Friday, September 4, 2009

Do we need a purge? I don't think so

Patrick Ruffini waxes nostalgic for the days when Bill Buckley might purge any uncouth rubes who threatened to undermine the intellectual prestige of conservatism. In doing so, he calls to my attention something I had previously ignored -- my friend Jon Henke's call for a purge of WorldNetDaily's Joseph Farah -- to which Matt Lewis had previously replied at

This points to the gap between the interests of young political professionals like Ruffini and Henke, and the interests of the grassroots, as I explain at The American Spectator:
Grassroots conservative activists are, by their very nature, not engaged in the political process as a career. They tend to be older, well-established in non-political occupations and less concerned about the Big Picture questions than in finding immediate, practical ways to oppose the menace of liberalism. The question one hears from the grassroots is not, "Whither conservatism?" but rather, "What can I do?"
The Tea Party movement -- which will host a major rally in Washington next weekend -- has given the grassroots something to do, so that joining en masse to voice their opposition to the Obama agenda, they are actively engaged in the political process.
However, grassroots activism has consequences. One of the consequences of a ressurgent conservative grassroots is that their concerns, beliefs and attitudes are sometimes not in sync with the concerns, beliefs and attitudes of smart young Republican activists like Patrick Ruffini. . . .
You can read the whole thing. As always, no matter how much I share certain concerns of the intellectuals, my strongest sympathies are with the grassroots. Intellectuals need the grassroots more than the grassroots need intellectuals.

UPDATE: Catching up on the reaction that roiled the online Right while I was politely ignoring this dispute, Around the Sphere has a list of links, including my favorite acromegalic bride-to-be, Megan McArdle:
If the right ever wants to get back in power, it needs to start policing its lunatic fringe.
Why is it always the Right, and never the Left, that is urged to suppress its lunatics? Are our Birther kooks so self-evidently more dangerous or more embarrassing than left-wing kooks like Van Jones? What is at work here, I suspect, is that those who travel in intellectual circles -- where the influence of liberal academia is pervasive --almost inevitably become intimidated by the prestige-claims of liberalism.

A concern for debunking liberalism's prestige -- the persistent notion that liberal ideas possess a presumed legitimacy that conservative ideas do not -- is why I wrote "How to Think About Liberalism (If You Must)":
The simplest way to define conservatism is this: The belief that liberalism is wrong.
Once you conceive of ideological combat in these terms -- and I urge you to read the whole thing -- then you lose patience with soi-disant "conservatives" whose two basic instincts are cringe and flinch.

By God, stand up on your hind legs and fight! Grab some liberal pet idea by the scruff of the neck and pound the crap out of it. Destroy the prestige of liberal ideas, and attack the prestige of liberal spokesmen, so that it is they who are compelled to cringe and flinch.

Pussyfooting around, concerning yourself with civility and respectability -- the Marquis of Queensbury rules that liberals insist conservatives respect, while they're rabbit-punching us and kneeing us in the groin -- is a tactical error that will inevitably lead to defeat.

This doesn't mean that conservatives must be rude and uncouth. Rather, it means we ought not be defeatist and cowardly, displaying the characteristic attitude of the man whose pride in good sportsmanship is closely related to his habit of losing.

UPDATE II: Bill Quick at Daily Pundit:
Careerism and credentialism are as big a problem for the conservative establishment as for the liberal one. . . .
The blunt truth is that unless the intellectuals are able to mobilize the grassroots, all their plans and hopes are for naught.
Exactly -- the electorate will not respond to rhetoric cluttered by qualifiers or ideas expressed in dry, dull, language. "Herewith, A Brief Primer" is not a fighting creed.

Like Matt Lewis, whose engagement with Henke prompted Ruffini's counter-blast, I consider Henke and Ruffini friends. Jon's critique of the errors of the Allen '06 gubernatorial campaign -- the failure to get ahead of the Allen-is-a-racist smear that was already well-developed before "Macaca" -- was atom-splitting accurate, and his phrase "the eyes of the influentials" has stuck in my mind for more than three years.

