Of late, there seems to be an abundance of “Republican” pundits willing to attack other Republicans on demand, trained-seal style, for a wildly applauding liberal media. However, it’s worth noting that none of these pundits could fairly be described as moderately popular or influential in the Republican Party at the present moment — but of course, as long as they have nasty things to say about other Republicans, the media can’t get enough of them.
Although I’ve been making a real effort not to tear down people on “our side” of late and even though I actually like some of the people on this list and bear them no ill will, I think it’s time to set the record straight about the mainstream media’s favorite Republican pundits.
David Brooks: Most conservatives I know have to check their gag reflex at the very mention of Brooks’ name. Most rightward leaning tendencies that Brooks once possessed have long since been drummed out of him at the New York Times, where he went native years ago.
Every so often, a vestigial reflex of the rightward-leaning instincts he once had pops up in a column, but he has been so beaten down that he scarcely dares express it above a whisper. Now, nasty comments about the right? That Brooks can manage without trouble.
All in all, Brooks is a mediocrity, someone who has risen because of whom he knows and his willingness to attack people on his own side, not because of his talent. Want proof of that? Over the last two years on Conservative Grapevine, I’ve linked more columns from Maureen Dowd than I have from Brooks. What does that tell you?
Christopher Buckley: Christopher Buckley, whose entire contribution to the conservative movement thus far has been passing on his father’s genes to his progeny, trashed Sarah Palin during the campaign and supported Obama. This was news, not because Buckley was influential on the right or because Republicans actually cared about his opinion, but because he was William F. Buckley’s son. Today, he’s still living off his father’s name, writing tedious political columns that are print worthy only because he has few kind words for the Right even though his last name is “Buckley.”
Ross Douthat: I like Ross Douthat. In fact, even though I disagree with him on quite a number of issues and don’t consider him to be a conservative (There is no such thing as a big government conservative), I think he’s probably about as good a replacement for William Kristol as we could expect from the New York Times at this point.
Unlike some of the other people on this list, Douthat strikes me as a decent guy who genuinely wants to persuade conservatives that he’s right, as opposed to someone who just wants headlines for attacking his fellow Republicans. Still, let’s face it, the Times gave him a job because they wanted a Republican who doesn’t agree with other Republicans.
Rod Dreher: I’ve always found Rod Dreher to be likable and would definitely consider him to be socially conservative. However, as I have written before, I think the “Crunchy Conservatism” he champions is intellectually incoherent,
“…As far as I can tell, “Crunchy Cons” are supposed to be conservatives who like natural foods, don’t like urban sprawl, and are somehow or another, more “spiritual” than other conservatives. There also seems to be a sort of anti-materialistic strain to Crunchy Conservatism, but, let’s face it: how many truly non-materialistic people are there in this country? In my book, if you’re not some Buddhist who owns nothing but the clothes on his back, a prayer mat, and a rice bowl, you’re a materialist. It’s just a question of degree.
But in any case, this brings up a central question: does Crunchy Conservatism exist in any meaningful sense? Honestly, I’d have to say, “no.”
That’s because, despite the many similarities conservatives have, we’re not all “mind numbed” robots who hold exactly the same position on every issue, enjoy exactly the same things, and look at life through exactly the same lens. If every conservative took the handful of differences he had with his fellow conservatives and created a whole new “brand” of conservatism out of it, there would be tens of thousands of little subgroups that would spring up, each one with a handful of “unique” characteristics. But, if we had “Dungeons and Dragons Conservatives” and “Nascar Conservatives” and “Mountain Conservatives” and “Beach Conservatives” and “Homemade Beer Makin’ Conservatives” and a thousand other made-up niches to go along with the Crunchy Conservatives, what purpose would it really serve in the end…well, other than to sell books explaining to everyone the unique views of conservative group #789 out of 21,412?”
