Monday, March 2, 2009

Dreher bashes Limbaugh

"This is a comforting lie. It is Rousseau conservatism: the idea that man is born innocent, but corrupted by society, or government. Remove the chains of government, and man will return to his natural, good state, which is one of limitless possibility. This denies two bedrock truths of philosophical conservatism, which are that 1) human nature is fallen, and 2) man must learn to live within limits. A conservatism that is not founded on a conscious recognition of those two truths is a false conservatism, and has a shaky foundation from which to criticize liberal utopianism."
-- Rod Dreher

My dear wife rearranged and cleaned my office while I was at CPAC, so that I can't lay hands on Thucydides just now. But there was an occasion recounted by that historian in which (I believe) the Athenians(* see 3:30 p.m. update below - rsm) had compelled the surrender of a rebel colony, and it suited the Athenian commander to require of each captured man that he answer the question, what had he done to aid the Athenians and their allies in the ongoing Greek civil war. Obviously, none of the captives could give a satisfactory answer, and so they were all put to the sword. (Classical scholars will excuse whatever major or minor details I've misremembered. Blame my dear wife.)

Drastic and foolish example though this was, the Athenian commander boiled down to a deadly brevity the nature of loyalty in service: What have you done to aid the cause?

The recruit fresh from boot camp merits very little respect from veteran noncoms and officers, the rookie just called up to the major leagues doesn't deserve deference from the three-time All-Star, and by an extension of this principle, sensible people should ask: Who is Rod Dreher to judge Rush Limbaugh?

This goes back to 2006, when everyone was rushing to denounce Ann Coulter for calling Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a "raghead." It so happened that Ann was introduced that day at CPAC by Monique Stuart, a former Washington Times intern. Monique described how she had been a liberal Democrat until the day Coulter showed up on her campus to debate a leftist professor whom Monique had previously admired. When Coulter was through with him, the professor looked like the clueless idiot he was, and Monique was a newborn conservative.

This is to say, Coulter has proven her value to the cause in years of effective service, and it will take a heckuva lot more than one unfortunate epithet for me to sign some idiot "open letter" petition demanding that she be purged from the movement. (You'd be more likely to get me to sign an open letter denouncing the petition signatories, though some of them I count as friends.)

More than two decades ago, Rush Limbaugh almost singlehandedly created a new medium of discourse in America. Anyone who knows anything about talk radio will tell you that it was Limbaugh who pioneered two distinct innovations: audio actualities ("sound bites") and rock-music "bumpers" to intro each new programming segment. Limbaugh is the very best at what he does, so much better that there is no dispute over the title, and a vast gulf separates him from whoever is No. 2 in his profession.

Given all that, and given the tremendous influence he has exerted (so that he was named an honorary member of the congressional freshman class elected during the "Republican Revolution" of 1994), isn't it the case that Rush ought to deserve some slight deference from those who call themselves "conservatives"? Rush was admired and praised by Buckley and Reagan, and is respected by other conservative leaders still vital and active. Whatever woes have befallen conservatism, these blunders have almost always been the work of those who have ignored or contradicted Limbaugh's advice. (Recall, for example, that Rush backed Pat Buchanan's 1992 primary challenge to George H.W. Bush, and did everything in his power to try to persuade Republicans not to nominate John McCain in 2008.)

This is not to say that Limbaugh is above criticism, or that his long duration in useful service has made him free from error. But whatever the philosophical merit of Dreher's criticisms -- and I share his skepticism toward the Whig-history univeralist rah-rah -- it is nevertheless true that Limbaugh has accomplished vastly much more for conservatism, and suffered as a consequence the fury of liberal wrath. So enormous is the disparity of their value to conservatism as a political movement that Dreher's criticism is like a fly perched on an elephant's ass, complaining that the ride is too bumpy.

Good politics must be rooted in sound philosophy -- in asserting this, Dreher is entirely correct. At the same time, a devotion to philosophical purity doesn't count for anything in the real world of politics if your party is being crushed in every election, as has been true of Republicans in the past two cycles. I'm reminded of a point Bob Barr tried to make to Libertarian Party activists in 2008, namely the distinction between a political party and a political club.

If Rod and his "crunchy" cronies want to sit around and quote Russell Kirk to each other at the organic whole-grain clubhouse, no one is stopping them from indulging their little purity crusade. Rush Limbaugh has no such luxury, and deserves better than to be sniped at in the manner Dreher has chosen.