Yet Jon's attack on Farah and WND strikes me as wrong-headed and harmful, and I think Ruffini's defense of the attack included some erroneous ideas, too.

So, having ignored all this for three days, I at last felt obligated to engage. Not because I want to purge anyone, but because I want my friends Jon and Patrick to have the benefit of my ideas (which are 100% correct, as usual).

UPDATE III: Speaking of 100% correct, Matt Welch:
All signs are pointing preliminarily to a Republican resurgence in the 2010 elections, even as a growing number of political thinkers–many of them on the right–conclude that conservatism as we know it is verging on a self-inflicted death.
Which points, I think, to the issue of careerism among conservative intellectuals, each of whom wishes to claim credit as the far-sighted visionary who mapped the way to the spectacular comeback victory. I think Matt Welch and I should agree in advance to flip a coin for those honors.

UPDATE IV: Now a Memeorandum thread, and Dan Riehl reminds us of Buckley's populist side:
I'd rather entrust the government of the United States to the first 400 people listed in the Boston telephone directory than to the faculty of Harvard University.
Also linked by Bob Belvedere at Camp of the Saints, by some Goth-club conservative(?) and by our old friend Conor Friedersdorf.

I'm not going to argue with Conor just now. This thread's already way too long and to address his "substantive" arguments would take too much effort on the Friday night before Labor Day. Also, my wife just brought home two large cheese pizzas from Little Caesar's. Party time!


  1. Simple truth:

    We do not purge our folks until the Left purges their Bush haters, Palin haters, anti-Semites, anti-Isrealities, anyone who has cheered a Conservative's death or sickbed, and truthers (especially trig truthers).

    If the Left are serious, they would send Andrew Sullivan and Fareed Zakharia home.

    Until a Buckley arrives on the Left, we don't have to do squat.

  2. I don't mind distancing conservatives from the really psycho element, I'm just not sure WND qualifies as such.

  3. I used to blog at TheNextRight, until I was banned about a month ago. I sent several emails and spoke to both Ruffini and SorenDayton on the phone asking for an explanation. I didn't get one until a few days ago: because I'd posted a couple entries with "Birther nonsense". Except, both simply pointed out that HowardKurtz and NRO were lying about the basic, cut-and-dried facts of this matter.

    Not only that, but Henke somehow thinks he has some right to my copyrighted content, despite the fact that there was no agreement in place, I wasn't paid money to post there, there are spam links in comments on my entries that may be negatively impacting my search engine reputation, and I intended to delete my entries there for that and other reasons.

    To summarize: they banned me, refused to tell me why for about a month, and then somehow think they have some right to my property.

    And, regarding the whole "Birthers" issue, I discuss here how it shows once again that many of Obama's supposed opponents are incompetent and end up helping him and the Dems.

  4. So, what, we need to pander to birthers and conspiracy theorists because they provide energy? If we're not going to clean our own house, then who is?

    "No enemies on the Left" is unethical and mostly good at building an echo chamber of radicals. Why would "no enemies on the Right" be any better?

    Also, I'm not sure I accept the "grassroots" and "intellectuals" distinction you make. They may operate on different levels of sophistication (as we all do in many areas), but both of them have to be grounded in reality. If either of them is not, the movement will become vulgar and incoherent. Which is what we're seeing now. A movement that panders to its fringe will increasingly become a fringe (see: the Libertarian Party).

  5. If "Birther" is the hallmark of the fringe, then I suspect that Henke and Ruffini may find themselves outnumbered by those who wonder why Obama has so steadfastly refused to simply authorize the release of his original birth certificate.

    What do you call yourself when those whom you characterize as being the fringe are more numerous than you are?

    Elitist springs to mind....

  6. Jon Henke wrote: "No enemies on the Left" is unethical and mostly good at building an echo chamber of radicals. Why would "no enemies on the Right" be any better?

    Jon, I am certainly not advocating a "no enemies on the Right" approach. What I am saying is that some errors are less dangerous than others.

    Birtherism, as I've said here before, is a one-way ticket to a cul-de-sac. Obama is president, duly elected, duly sworn in and legitimately exercising the powers of his office. To waste time questioning a past-tense consideration -- which is what the Birthers do -- cannot lead to any effective critique of Obama as president, which is what the conservative movement needs to be doing.

