Sunday, January 11, 2009

Praying for Conor Friedersdorf

Conor Friedersdorf and I have been going 'round for what seems like forever, and today he jumps on me about Sarah Palin:
I don't think this is aimed at Sarah Palin detractors like me, since unlike the people that Robert Stacy McCain names -- David Frum, Peggy Noonan, David Brooks -- I've never been a George W. Bush booster, or a Republican speechwriter. Still, I've agreed with much of what those pundits have written about Sarah Palin, so let me say this: I neither fear nor loath the Alaska governor, and am rather impressed by her rise to head her state, but my misgivings about her qualifications and capacity to serve well in national office are quite conciously grounded, in part, in my belated recognition of just how bad a president George W. Bush has been.
So, he grants the basic point I made, that the failures of the Bush administration are a factor in the scapegoating of Sarah Palin. As long as Bush was popular and (perceived to be) successful, the whole down-to-earth, straight-shootin' Texas cowboy style was an acceptable mode of political discourse to the Republican elite, especially when that discourse was scripted by their friends and allies. Had Palin burst upon the national stage in 2002-04, we may surmise, the moose-huntin' Wasilla hockey mom would have been enthusiastically embraced by the Frums and Noonans of the GOP commentariat.

The ship aground
Ah, but somewhere between "Mission Accomplished" and "heckuva job, Brownie," the wind shifted and those whose political notions are meteorological in nature have been blown in another direction.

These fair-weather helmsmen were at the rudder when the ship foundered upon the rocks, yet now they insist that they -- and only they -- are qualified to steer the ship to safety (assuming the hull can be sufficiently repaired to make her seaworthy once more). My contention, by contrast, is that the folks in the luxury cabins are responsible for the wreck because they ignored the warnings of the experienced deck hands who tried to tell them for years that the ship was veering dangerously off-course.

Among those old salts was one Al Regnery, author of Upstream: The Ascendance of American Conservatism (which you should buy immediately), whom I interviewed in the May issue of the American Spectator (to which you should subscribe immediately). From that interview I quote:
"You look back in the earlier times, there were no opportunities, so there were no opportunists," Regnery says, noting how liberals heaped abusive epithets on Buckley, Goldwater, and other early conservative leaders. "Later on, you have all these people who figure it's probably a pretty good political thing to do. And so they start talking about being conservative when they're running [for office], but they really aren't. So when they get to Congress or wherever they go, they're pretty easily dissuaded."
Exactly, and what Regnery says of politicians can be applied in some sense to certain intellectuals who boarded the S.S. Conservatism in the belief that the ship would deliver them to their desired destinations: Book contracts, think tank sinecures, White House gigs, the op-ed pages of major newspapers, lucrative speaking fees, and/or a regular spot on Jim Lehrer's show.

Well, a fellow's got to make a living somehow, and some folks have not merely made a living, but made a killing, by marketing themselves as "conservative intellectuals." And as we who have gazed steadily upon the scene behold these people in 2009 uttering things quite different from their utterances of 2003 or 1998 or 1994, we are moved to ask ourselves: To them, is "conservative" a set of firm beliefs, or merely a career description?

The slow road to Damascus
Unlike some people, I came to the conservative movement not from ambition, but by persuasion. Picture me, dear reader, as I was circa January 1994: A 34-year old Democrat, happily plugging away as a writer and editor at a daily paper in Georgia, my hair down to my shoulders and a Clinton/Gore bumper sticker plastered proudly on the bumper of my '78 Impala.

Now consider what a powerful revolution was wrought in my mind so that, by November 1996, I voted for the Libertarian presidential candidate, Harry Browne, because I couldn't bring myself to vote for that moderate RINO sellout Bob Dole, "the Senator from Archer Daniels Midland," a/k/a "the tax collector for the welfare state." There was not one "road to Damascus" moment, no train to the Finland Station in my personal revolution. If in hindsight it appears to have occurred suddenly, the process as I lived through it was gradual but steady.

My mentors were chiefly people I've never met: Thomas Sowell, William F. Buckley, Jr., Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, Richard Weaver, Ayn Rand, John Stuart Mill, Edmund Burke, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and John Locke, to name a few. A few friends offered advice (thanks, Tommy Toles, Jim Arp, Tito Perdue, and others), but there were no professors, no scholarships, no internships, no seminars; just some magazines, some columnists, and lots and lots of books.

The result? By January 1997, I was most thoroughly miserable, finding myself in increasingly furious arguments with my newsroom friends, with whom I used to chuckle amiably over jokes of the Republicans-as-Nazis variety. Out of a sense of frustration, I logged onto my new home Internet connection, located the Web site of America's only conservative newspaper, found the e-mail address of an editor, and sent him a 5-point brevis of my resume. On thing led to another, and in November 1997, was hired as an assistant national editor at America's only conservative newspaper.

'I've served my time in Hell'
Within four years, I found myself smeared as a hatemonger by the Southern Poverty Law Center and -- please pay attention -- forbidden to respond to the smear. To understand this, you must understand the concept of loyalty.

I was smeared because I was employed by America's only conservative newspaper (the SPLC would never have bothered smearing an obscure journalist with a small mainstream daily in Georgia, and certainly not when I was a Democratic journalist). This was understood by my employers, who realized that to respond to the SPLC smear would only be to publicize it, and so -- chastened for having given Morris Dees "a stick to beat you with" and warned against further error -- I was ordered to bite my tongue and ignore it.

