(Hawkins’ Note: Conor Friedersdorf challenged me to a debate. I accepted. This is the second of three posts from the two of us on this subject. A link to Conor Friedersdorf’s posts will be listed at the end of the article. The last post from each of us will be run on Fri.)
After reading Conor’s initial piece, I saw three problems with it:
1) It was based on assumptions that are impossible to square with reality.
2) It was a piece of how the Right should move forward that actually had very little useful advice about how the Right should move forward.
3) The paltry number of ideas that were presented in Conor’s piece were rather silly.
Maybe that’s why people kept asking me who the Democrat was that I was debating. Conor’s not a Democrat, folks, although you wouldn’t always know it from some of the things he writes.
First off, Conor complains that many of the politicians causing problems in D.C. over the last few years were conservative, but they just bungled the job. That’s a fair point. But, as Donald Rumsfeld might say, you go to war with the politicians you have, not the politicians you wish to have.
I’d also note that the nature of their mistakes, which Conor glosses over, is quite important. It wasn’t a case where conservative politicians pursued conservative positions and were rejected by the American people. It was a case where conservative politicians were convinced by people of Conor’s ideological temperament to abandon conservative governance, and it led to disaster. Let me just go back to this section from Conor’s own argument:
“(Y)ou’ll hear complaints about profligate spending, the prescription drug benefit, the early management of the Iraq War, No Child Left Behind, the financial industry bailout, the Harriet Meyers nomination, attempts at foolhardy immigration reform, rising deficits, a GOP establishment that lost touch with the grassroots, official corruption, etc.”
So, which of those policies are conservative? You could make a case that the management of the Iraq War was, but that was a position that even most Democrats supported at one time. Also, as we now know, Bush’s failures had as much to do with the poor job that they did of communicating what they were doing, how long it was going to take, and why it was important. Additionally, I’d note that I don’t think you’ll see the United States sending a large number of troops into a “shooting war” for a long time as a result of Iraq, so lesson learned.
Let’s move-on to this:
Asked to explain dysfunction in the GOP, (Movement conservatives) blame RINOs, moderates and “squishes.” Particularly loathed are figures like Olympia Snowe, John McCain, David Brooks, Dede Scozzafava and Kathleen Parker, as if banishing their kind from a rightward-moving GOP is the answer to all our problems. However one feels about those folks, it should be evident that people like them weren’t running America during the last decade.
Although there have been a few misguided people calling for “banishing” RINOs from the party, that’s not what the majority of conservatives want. Most conservatives are simply saying: We make up the majority of the party, we supply most of the money, the energy, the manpower, and the intellectual firepower. Since that’s the case, it’s about time that our views started getting more consideration. That seems fair and sensible.
Moreover, maybe Conor is having trouble grasping this, but the reason so many conservatives are hacked off at moderates is because they are the ones who supported many of the dumb positions that decimated the GOP over the last eight years. It wasn’t the conservatives arguing for deficit spending, amnesty, and a prescription drug benefit — it was the moderates. When they won the day, the Republican Party, conservatives, and America lost.
Then, moderates got their dream candidate in 2008: John McCain. So, what happened then? They didn’t rally to his side. They spent their time attacking his running mate, sulking that the ultimate moderate was still “too conservative,” and many of them voted for the other side. People like Colin Powell, Dede Scozzafava, Christopher Buckley are certainly welcome to vote for Republicans if they like, but why should any Republican treat them like a “leader?” You can’t support the other side when it matters most and then expect to be welcomed back into the fold with open arms. Moreover, why should conservatives care about what people like David Brooks and Kathleen Parker have to say when they obviously dislike conservatives more than liberals? Why would the Right take the opinions of people who wish them ill to heart?
Conor also complains about partisan loyalty. That’s a fair point — especially where Bush’s first term was concerned. However, by Bush’s 2nd term, conservatives had little problem disagreeing with Bush and the Republican Congress — and they often did so loudly. Furthermore, given the rise of the Tea Party movement and the attitude of conservatives today, that seems like a dead issue. If anything, the average conservative is probably cutting Republicans in Congress TOO LITTLE slack at this point.
Let’s go on to Conor’s suggestions “for the Right going forward” — such as they are:
My wish list includes a base that doesn’t mete out support according to how stringently a politician is criticized by the left; talk radio hosts who oppose misbegotten GOP initiatives with as much energy as they oppose Democratic measures; tolerance of dissent and engaging dissenters on the merits of their arguments, rather than heretic-hunting or accusations of disloyalty/bad-faith; a right-leaning media that engages in robust debates about the appropriate direction for the country, rather than thoughtless cheerleading or opposition bashing; and general intolerance of lies, misleading statements, and intellectual dishonesty, even when perpetrated by political or ideological allies.
Quickly, because none of these are serious enough to merit a lot of time:
* “a base that doesn’t mete out support according to how stringently a politician is criticized by the left”
If anything, conservatives are probably not supportive enough of politicians criticized by the Left. Maybe we’re getting better about this (See Joe Wilson’s 2 million dollar campaign haul after shouting “You Lie”), but if anything, the Right is much more willing than the Left to throw its own under the bus.
* talk radio hosts who oppose misbegotten GOP initiatives with as much energy as they oppose Democratic measures
Are we in a time warp? Is it 2004 again? That was the last time I remember that being a significant problem.
* tolerance of dissent and engaging dissenters on the merits of their arguments, rather than heretic-hunting or accusations of disloyalty/bad-faith
Does that same standard EVER, EVER, EVER get applied to people like David Brooks, David Frum, or for that matter, Conor Friedersdorf? Why do the people who get accused of being racists, xenophobes, and too dumb to understand politics always have to be the ones who forgive while the same blockheads who never learn from their mistakes insist on getting their way again? As to the bad faith part, let me just note a few names: Jim Jeffords, Arlen Specter, Colin Powell, Dede Scozzafava, Anthony Kennedy — and that’s leaving out all the “conservatives” like Andrew Sullivan and David Frum, who make a living off the scraps of the Left for criticizing their own side. So, gee, why would conservatives ever think there might be bad faith involved?
* a right-leaning media that engages in robust debates about the appropriate direction for the country, rather than thoughtless cheerleading or opposition bashing.
I actually would like to see more open discussion of ideas in the conservative media, so I’ll give Conor half a point here, although I still think ideas are much more thoroughly discussed on the Right than on the Left.
* general intolerance of lies, misleading statements, and intellectual dishonesty, even when perpetrated by political or ideological allies.
I’d say we’re there and have been there for a long time. As a general rule, I think the most diehard conservative ideologues like Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter are considerably less tolerant of deceit than the news sections of the New York Times or Washington Post.
PS: How do you even implement any of these “suggestions?” It’s all aery-faery, generalized complaining that does very little other than advance liberal propaganda.
(Hawkins’s Note: I told Conor that we should go about 750 words each and I went long. My apologies.)
You can read Conor Friedersdorf’s 2nd post here.