let them come up with the money to pay for the tune.
So, Frum? Execrable? Absolutely.
Beyond that, I even think there’s a larger point to be made. Yeah, there are pundits who write things they don’t believe to suck up to politicians or the Republican Party. You think Jennifer Rubin believed everything she wrote about Mitt Romney during the GOP primaries? Romney’s own staffers would have been embarrassed to write half of that stuff and Mitt was paying their salaries. You think Joseph Farah believes the cuckoo conspiracy theories he pushes to draw traffic at WorldNetDaily? No way.
Getting beyond that, there is also a tendency in some quarters to play what I like to think of as the “more conservative than you” game. This is where conservatives take ludicrous positions that they know are ridiculous to prove their conservative bona fides. Just to name one example, I have absolutely no doubt that most of the big name conservatives who endorsed Christine O’Donnell knew she didn’t have a chance in hell to win her Senate race. Moreover, any member of Congress who’s out there publicly saying that he opposes increasing the debt ceiling under any circumstances, after we’ve already spent the money is full of crap. It’s one thing to fight to get the best deal you can, but after we’ve already spent the money, there’s no choice other than to increase the debt limit and anyone who tells you otherwise either doesn’t know what he’s talking about or is just snowing you.
All that being said, in my experience, most conservatives publicly take exactly the same positions that they do privately. If anyone thinks Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, etc., etc., etc., all really think deficit spending, open borders, and gay marriage are wonderful while they say exactly the opposite publicly, I’d say they’re mistaken. Moreover, why would it be a surprise that people who are popular with the conservative base, like Michelle Malkin, tend to say things that most people in the base agree with? Along the same lines, is it any surprise that liberals don’t agree with what conservatives say or there’s pushback from the base when people say things most conservatives don’t agree with — and these ideas are too simplistic? Really? The central message of the current President of the United States was “change” in 2008 and today, it’s “forward.” If kindergartners were writing that, it couldn’t any more simplistic. If we want to compare the current situation to a utopian world where everyone has open-minded debates about every issue, it may not look so hot. However, compared to the Democrat Party, where they’re as ideologically closed off as radical Muslims, I think conservatives do pretty well.
Last but not least, I’m not sure what gives Matt the impression that Michelle Malkin, Ann Coulter, or most of the other conservative pundits on TV are engaging in “schtick.” Granted, it would certainly be nice if we could have polite, intellectual debates, but that’s not the real world. If you want to catch and hold people’s attention, you do have to be engaging and charismatic. But, that doesn’t mean you don’t believe what you’re saying. From what I’ve seen of her, the only thing Michelle Malkin does is express the views of grassroots conservatives which seem to be dramatically UNDER REPRESENTED on cable TV, not over represented.