    I have compared the Birthers to those who, in the mid-1990s, wasted time pushing the whole Waco/Mena Airport/Vince-Foster-Was-Murdered angle of attack on the Clinton administration. The problem with that line of attack was the same: It didn't lead to anything useful.

    Ignore it and discourage it, but there is no need to ostracize or purge anyone. Remember that at one point Jerry Falwell's organization was involved with promoting the Mena Airport conspiracy theories. Should Falwell have been purged and his supporters told in effect, "No thanks. Your support for conservatism is not welcome"?

    I think not. And while I am not pleased to see Farah and WND pushing Birtherism -- frankly, I haven't followed this controversy enough to know exactly what WND has published on the subject -- I don't think the error is sufficiently dangerous that conservatives should waste time organizing a WND boycott.

    You are welcome to endeavor to prove me wrong about this, but I doubt I can be convinced that the greatest contemporary threat to the conservative cause is Joseph Farah.

  7. Stacy: Spot-on posting and spot-on commentary at 03:56 PM. The old fashion practice of shunning and ignoring is, indeed, the best route. As you say in a different way, they're only hanging themselves--let 'em have the rope.

    Quoted from, linked to, and commented on this posting and your one over at AmSpecBlog [even managing to throw-in a Godfather reference] at:

  8. So, will the smart young things also boycott the New Republic? The magazine has a long history of promoting lies and liars. And the New York Times?

    Or is honesty and truth not the crucial issue?

  9. I read Joe Farah on a regular basis. I really don't anything objectionable on his site nor do I feel they should be ostracized.

    As someone who has been the recipient of ostracization by in-state elitists, I can speak from experience. I have bloggers that will not link to me or add me to their blogrolls for reasons that include my insistence on using heavy handed sarcastic messianic references to Obama and referring to him by His full name. Doesn't matter what I actually have to say ... they think they are being "principled."

    While I understand the concern of the so-called "birthers," I also agree that wasting powder and chasing this issue will end up in a dead end, much like the Vince Foster and Mena Airport pursuits of Bill Clinton. There are targets on Obama that we can better use our resources than chasing His birth certificate.

    There's nothing we can do about it. The One was elected and certified by the Senate as having enough electoral votes. We can defeat Him on issues that most people can understand.

  10. "What is at work here, I suspect, is that those who travel in intellectual circles -- where the influence of liberal academia is pervasive --almost inevitably become intimidated by the prestige-claims of liberalism."

    You're not the only one who suspects as much.

    There are a number of intellectuals that are highly revered by the conservative grassroots - Mark Levin, Thomas Sowell, Victor Davis Hanson, Walter Williams, etc. What separates them from the more reviled intellectuals of the movement is that those listed above don't give a flying fornication what liberals think about them, while liberal acceptance is a prime motivator for those "soi-disant "conservatives" whose two basic instincts are cringe and flinch."

    You can be an intellectual all you want. But if you're not going to take of the gloves, get in the mud, and fight for conservatism, don't be surprised when the grassroots find they have no use for you.

  11. It's pretty clear to me that Mr. Ruffini, like Conner Frittersdork, is on the make. I went to his post this morning to find he is calling for conservatives to develop "new ideas". Funny, I thought the point was to pursue the tried-and-true conservative principles we already have. Is it possible George Wallace could have been right about pointy headed intellectuals?

  12. WFB spoke and wrote in a highly pretentious manner, but he wasn't an important intellectual. (Quick: Buckley's intellectual contribution to conservatism/lbertarianism was....what, exactly?) He was a good organizer, however.

    One of the indiviudals who Buckley bragged about allegedly purging - including writing a couple truly stupid and taseless columns right after her death - had a far greater impact upon the cause of liberty: Ayn Rand.

    Right now, in the fight for liberty in the Age of Obama, people are turning to Atlas Shrugged. They're not uncovering some pompous out-of-print relic written by WFB.

