(Hawkins’ Note: Conor Friedersdorf challenged me to a debate. I accepted. This is the third 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.)
In our 2nd back and forth, Conor said:
Despite the fact that we even agree on many of the specific policy issues you raise, however, I find a glaring omission in your advice to the right. As a conservative, I presume you believe, as the Founders did, that political power tends to corrupt. Indeed, long experience teaches that all political and ideological movements sooner or later tend to become corrupted, intellectually lazy, blind to internal weaknesses, captive to orthodoxies of thought, and forgetful of their ostensible ends.
How can the right mitigate these ills so that when Republicans return to power, they’ll govern effectively? You’d think answering that question would be an urgent priority, especially for movement conservatives who regard today’s Republican Party as out of touch at best, and corrupt at worst, even as they pine for its return to power. But I can’t recall ever seeing the matter addressed, except by folks who are dismissively derided as “conservative dissidents.”
The idea that no one is trying to convince the Republican Party to govern effectively if they get back into power seems bizarre to me. What’s the Tea Party movement doing? How about the Club for Growth? How about the battle over NY-23? The fight over the NRSC endorsement of Marco Rubio? How about the brawls over Illegal Immigration, TARP, the Dubai Port Deal, and Harriet Miers — just to name a few examples? What we are seeing right now is the conservative movement bearing down on the Republican Party and demanding that they better address the issues as we see them. Whether we’ll be successful or not is unknown, but it’s hard for me to understand how any observer of politics could conclude it’s not being treated as “an urgent priority.”
From there, Conor says:
I think the ills I’ve listed are most reliably avoided when a political movement excels at self-criticism, encourages intellectual ferment, upholds high standards of intellectual honesty, refrains from offering apologias for effective but dishonest hacks, eschews the politics of schadenfreude, doesn’t make a fetish of group loyalty, permits calling out even effective political allies when they engage in wrongheaded analysis or behavior, avoids heretic hunting, etc. Am I right, or do you have a superior alternative to offer?
The problem with this is that it’s a fluffy “eye of the beholder” argument. There are always going to be some people who do these things well and some who do them poorly. Moreover, honest observers could agree on all the goals and come to very different conclusions. For example, my guess is that Conor and I would agree on everything in the previous paragraph, but I also suspect we’d disagree on whether most of these things are already being done. In other words, this reminds me of the last presidential campaign, with Conor in the role of the fellow who wanted “hope and change.” If you’re going to be that vague, I’m not sure it’s useful.
As to the policy disagreements, I’m not going to get into a lot of detail because again, Conor’s response seems a bit on the vague side and unlike last time, I intend to try to keep my response from going too far over our agreed 750 words. I will say at least that the commentary on the military seems contradictory, that entitlements are our biggest fiscal problem, but not our only one, and that I wholeheartedly support the war on drugs.
I do want to address the close of Conor’s piece though,
And I think you’re wrong to assume that a large media presence automatically helps the right — its biggest conservative political triumph, the election and tenure of Ronald Reagan, preceded the rise of the movement media, whereas the Bush Administration and President Obama’s rise coincided with the success of the Fox News Channel (though talk radio did play a role in the Gingrich Revolution). When it comes to news and opinion media outlets, I’d argue that quality matters, and that the right still lags markedly behind the left when it comes to the quality of the journalism it produces — is there any publication on the right, for example, that even approaches the quality of writing and reporting one finds every week in The New Yorker?
If your theory is that the rise of the conservative media drove Bush to the Left and helped usher in Obama, I think you’d have a hard time supporting that with the facts. Since you didn’t address it in detail there and there doesn’t seem to be any validity to it, I’d have difficulty even knowing where to start in taking the idea apart.
Also, it is true that the Left does better journalism than the Right, although using the New Yorker, which runs material from Seymour Hersh, who’s about as reliable as the National Enquirer’s latest tabloid gossip, probably wasn’t the best example. Although the Right is catching up, because the Left is so much bigger and better funded, it does have a big advantage on the journalism front, which tends to be costly. Quality does matter, but the quality of the conservative media has grown several orders of magnitude since Reagan’s day and is likely to continue to do so.