It’s also worth noting that Dreher, like Brooks, has a tendency to write a lot of material that only seems to be marginally related to any sort of rightward leaning policy. He also despises Rush Limbaugh for reasons that are not always easy to pin down because of his inscrutable style of writing. Again, nice guy, but…
David Frum: Frum is a very smart guy and a lot of conservatives would probably agree with many of the things he has to say about say, abortion, foreign policy, and illegal immigration. However, Frum apparently got tired of being just another moderately successful pundit, tightened his embrace of big government, and has become one of the biggest goto guys when the media wants someone to attack other conservatives, like Rush Limbaugh or Sarah Palin.
Frum knows exactly what he’s doing: mags like Newsweek are only interested in what he has to say because he’s attacking his own side. Honestly? I think Frum’s silly attacks on Palin and Limbaugh have very little to do with “Comeback Conservatism” or building a “New Majority” and have a lot to do with making a name for himself by betraying his former political comrades in arms. In my opinion, someone like that doesn’t deserve much of a say in what the Republican Party is doing now or in the future. (Interviews here here)
Meghan McCain: Meghan McCain only became a Republican in December of last year and since then, the sum total of her contribution to the Republican Party and conservative movement has been zero. Yet, she’s all over TV attacking real Republicans?
Look, Meghan McCain is well known because she’s young, pretty, rich, and because of her family name. In other words, she’s the Republican Party’s version of Paris Hilton — but sometimes, I suspect that Paris is just playing dumb. I can’t say the same for Meghan McCain.
Peggy Noonan: Noonan strikes me as one of these creatures of the Beltway who is horrified at the idea of letting the “vulgar masses” actually have a say in politics. Good Lord, why can’t the Sarah Palins of the world and all those awful little people in flyover country just shut their mouths and let their betters decide how the Party should be run at D.C. cocktail parties?
Kathleen Parker: Kathleen Parker was a talented, medium level conservative pundit who occasionally went off the rails in her columns. Unfortunately for her, one of her oddball “off-the-rails” columns was about how much she detested Sarah Palin during the 2008 campaign, when the MSM was laying it on heavy and conservatives had their backs up.
Unsurprisingly, Parker received savage criticism for her attacks on Palin and instead of wondering whether she blundered, she doubled down and started regularly insulting Palin and other conservatives. To give you an idea of how well this went over on the right, at Townhall, where the average column produces a four star rating, Parker has at the time of this post, gone 50 straight columns without hitting the four star mark. In other words, things that are more popular than Kathleen Parker with conservatives probably include head lice, parking tickets, and Rachel Maddow.
In her Sunday column, KP was reduced to bragging that she had been invited to speak to the “annual New England Newspaper Association meeting.” For a conservative, that’s an insult akin to being a lion that’s invited to participate in a petting zoo. But, after having burned her bridges with conservatives, I guess that’s what she has to do to make a living after having gratuitously insulted all the people who supported her work over the years (Interview here).
Andrew Sullivan: Sully was generally considered to be left-of-center, but built a name for himself on the right by supporting the war in Iraq. However, after Bush supported a constitutional amendment to protect marriage, “Excitable Andy” turned on the war, Bush, his former conservative allies, and Christians with a vengeance.
Ironically, even as he aimed frothing hatred at all things conservative, Sully claimed to be a conservative. Of course, no conservative I know of considers Andrew Sullivan to be conservative and most people on the right consider him to be a far left-wing crackpot.
Personally, I think Sully personifies a quote from Thomas Sowell’s magnificent book, ‘The Vision Of The Anointed’
“Many of these “thinking people” could more accurately be characterized as articulate people, as people whose verbal nimbleness can elude both evidence and logic. This can be a fatal talent, when it supplies the crucial insulation from reality behind may historic catastrophes.”
Sullivan is indeed very articulate, but he’s also the most inconsistent, scatterbrained, haphazard writer in politics today — and even most liberals, after years of insisting that he was a conservative, will now admit that he’s actually a fellow liberal. Tragically, Sullivan now embraces wacky conspiracy theories as well and his sentiments are generally indistinguishable from the kookiest diarists on the Daily Kos once you get beyond the exceptional quality of his writing.