Boys and girls, please listen to what I'm trying to get across here: Welcome to the camp of the saints. We are at coffin corner here, encircled by a powerful "progressive" army that outnumbers us and is emboldened by fresh victories. To suffer a third consecutive humiliating defeat in 2010 could be all she wrote for the movement born at Sharon, Connecticut, four decades ago.

We are now a mere 18 months from Labor Day 2010, when that climactic political battle will be fully engaged. There a lot of important work to be done -- and done now, over the next three to six months -- if there is to be any hope of anything but the abomination of desolation. Our utter destruction is at hand unless good men rally to the colors, and we no longer have the luxury of indulging in these petty playground feuds and the children who enjoy them.

To the extent that conservatives need a philosopher now, I'd say we need to be studying Sun-Tzu.

If Rod Dreher wants to join Andrew Sullivan and David Brock (yes, I said "Brock," not "Brooks") in the ranks of the vaunting army outside the camp, let him go over and be gone. But don't sit pouting inside the camp, giving aid and comfort to the adversary by your demoralizing pronouncements. If that stuff is going to be tolerated among conservatives, there won't be enough left of a constitutional republic after Nov. 3 for anyone to bother trying to "conserve" it, and no hope at all that it might be restored.


UPDATE 2:04 A.M.: Andrew Breitbart:
A friend in Los Angeles e-mailed a one-liner: "Best speech I have ever seen."
My urbane father-in-law, the first person I knew who copped to listening to Mr. Limbaugh and who has been witness to most of the big events of the modern age, called it the "most thrilling thing [he's] seen on TV."
What he said.

UPDATE 3:30 P.M.: In the comments, an anonymous homeschooling mom corrects my memory of Thucydides and the Peloponnesian War. However, she used her homeschooled teenagers as references, which is unfair. At any rate, the event I remember was the siege and surrender of Plataea (431-427). The merciless commander was not Athenian, but Spartan.


  1. So what are you saying, Mr. McCain? Should so-called conservatives sacrifice solid conservative principles for the sake of political expediency? Your fear mongering over the looming progressive monster can easily lead you (and others) down a path in which you will support candidate who opposes progressivism but has no regard for conservative issues. That's the same kind of garbage that got us into this mess in the first place.

    It won't be until modern conservatives appropriate the ideas of their founders that the conservative movement, and by extension, the Republican Party will flourish again. Supporting forever wars and opposing Obama can only take a movement and party so far.

    And by the way, just because Coulter has proven herself to be of value to the conservative movement does not mean that she should have license to blurt out a racial epithet.

    (some conservative will invariably pipe in to upbraid me for being politically correct; it has nothing to do with political correctness--just manners)

  2. Oh yes, politeness. Conservatives and by extension, Republicans, have been too polite for far too long. Those on the Left think nothing about politeness. Like the Islamic terrorist around the world, they both view politeness as weakness. Conservatives need to exercise their right to "Stand our Ground!".

  3. Cody, if Rod's a fly you are a gnat perched on Rush's ass.

    Why don't you get back into your compound and leave us alone.


  4. Right on, RSM.

    Here's our "We're Not Gonna Take It" post... in which he find a sissy and slap him around in cyber space:

  5. WOLVERINES!!!!!!!

  6. it is nevertheless true that Limbaugh has accomplished vastly much more for conservatism, and suffered as a consequence the fury of liberal wrath.

    I think this needs some elaboration. What exactly has Rush accomplished for conservatism?

    He certainly hasn't helped us win any elections. Since he's picked up the golden microphone we've had Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, and Obama. He has had zero impact on helping to elect a conservative President.

    Indeed, that doesn't even seem to be his intention since he tends to ride the GOP bandwagon more often than not (Romney? Really, Rush?). Heck, he wasn't even able to stop McCain (the other one) from getting the nomination. Obviously he doesn't have that much real influence.

    The problem, though, isn't really with Rush. He is a good entertainer, and for that he makes millions. He's got an amusing schtick (gig the libs) that will keep him in business for decades to come. No, the problem is with the people -- especially the Dittoheads -- who take him seriously and want to make him a leader of the conservative movement. This is insanity.

    If we want to be a group of people who sit around and whine about how great we'd be if all the libs would move to Canada then Rush is the guy who should represent conservatives. But if we want to be a movement that has a positive impact on our nation then we'll need someone of a little more substance.

    Also, Dreher is right about Rush being a "right-wing Rousseauian"and a progressive. Rush's ideas have very little to do with traditionalist conservatism. They are more of a Rotary Republican rah-rah nationalism. There's a place for that, of course. But it shouldn't be as the defining philosophy of conservatism.

  7. Joe Carter, I'll be prepared to hear your lectures on the faults of Rush Limbaugh's conservatism just as soon as you explain what you intended to accomplish at Culture11 by publishing Conor Friederdorf's "conservative case for gay marriage" nonsense.

  8. Actually, the person who first 'put down' the Limbavaian Optimism was G K Chesterton, who overmatched Rush in girth and facial hair--but only matched him in humor.

    Rush is great at what he does--and he's the best in the country at political wonkery. He's astute, and knows the game very well.

    AND his Optimism is a good thing--in moderation, as the Greeks would say.

    But Dreher's right, as you concede: sound politics must be based on sound philosophy. But neither of you mentioned that more important is sound religion.

    On the other hand, it is clear that the O-Crowd is the Party of Despair (the opposite number to Rush). Parties of Despair practice politics which are literally murderous.

    So I'll take Rush's sin of Optimism any day...but with a grain of salt, thanks.

  9. Realy, I thought the media's slavish and some would say obscene
    support of the Democrats, in 1992, after 1994, after 2000, had
    something to do with it. But I could be wrong about that. Ah Cody, still thinking defending Hamas is a conservative principle

  10. I consulted my teenagers who assure me that it was not the Athenians, but the Spartans, and the siege of Plataea which you recall. I only mention it because you have validated my props as a home schooling Mom. You have proven to them with geometric logic that dittoheads are as a matter of course, familiar with Thucydides. Thanks

  11. Wow.

    Well freakin' done, Stacy! The conservative blogosphere equivalent of Patton's speech.

  12. Wolverines? LOL you are such a dork.

  13. Actually, I think those who support our current foreign policy and Israel's foreign policy are generally more pro-al-Qaeda and pro-Hamas, respectively, than I am. But that's just me, obviously.

  14. terrific post by the Real McCain.

  15. What the heck is going on with Dreher? I read his screed and his outrage is all out of proportion to the speeches that provoked it.

    I'm not a regular Limbaugh listener and i certainly don't see him as a major intellectual. He gave a speech to a bunch of activists who mostly agree with him. It was a pretty good speech for that venue. Dreher writes as though he committed some sort of great crime.

    The other thing is, Dreher is great at bashing what other conservatives are saying or writing. But has he come out with HIS solution to the current mess?

  16. "Coulter has proven her value to the cause in years of effective service"

    This is why the cons are gonna keep losing for a while.

  17. Hey man,

    I the idea that people who sit around nekkid in bean bag chairs, reading "The Conservative Mind," while eating grain-filled Clubhouse crackers are outsiders, dang it.

    Jokes aside. You have to admit we have a problem when Limbaugh is the only one talking like this. This is nothing against Rush, his speech was a damn fine oratory experience. But, our pols should be talking like this, not media figures.

    As far as the Russell Kirk thing, or Edmund Burke, or Robert Nesbit, etc. If there is any time to be studying them it is now. A return to purity would give us the chance to advance. Where conservatives are right now is lost and confoozed. They will latch on to any populist movement without a moment's notice.

    This can invariably lead to people electing poor leadership with a great message. Sound familiar? We don't need a dose of intellect, we need a dose of Burkean wisdom and then we can modernize it. I don't think it's all that difficult, nor would it take very long.

    Just my humble two cents.

  18. May the conservative gods strike me dead. I just realized I mispult Robert "NISBET'S" name.

  19. I like the straw man argument by Dreher. Nice how he posits that Rush, or any other pundit for that matter, intends that people will behave more civilly when the chains of government are removed.

    Why does he not tackle the actual ideas put forth by the man? Does Mr. Dreher show where Rush has ever made such a claim? I'm no conservative, but I do appreciate Rush's calls for personal responsibility, and I doubt he has ever made the moronic assertion that people would behave better if not for the eeeevil government. It would be totally out of whack with his most common expressions of philosophy.

  20. Sun Tzu? We don't need to learn strategy from a GD Red Communist. Try Carl von Clausewitz: white Europeans won for a reason.