Monday, November 10, 2008

Blame the Bible-thumpers?

James Antle at The American Spectator:
Now blame for the Republican electoral debacle has been extended to all the rubes who are said to populate the religious right.
Even some right-leaning pundits are getting into the act. Beliefnet's Steven Waldman warned before the election that "religious conservatives will have to grapple with their role in electing Obama" since they supposedly vetoed pro-abortion Joe Lieberman, whom Al Gore found to be a sure ticket to the White House, for vice president.
In his post-election column for the National Post, David Frum counseled Republicans to embrace "a future that is less overtly religious, less negligent with policy, and less polarizing on social issues," a move that will "involve painful change" on such issues as abortion. There will be more college-educated social liberals whose values must not be threatened by Republicans, he argues, than Joe the Plumbers who are threatened by Democrats.
"Consider the nature of the Republican failure. That old rallying point, social conservatism, simply didn't draw the masses in 2008," Amity Shlaes concluded. "Truth be told, the pro-life line and appeals to piety often backfired."
Read the whole thing, especially where Antle quotes Christopher Caldwell's 1998 attack on the same holy-roller yokels -- an attack to which I replied in Chronicles.

One of the great woes of the conservative movement in recent years is that it has attracted a set of intellectuals who are culturally and socially disconnected from the people whose votes elect Republican candidates. This is, to an extent, a result of what Herrnstein and Murray called "cognitive partitioning."

Our intellectual class is now dominated by "meritocrats" who come from upper-middle-class backgrounds and who have been grinding it out since middle school trying to get into the elite schools that offer the fast track to success. Conservatism has sought out these brainiac types who bring with them a set of class prejudices that make them incapable of relating to State University business majors and self-sufficient tradesmen, the petit bourgeois backbone of the suburban Sunbelt GOP.

Conservative students on elite campuses seem to develop a siege mentality. On the one hand, they are forced to refine their arguments against liberalism. On the other hand, they tend to internalize the notion that conservatism is somehow less respectable than liberalism, so that there is a flinch reaction to accusations of racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. This creates within the conservative intelligentsia an obsession with respectability.

The quest for respectable Republicanism explains why so many conservative intellectuals kept boosting Rudy Giuliani during the 2006-07 runup to the GOP primaries. Giuliani is a New Yorker, a pro-choice, pro-gay-rights Catholic (oxymoron alert) -- not an evangelical hick governor from Waco or Wasilla. What is odd about conservative intellectuals, especially the younger ones, is that if their class prejudices and standards of "respectability" had dominated the GOP in the 1970s, Ronald Reagan's presidency would never have happened.

Reagan's great feat was to take the fierce anti-communism of Joe McCarthy and Barry Goldwater (which had been disdained as outlandish by the intellectuals of their day) and weave it into a larger, broader critique of liberalism, delivered with a genial smile. Reagan learned from conservative failures of the past the importance of building a coalition through tactical alliances.

Today's conservative intellectuals often praise Reagan and try to claim the mantle of Reaganism for their own pet projects, but they have a very un-Reaganeque tendency: Trying to build a movement via subtraction. David Frum delivered an infamous auto da fe against anti-war conservatives. Chris Caldwell wants to run the pro-lifers and gun owners out of the Big Tent. George Will thinks the GOP's problem is too many hockey moms. And, yes, there are far too many Christian conservatives who use "libertarian" as a pejorative.

I believe that the Republican Party's only hope for success against the Obama regime is to return to the "Spirit of '94," the limited-government reformist message with which Newt Gingrich rallied conservatives in 1994. I believe that conservative evangelicals need to consider the relationship between markets and morality. I believe that "libertarian populism" offers a winning antidote to the nonsense of "national greatness" and "compassionate conservatism" that have led the GOP astray. Pro-lifers need to show themselves dependable and useful allies in the fight to preserve economic liberty, and ought to soundly reject the temptation of Huckabeeism.


  1. But have you ever notices that most of these "brainiacs" aren't that smart?

    The haven't participated in the development of any science, they haven't contributed to the advancement of human knowledge.

    The like words, and they are good a stringing them together, that's about their only claim to "brainiac" status.

    It's a great skill, but so is dancing.

    And when it comes to substance -- many of them had bad judgment, time and again, recommending failed policies and strategies, guessing wrong about the fact, and leading the nation directions most everyone else has later judged to be a mistake.

    We aren't dealing with Einstein here (and if truth be told, Einstein was often a moron when it came to public policy -- a very arrogant, flip-flopping, and ultimately tragically mistaken moron.)

    In a fight over who is stupid, the GOP "intellectual" class has a lot to answer for.

  2. Finally: someone who writes about class differences and how they really do impact our perceptions/reactions in politics and everything else. More please!

  3. I would second that sentiment. Discourse which carries an understanding of normative questions at odds with the Official Idea is too much in the hands of people who are generically intelligent and liberally educated but lacking in much authentic expertise. Some (e.g. Midge Decter or J. Bottum) are seldom less than insightful. Many are just people with opinion with a certain felicity of expression. Another problem is the bulk of the authentic scholars seem to be intellectual historians. (There are economists as well, but all but a few are libertarians). Here is to hoping that:

    1. The trustees of the Heritage Foundation, the Ethics and Public Policy Center, the Hudson Institute, &c. will implement a policy of replacing publicists with scholars at these institutions - people fully capable of participating in academic life;

    2. That a long march through institutions will commence as people inclined to dissent will seek out and train for academic positions;

    3. That people who embark on careers in academe will study something other than intellectual history and will have among them people capable of apprehending an authentic political sociology rather than chuffering on about the 'Founding Fathers'.

    4. That legislatures will make use of statutory legislation and investigatory power to reform and reconstruct state universities. There is no reason professors as state employees should be allowed to turn these institutions into their little sectarian sandboxes.

    5. That journalists and scholars who are not contemptuous of vernacular culture and society (and one's disposition toward Gov. Palin and her family is a marker of that sort of thing) will carry the day against the remainder.

  4. "Pro-lifers need to show themselves dependable and useful allies in the fight to preserve economic liberty, and ought to soundly reject the temptation of Huckabeeism."


    What do they get for it?

    Given that the current wages of 35 years of effort is two (2) openly anti-Roe judges on the Supreme court (and two more that are vetted and look good, but are playing their cards close to their chest and you never know), and that the judges Barack Obama will appoint are going to put "five votes plus the right case" out of reach for decades to come. :(

    Because of Roe and Casey, pro-lifers aren't in the same situation as other contributors to the Republican coalition, that to some extent get paid as they go. (For the foreign policy and military mavens, it's almost all "pay as you go".) Pro-lifers need Roe removed so they can get on the state by state playing fields. It's all about hope that someday ... someday ... And decades go by, and the starting gates don't open.

    The Republican Party wasted its opportunities and "phoned it in" on life. Now it can't do anything, and its next chance to do something will be so far in the future that promises now about what politicians (likely different politicians) will care about and act on then don't mean anything.

    Why will pro-lifers never hear again what they got from the late, unlamented Republican two-house federal legislative majority? In effect: You call this a majority? You can't expect us to do anything for you, only 55-45 in the Senate! Give us more! More!! More!!!

    And meanwhile they wallowed blindly in their pork and graft, and practiced the fine arts of chatting up the pages and taking a wide stance on the mens toilets, and generally squandered everything that was given to them while they ignored life and death issues.

    And why will the Republican Party not revert to the attitude George W. Bush showed when he nominated Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court, trying to give a good job to an old buddy regardless of her lack of Federalist Society support?

    Yes, if it's President Palin or someone who thinks like her, I would expect any sensible pro-lifer to to trust the president to understand that Supreme Court positions are vital and not opportunities to distribute patronage.

    But it's clear that the party elite deeply hates Sarah Palin, and the mere idea of anyone like her having power.

    They're savage snobs.

    They like word-spinners without gravitas (the virtue, not the pose). They want to veto anybody with the seriousness to mean what they say on life issues and the steadiness to pursue a strategy to get the job done. They want something witty and paradoxical, something that calls for footnotes, not the simple and correct moves that serious situations desperately require.

    I suspect their morals are "college ethics." (Fertility control at any cost! Lesbian until graduation!).

    Their thoughts drift ever back towards toward any euphemism that will cover ditching pro-life and pro-family priorities. Entire books are sacrificed to cheap obliquity, because getting away with this kind of pea and thimble trick matters more to them than either solid ideas or lucid expression.

    (Did David Frum really think people couldn't guess where he was heading with years of hinting artfully about some other, undefined tough changes to be made? Yes, he's that condescending to the depths of his thoughts, and typical of the breed in that. And what are all the fine distinctions intellectuals love, what are all those nuances and references worth, coming from people who are simply un-serious and unashamed to gull their social inferiors?)

    And they seem to exercise something like a heckler's veto without penalty. They're trying it now.

    Who can be confident that the kind of person that they abhor and veto will be in the right place, maybe decades hence, to get the job done?

    I understand that if pro-lifers don't do anything they won't get anything, so they must toil after year, no matter how doubtful it is that this toil will be rewarded.

    Or even how uncertain it is that the party ever means to let the pro-life donkey get at that carrot.

    But people are more effective with hope in their hearts. You can see in the vast difference Sarah Palin made to John McCain's campaign, immediately, how big a difference it makes when people see someone they trust, and start to feel hope putting energy back in their limbs. Mister McCain-Feingold, Mister Let's Sue Wisconsin Right To Life, Mister Stem Cells, Mister Gang of Fourteen - yeah, yeah, we ought to so something, but who has the energy, and real life, and he's going to lose anyway... Then, suddenly: SARAH!! Everybody pile in and help Sarah!!

    Pro-lifers aren't going to just "reliably" turn that on every time, regardless of whether they see any hope or not. Maybe they should, but that's not human nature.

    I want to know how the Republican Party can credibly make promises that will give pro-lifers cause to hope that supporting the party will give them something more than the "honor" of providing votes and services for the foreign policy "Vulcans" and the Republican Party's economic conservatives.