  13. For the record, Peter at 5:38 is being extremely dishonest about why he's been ostracized. He was ostracized becase on election night, referring to Obama, he wrote online "If I had the money I'd put a bounty on his melon." This whole "they won't link to me because I used his full name" bit is complete horseshit. They won't link to you because you said you'd like to have the president killed. You are the fringe conservatism needs to distance itself from.

  14. Stacy, I don't think you've really understood what I'm doing. Conor gets this exactly right in his post. I haven't suggested "purging" people or telling them they can't be on the Right. All I have done is to say that credible organizations on the Right should not actually be supporting and encouraging the fevered swamps. It's one thing to ignore the loony fringe. It's another thing entirely to actually encourage them.

    Surely you get the difference between those two things. I have made the second argument, but you are disagreeing with the first - the argument I have not made.

    Kudos for a spirited defense of your position, but it does not actually address the argument I've made.

    As Buckley said of his rejection of the Birchers: "It was precisely my desire to strengthen the ranks of conservatism that led me to publish the editorial. Our movement has got to govern. It has got to expand by bringing into our ranks those people who are, at the moment, on our immediate Left... If they are being asked to join a movement whose leadership believes the drivel (of the Birchers), they will pass by crackpot alley and will not pause until they feel the warm embrace of those way over on the other side, the Liberals."

  15. I think you nailed it, Stacy, with the "careerist" thesis.

    What these folks see is a Whole Bunch of Conservat-ising Goin' On without their permission. Worse yet, it's entirely possible that the Tea Party people don't even read their columns.

    Worse, the Rubes with Pitchforks have had real, palpable, success without paying for "strategy". Good God, what next? Representative democracy instead of K-Street whores?

    By the way, Mr. Henke, Buckley was an effete snob about the Birchers. They provided the manpower, money, and a lot of damn straight-shooting and heavy lifting while others sailed their boats and studied dictionaries. I think highly of Buckley, but he was easily as divisive as were the Birchers.

    Let me put it this way. "Leadership" has not led, except into the trashcan of "building democracies" in sand dunes, chasing ghosts in mountain ranges, and more and more and more and more Federal Government. IOW, "leadership" has been a bunch of morons.

    Get out of the way, Mr. Henke.

  16. While the birthers should be ostracized I must admit that this entire debate about crazies on the right is rather entertaining, what with the whole Van Jones insanity currently going on.

  17. You're arguing a point no one is making. No one is arguing over intellectuals versus grassroots. They are arguing that legitimate conservatives should distance themselves from lunatics, morons, and liars like the people at World Net Daily.

    They aren't winning people over, they are just mkaing them dislike the other more (often for false reasons).

    Your definition of conservatism would include Marx and Alinsky. If your ideology doesn't extend any further than you are against american liberalism then you are a rebel without a cause.

    It's this empty nihilistic conservatism that only seeks to beat democrats at any cost with no concern for truth or a positive plan for the country that is killing conservatism and corrupting this country.

  18. Get out of whose way? Do you think I support the problems you referenced? Do you think I disagree with you on the merits of the leadership we've had these last many years?

    All you appear to know about me is that I think WND and the birthers are ridiculous and should not be supported by credible organizations. And you think THAT is the problem that should get out of the way?

    I'm not sure how you think pushing back against the RNC and very prominent, popular people and organizations on the right is a "careerist" move, but I don't see it that way. I'm a libertarian, so I'm quite used to being kicked out of, welcomed into and kicked right back out of the club. I'll write what I think and let the chips fall where they may.

  19. RS,

    That Goth Conservative is me. same guy who wrote "Andrew Sullivan's America," and the Republican Encyclicals.

  20. "All I have done is to say that credible organizations on the Right should not actually be supporting and encouraging the fevered swamps."

    Jon, are you really sure you and folks like NRO want to cede the field to Glenn Beck? I can definitely tell you from '90s experience that Bill Buckley ended up being a suck-up to Rush Limbaugh because the impact Rush made was infintely more than Buckley's NRO had made in nearly 20 years prior to that.

    Mark my words; before 2013, Rich Lowry, Jonah Goldberg, and folks like yourself will be, er, rather obsequious toward Glenn Beck. And it will be due to the fact that you have no real sense of what stirs peoples' passions.