Well, welcome to the Internet age. Over the course of five years, the smears were expanded and elaborated so as to encompass those who had ordered me not to defend my good name. The smears were disseminated across the Internet, repeated (with laughable errors of addition) by liberal bloggers, and these smears were then circulated, with gossipy augmentation, by certain disgruntled employees of the same newspaper. No point in naming names, when the point is that I was maligned by fellow employees whose frustrated ambitions motivated them to attack the same newspaper that employed me, when loyalty required me to remain silent.

Which is more important, the reputation of one journalist, or the preservation of America's only conservative newspaper? Duty and honor sometimes require a heavy price, and others have paid far more than I was asked.

But -- oh! -- the bitterness. The rarest sentence in the English language is, "Gee, Stacy, why don't you tell us what you really think?" And yet here I was, portrayed to the world as a rank bigot, my employers smeared by association, and I not allowed to make any explanation. There is a bit of doggerel popularized by GIs during World War II that captures how I feel looking back:
When we get to heaven,
Saint Peter we will tell:
"Another Marine reporting, sir --
I've served my time in Hell!"
The religious reference is perhaps appropriate here, because that experience certainly made me reliant on faith in a serious way. There was a point, in April 2006, when I found myself praying for angels.

A Ned Flanders moment
The Psalmist appeals to God as "the lord of hosts,"and the "hosts" refers to the angels who serve Him. And I felt myself at that low ebb where, powerless to help myself, I needed some kind of miraculous intervention:
They that hate me without a cause are more than the hairs of mine head: they that would destroy me, being mine enemies wrongfully, are mighty . . .
Well, God can answer a prayer quite literally, and you wouldn't believe it if I told you, but "some have entertained angels unawares." Pardon me for what I call a "Ned Flanders moment." I am but a wretched sinner, yet I have faith, and I know that things don't happen by accident. God rebukes and chastens those He loves, and there was a purpose in my chastisement.

At some point, reflecting on the smears against me, I said to myself, "Wait a minute! How dare they accuse me of 'hate'? Hate is against my religion." Pride and anger can get the best of me, but . . . hate?

No. "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you." In the whole Bible, there is perhaps no commandment more difficult than that. Certain as I was that, whatever the SPLC claimed, I had never been so foolish as to hate entire races of people -- especially since I have so many friends of so many different races --yet it occurred to me that in my resentment and wrath, I had fallen far short of loving my enemies. Had I said any prayers for Heidi Beirich? Or George Archibald? Or any number of other people I felt had wronged me?

Well, though she still occasionally throws a smear my way (hey, she's got to make a living, too) Heidi Beirich is my Facebook friend and I've promised her that the next time I'm visiting kinfolk in Montgomery, we'll go out and sing karaoke together. And at CPAC 2007, when the ballroom was packed to fire-code maximum for a big speech, I intervened to make sure that Max Blumenthal (also Thomas Schaller and Garance Franke-Ruta) got inside.

Ask yourself this: Does anybody really want enemies? I wish that everyone in the world was my friend, and if somebody is my enemy, is that their fault or mine? If I'm faithful -- doing good even to people who hate me -- it can't be my fault, can it? So if someone is my enemy, it is by their choice and not mine.

The gospel truth
After the crisis of April 2006 passed, there came a time when I found myself granted liberty to talk to one who had chosen to be my enemy, and I told Max Blumenthal: "I'm too lazy to be evil."

That was my only quote in his story and, as a colleague remarked, it was the only thing in the whole story that she knew to be the gospel truth. Evil is just too strenuous -- all that plotting and scheming and grudge-holding and trying to keep track of your lies -- and life is too short to be lived that way. Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez!

Then there came that morning a year ago when America's only conservative newspaper decided it wanted to be something else, and it was if God said, "Go!" I'd prayed to get that job, and I prayed some more before quitting, so I certainly can't lament that I've missed the opportunity to work for Jeffrey "Real Journalistic Standards" Birnbaum (who nevertheless deserves to be remembered in prayer).

And thus, back around to Conor Friedersdorf. When last we left him, Conor was making The Conservative Case for Gay Marriage, and now he is back at work on another long-term project of his, The Conservative Case Against Sarah Palin. Clearly, my brothers and sisters, he is a man standing in the need of prayer. There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof is The Conservative Case for the Re-Election of Barack Obama.

Is Conor too far gone in his wickedness to be beyond hope of redemption? Is he simply a bad seed bearing evil fruit? Nay, my brethren. He has gotten in with a bad crowd, and followed some of those Pharisees who have seduced him, the blind leading the blind. Yet if he would open his eyes, he might still avoid falling in the ditch with them. Do not condemn him too harshly, dear brothers, for such were some of ye once, and I myself was once that foul and loathsome thing, a Democrat.

So, just as we know that Sarah Palin is praying for Katie Couric and Christopher Buckley and Andrew Sullivan, we must all pray for Conor Friedersdorf. Don't doubt that your prayer will be answered, but remember -- as I had to explain to one of my Christian conservative friends who was praying for John McCain's election in October -- that "no" is an answer, too. Was Conor foreknown and predestinated? Or is he doomed? Either way, he needs your prayer.

Love your enemies. It'll drive 'em nuts.