  21. Thanks for your demonstration that conservatism consists entirely of superficial reactionism unable, and unwilling, to engage actual substance. I'm sorry for your prestige envy, but it's well-earned.

  22. JSF - We have to police our own fringe elements, while the leftist wackos are ignored or encouraged. It's not fair by any stretch of the imagination. But the MSM will ignore, then cover up, then explain away links between radical leftists promoting kooky theories and prominent liberals and Democrats, no matter how close those links are (hence Barak Obama is president, not an obscure state legislator). On the other hand, the most tenuous connections between prominent Republicans and nutty right-wingers will be blown out of proportion. We've all seen this happen time and time again. The media does not treat both sides the same, and we have to deal with that.

  23. Dave,

    We have always been in a two front war, we have to attack the media (and their handmaidens) before we think of purging our own. If we purge, we give in to Teh narrative by folks like Frank Rich and Steve Lopez (LA Times) who don't know us or ask to know us or want to know us.

    In my Blog I attack the media allies of the Left (such as Sullivan, Anderson Cooper and CJR). To get the King, we must remnove the pawns on the table. BUT WE DON'T PURGE FIRST.

    8 years after all the crap from the left and they don't purge or care to purge, we don't do anything until they do.

    And comment on Liberal allied sites like Democracy in America (by the ecionomist) and CJR. Someone should highlight Victor navsky and his nation cruise before he tells the WSJ what to do.....

  24. So, what, we need to pander to birthers and conspiracy theorists because they provide energy? If we're not going to clean our own house, then who is?


    And yet you claim to be against purging? Perhaps you are, but you need to make it clear to your fingers and to those who are your fans.

    Mr. Henke, we in the grassroots have a decided distrust for 'intellectuals' that is borne of long experience. Most generally, we do not feel dreadfully inadequate in the face of their brilliance, but instead overwhelmed by their pretentious mediocrity.

    I do not know you well enough to say if you belong to the Camp of the Losers, but I think it a reasonable request for any conservative intellectual or professional activist to prove that you are not. An intellectual on the right should not receive the benefit of the doubt. He has to prove himself to the base as a worthy person.


  25. Inside blogball, if you ask me. Walk down the street, and ask 100 people who Joseph Farah, or Jon Henke, or Jonah Goldberg or Rich Lowry are you'll get puzzled looks. "Purge" Joseph Farah? Here's a news flash for y'all...NOBODY CARES. If any of the above, or Patrick Ruffini, or David Frum/Brooks decided to leave for the beach in Costa Rica tomorrow, it would have zero effect on conservative politics, because none of them count. What, and who, counts are the grassroots, the people who can't quote Burke, but know in their gut that TARP, and the 'stimulus', and this monstrosity of a health care bill, and cap and tax, and card check are just WRONG. They can't give you chapter and verse on any of these issues, but they just know that none of them will do anything good, there is now way to pay for any of them sans tax increases and borrowing, and they just want to keep a bit more of what they earn...and be left alone by politicians. Do "we" need a "purge"? Take a moment and ask yourself what immediately came to my mind: Who's "we"?

  26. What is this nonsense about "Well, he started it"? There are crazies on the left, but we shouldn't distance ourselves from our crazies until they distance themselves from their crazies? -- And yet -- we attack their crazies..? But then can't they point back that we have ours..? And that's your justification, too -- so it becomes an endless game of chicken. Someone has to be the bigger man. We can discredit crazies in general by distancing ourselves from all crazies, "Birthers" and Commie Truthers.

    Farah's a whackjob, and while he's not as much of a whackjob as Van Jones, he's still a whackjob, and to give him any legitimacy diminishes our stature as a serious ideological movement. To channel Lisa Murkowski on the health care bill: liberalism is awful enough as it is. We don't need to lie about it to make it look bad.

    - Alex Knepper,

  27. It seems to me we have an unreflective echo chamber here. I believe only Peter defended the Birthers, everyone else dismissed them without any examination of the evidence.

    What do the Birthers want? They want the Constitution enforced. The Constitution calls for the President to be a 'natural born citizen'. Does Obama qualify?

    Obama has spent a million dollars fightly the release of his birth certificate, which would supply the evidence to answer this question. McCain's birth came up in the campaign last year after he locked up the GOP nomination. The liberals and the MSM piled on questioning McCain's eligibility. That was legitimate.

    Why is it illegitmate to demand the same of Obama? Oh, btw, the birther movement was launched by Democrats and one of the most influential Birthers is Phil Berg a former Atty General (or Asst Atty General) of Pennsylvania, no fringe wacko he.

    What ought to result out of this controversy? I believe State legislatures ought to pass requirements for documenting the eligibilty of candidates for President to actually be President. Boys need birth certificates for Little League but they aren't required for President.

    I believe there is fear among the Birther-bashers to look at reality. They don't want to contemplate the idea that Obama is ineligible, because then they would have to do something about it.

  28. John Hanson (1715-1783) was the first president (1780-1783) of the United States under the Confederation before the Oligarchs took power with the Constitution which allowed Bush to be president and the ownership of guns. Hanson was an Oldenburg Moor, a black nobleman, and like Elijah-Moses-Enoch-Baptist-Mahdi-Elvis, went to space on a fiery alien ship and never died. Hanson has returned as Obama to end the evil Oligarchy! This is why they could never find Obama's birth certificate! Danny Lazare is right to want to change this NRA chad Oligarch Constitution which allows the angry white talk radio males to object to Obama's berth certificate! We must impeach Scalia to disable the southern oligarchs of Calhoun, Corker, & Shelby and their demented Constitution. They have this evil bill of rights with rights for hate speech, guns, lobbyist blogging, campaign bribery, states, property, bonuses, and other oligarchic thievery that needs to end! Such euphemism, like when they call you boy as if they ever intend to call you man when you "grow"! This is why we must oppose oligarch-serving superstition by supporting one-state solutions in India-Packistain, Palestain-Isreal, Turkey-Grease, Creatia-Servia, Armeania-Asbyjean and Zahir-Condo. Then we can abolish greed and superstition across the globe with free psychiatric healthcare. We need to do domestically like we did in Servia, to teach these oligarchs they have no rights to be superstitious racists

  29. Birthers are the creation of the far Left.

    Those conservatives who hate the group that asks for the President's clarification on his BIRTH CERTIFICATE and his real PERSONAL HISTORY are against to one thing: TRANSPARENCY and HONESTY.

    Compared to the "Truthers", there is a big difference that elite conservatives try to ignore:

    BIRTHERS' issue can easily be addressed by a simple BEERFEST at the White House with the President circling around to show his LONG FORM BIRTH CERTIFICATE and tell the stories of HIS ORIGIN. The Birthers are just asking for PROOF, in accordance to the LEGITIMACY OF OBAMA as defined in the Constitution (i.e., natural born citizen as pre-requisite to President).

    Truthers are different. See the Farenheit 9/11 film. Even if Bush wanted to, such people are simply LUNATICS. They are not ASKING FOR PROOF. They want LEGITIMACY OF THEIR LUNATIC STORY.

  30. "What is this nonsense about "Well, he started it"? There are crazies on the left, but we shouldn't distance ourselves from our crazies until they distance themselves from their crazies? -- And yet -- we attack their crazies..?"

    Their crazies are in the White House and Congress. Our crazies are confined to small web sites. If the lefts crazies were as obscure as ours I'd not be spending much time attacking them.

    There are lots of "conservatives" here who hate our side.

  31. "Get out of whose way? Do you think I support the problems you referenced? Do you think I disagree with you on the merits of the leadership we've had these last many years?"

    I think you disagree with me on the merits of the leadership. I think you believe that Bush's failings stemed from being a southern Christian, and not from being a member of the country club Rockefeller Republican wing of the party. I think you are missing the fact that the people pushing the GOP to the left are the businessmen, not the Bible belters. The Chamber of Commerce and American industry have been supporting Obama's aganda every step of the way.

  32. Quoted from and linked to again at: