Archive for ‘intellectuals’

July 13, 2009

How to Blog?

I’d love to be asked that question, but instead they asked Felix Salmon of Reuters:

Blogs are a conversation. Remember that. They’re not a sermon, they’re not a news article, they’re much closer to a discussion in the pub, or sometimes a graduate seminar. They can be funny, or serious, or angry; they can be two words or 20,000 words long; they can be pretty much whatever you want them to be, including heavily reported. But they’re distinguished by having voice, which is one necessary part of a conversation.

Hmmm. I’m tempted to react to that, but then there’s this:

Of course, having a good blog can get you hired, too: there are two sides to that coin, and right now the market in good bloggers is pretty hot, and the number of bloggers making six-figure incomes has never been higher.

Donald Douglas goes apeshit on that one:

I can’t imagine anyone making $100,000 a year blogging . . . I want some names! Let’s hear ’em: Who’s making 100k?

What intrigues me more than the $100K number is Salmon’s bland assertion that “having a good blog can get you hired” and that “the market in good bloggers is pretty hot,” which I’m tempted to translate as: “Your blog sucks, otherwise somebody would be hiring you to do it.”

Salmon, however, wrote his notes on blogging for the South Asian Journalists Association, and they are probably not perfectly applicable to the conservative blogosphere. I know conservatives who are getting paid to do political blogging of one form or another. But they aren’t being paid for “voice.” They’re doing fee-for-service work, delivering an online product rather than personality.

‘New Ideas’ and Old Mistakes
Adding a personal perspective without becoming entirely personal, conservatives face a demand-side problem in the current blog market. The people who might have the wherewithal to provide $100K incomes for bloggers don’t seem particularly interested in regular conservatism — that is, conservatism of the sort that the average Republican voter wants.

Instead, the money people want “new ideas” from kids like The New Establismentarians or perhaps even, as Professor Douglas notes, Scott Payne’s “Twenty-First Century Conservatism,” which looks very much like a formula for re-making the GOP in the image of Susan Collins — a conservatism that NARAL, AFSCME and the Sierra Club could love.

We see here a disconnect, a manifestation of the same problem that the Culture 11 disaster exemplified. Steve Forbes (and other investors whose identity we do not know) correctly believed that conservatism needed “something new,” but they didn’t have the slightest clue what that something should be. So they hired David Kuo and got Conor Friedersdorf and “The Conservative Case for Gay Marriage.”

Mercifully, the investors had the good sense to pull the plug before Culture 11 could give us “The Conservative Case for Cap-and-Trade,” “The Conservative Case for Keynesianism,” “The Conservative Case for Infanticide” . . .

Steve Forbes has been a free-marketeer his entire life, and yet where was the free-market voice at Culture 11? Where was there anything remotely like the cheerful Reaganesque sensibility — “Hope, Growth and Opportunity,” to borrow Forbes’ 1996 presidential campaign slogan?

Why is it that whenever someone like Steve Forbes gets the urge to give somebody a wad of money to generate “new conservative ideas,” the money never ends up in the hands of actual conservatives? It’s like watching a cable channel whose programming consists entirely of reruns of the David Brooks biopic: The Republicans Who Really Matter.

Lather, Rinse, Repeat
Immediately after the election, I warned against exactly the problems that are now affecting the conservative movement. Defeat inevitably induces doubt, and when the GOP gets its ass kicked, the experience characteristically induces in some Republicans a desire to emulate the liberal victors — ergo, “new ideas.”

In “You Did Not Lose,” I argued against the tendency to see election results as an ideological referendum, a rejection not only of conservatism as an idea, but of conservatives as people. In “Don’t Overthink It,” I argued against the tendency to make an electoral debacle an occasion for the sort of intellectual navel-gazing which predictably leads some to conclude that Republicans could win if only they were more like Democrats.

The reason I warned against these tendencies was because I’d seen them displayed after the Bob Dole debacle in 1996, when both David Brooks in The Weekly Standard and Christopher Caldwell in The Atlantic Monthly launched vicious attacks on the red-state conservative grassroots.

My warnings evidently went unnoticed by anyone important, for once again we see the same gormless quest for “new ideas” we saw 12 years ago, a quest that produced George W. Bush and “compassionate conservatism” and — eventually — brought us full circle, right back to Square One. Except that this Square One is not 1997 (when at least the GOP still held its congressional majority) but more like 1965, 1977 or 1993, when the liberal Colossus bestrode the world triumphant, scornful of any restraint.

What the Official Conservative Movement really needs now, as in the wake of those previous electoral catastrophes, is not “new ideas,” but rather courage and confidence in some very old ideas — cf., “How to Think About Liberalism (If You Must).”

However, because my blog sucks, nobody’s offering to pay me $100K to promote those ideas, so please hit the tip jar.

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March 16, 2009

‘McCain’s right, of course . . .’

“. . . and the Brookses and Meghan McCains of the party might as well join up with the Democrats, for if we adopt the ‘moderate’ programs these folks are pushing, we might as well have a one-party Democratic state.”
Donald Douglas, on “Core Values Conservatism,” agreeing with me and Charles Murray (I think)

Professor Douglas is taking issue with Ross Douthat’s critique of Murray’s Thursday lecture at the American Enterprise Institute (yet another event to which I was not invited).

Not being a member of the intellectual leisure class — hit the tip jar, people — I have no time for fucking around with the fine points on this one, nor is there any need for that. We need not agree on the ideal size of government in order to agree on three major points:

  • Government is too big. It’s too expensive, too powerful, and too meddlesome. Even if we could get this much government at half the price, it’s still more government than is good for us.
  • Bush and Republicans were wrong to expand government. No Child Left Behind and Medicare Part D were giant steps in the wrong direction which, by blurring partisan distinctions, made it more difficult for the GOP to present itself as the party of limited government.
  • Democrats want government to be even bigger. Government can never be too big, too expensive, too wasteful or too intrusive to satisfy The Evil Coalition of Liars and Fools.

You need not agree with Grover Norquist on the desireability of shrinking the federal government until it’s small enough to drown in the bathtub. With government as big as it is now and rapidly growing much bigger, the current situation creates a clear line of demarcation. You are either a small-government conservative or you are not a conservative, period.

Murray, Douthat and the Professor are welcome to engage in a three-way intellectual Jello-wrestling match over the fine points of philosophy or policy on all this. As politics, however, the choice is clear: The Republican Party can either (a) try to reclaim its limited-government credibility by going all-in against Obama’s neo-Keynesian economic plan, or (b) employ the approach favored by The Republicans Who Really Matter by nitpicking the small change.

My hunch is that (b) is a one-way non-stop ticket to Republican irrelevance. Jennifer Rubin is right: The opposition party must oppose. This is that 4 a.m. call, and if my answer lacks nuance and sophistication, it at least has the merit of simplicity: WOLVERINES!

UPDATE: Not directly related, but one of The Republicans Who Really Matters weighs in:

Drive-by pundits . . . are non-journalists who have been demonizing the media for the past 20 years or so and who blame the current news crisis on bias.

Fuck you, Kathleen Parker. I started out in the news business making $4.50 an hour in 1986, and I’ll take no lectures from the overprivileged likes of you. What journalism has become is a disgrace, and the unwillingness of people in the news business to say “fuck you” to useless idiots like you is one of the reasons why. (H/T: Tim Graham.)

UPDATE II: Kevin Williamson weighs in with a more thorough fisking of Parker’s column, as opposed to my outraged punk-smacking. The outrage is that someone who has for so long been a mere opinion columnist — as opposed to working in the actual news end of the operation — should be lecturing anyone about what’s wrong with the news business.

“Newspaper columnist” used to be a gig that you had to work a long time in the news business to get. The late, great Lewis Grizzard, for example, started out as a brilliant young sports reporter, and nonetheless was past 30 — and had already served as executive sports editor of the Chicago Tribune — before he became a columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 1977.

Then in the 1980s and ’90s, as cable news and USA Today started encroaching on the turf of the metropolitan dailies, there was this big push for “diversity” and “youth,” the chief result of which was a lot of Clever Girl Columnists wasting newsprint. (Hello, Rheta Grimsley Johnson! Hello, Maureen Dowd!)

Kathleen Parker was one of the better Clever Girl Columnists who got the affirmative-action leg up in that manner. But she succumbed to the Elite Media Syndrome of thinking that working in the news business makes you somehow superior to the guy who drops 50 cents in the newsbox, and her insufferable elitism is an apt metaphor for what went wrong with the business.

It’s still possible to make a profit on a newspaper, but to do it, you’ve got to have a small staff of people who work their butts off. You’ve got to have do-everything staffers, rather than having specialists who won’t lift a finger to help outside their job description. And one of the luxuries that profitable newspapers can no longer afford is the overpaid op-ed columnist who never gets her shoes dirty.

Good-bye to bad rubbish.

February 19, 2009

‘They revel in their anti-intellectualism’

“You cannot be well adjusted, open-minded, pluralistic, enlightened and be a republican. It’s counter-intuitive. And they revel in their anti-intellectualism. They revel in their cruelty.”

(Via Pax Parabellum.) All I’ve got to say in response is, “Shut up, you fat-thighed feminist dog!”
UPDATE: They’re smart and virtuous, we’re dumb and mean — this is the essential content of Garofalo’s “argument.” Fine. Here is some dumb, cruel, intolerant Republican anti-intellectualism:

Check out Right.org for details on the video competition. And a big hat-tip to noted anti-intellectual J.P. Freire.

February 13, 2009

More intellectual warfare

“The Left has won the culture war, and, at least in the near-term, its victory is irreversible. In social relations, the right to choose trumps all other considerations: to fornicate, marry, breed, abort, divorce, and abandon. That a single mother with six kids should opt for another eight because she feels like it captures the distilled essence of the cultural moment that we have entered. Somehow ritual expressions of support for ‘family values’ don’t quite provide an adequate response.”
Andrew Bacevich

“From Joseph de Maistre to T.S. Eliot and beyond, right-wing cultural critics since the French Revolution have made the case for authority, along with what it ultimately requires — namely, the suicide of the critical intellect.”
Damon Linker

“Linker’s response says more about his inability to make arguments without resorting to theocratic or authoritarian bogeymen than it does about Bacevich’s essay.”
James Antle

James is onto something. The hysterical reactions of those who claim to see theocracy lurking around every corner can only be understood as the expression of inner psychodrama. What is it they really fear? What kind of emotional weakness manifests itself in these phobic fantasies of religious authoritarianism?

February 7, 2009

Young Turks and gay marriage

Since last October, at least, I have been using the phrase “Young Turks” to describe the restless young intellectuals of the conservative movement. Most of these young men — not to slight the ladies, but nearly all of these writers seem to be male — who would be tomorrow’s Weavers and Buckleys and Kirks are not strictly political writers. That is to say, they didn’t spend 2007-08 obsessively handicapping the presidential election, but they are “political” and conservative in the sense that they have made clear their general commitments to the Right.

Now, if you talk to these bright young fellows — and I find excuses to talk to them as often as possible — one of the things you learn is how many of them are either (a) in favor of gay marriage as a matter of social justice, or (b) defeatist in conceding that the legal recognition of gay marriage is a political inevitability, even though they personally oppose it.

Is it really so? Permit a geezer his doubts. I remember being 15 years old when our teachers at Douglas County High School arranged a teleconference between our classroom and our state’s senior senator, Herman Talmadge. And I remember that all of us long-haired hoodlum types — this was 1974 — were eager to ask Sen. Talmadge about legalizing marijuana, so that he had to fend off two or three questions on the subject. (“Uh . . . hey, man, like . . . what about weed?”)

Thirty-five years ago, it seemed to us teenage weedheads that we were on the cutting edge of social change, but the Jeff Spicoli Nation never came to fruition, did it? Nowadays, America is perhaps more socially tolerant toward the herb — I confess to having been an adolescent doper without fear that I’ll be hounded out of polite society for the revelation — but the stuff is still illegal. (And thank God for that, as who would want to deprive the stoners of the undeniable frisson of their outlaw status?)

Yet the Young Turks generally view the gay-marriage debate as following in the historic path of Social Progress, an irresistible floodtide, so that such opposition as there is must speak in tones carefully measured, lest offense be given to the eventual winners of the debate.

Measured tones have never been my style. My defiance of the irresistable floodtide has been couched in reference to Roy Moore’s concurrence in Ex Parte H.H., and I have defended my position by asserting that men and women are not equal in the sense of being fungible. (Men and women are different; therefore, a union of differences implies a natural complementarity inherently missing from same-sex relationships. Viva le difference!)

While it may have seemed that, in making such a bold assertion, I was merely engaged in my favorite sport of baiting Conor Friedersdorf (guilty, your honor), there is nevertheless a real and politically relevant argument involved, and I would be interested in stirring it up again, if only to gin up some weekend traffic. So, what say you? J.P. Freire? Ross Douthat? Helen Rittelmeyer? Perhaps some old geezers like Andrew Sullivan and Rod Dreher would also like to weigh in, as well. Linkbacks are guaranteed under the Full Metal Jacket Reach-Around Rule, and anyone else who wants to weigh in is welcome to leave a comment.

ADDENDUM: Comments are moderated, so if you want to call me a “faggot” — hey, start your own blog.

UPDATE: Helen Rittlemeyer:

Being publicly pro-SSM is the quickest way for a young journalist to signal that he’s one of the right-wingers it’s okay to like. Haven’t they heard that it’s better to be feared than loved? Or, to put it less glibly, the real respectability of a solid argument is preferable to the worthless respectability one gets by being on the Harmless Right.

Note to Helen: Please install SiteMeter and Technorati at your blog, so as to keep track of your traffic and help others know when you’re linking them. (Gee, you’d think a girl genius could figure these things out for herself!)

January 10, 2009

Fear and Loathing: Sarah Palin and the Conservative Intellectuals

Allahpundit took his Friday “Quote of the Day” from David Frum, provoking lots of irate responses from Hot Air commenters, including one who posted this:

The only thing more disgraceful than the liberal treatment of Palin was the treatment she got from some so called conservatives. And it should be pointed out that this site was very negative towards Palin. This post set the tone for what followed.

The link is to Allah’s first foray into Palin pessmism on Aug. 29 — the day Palin was announced. But that’s just Allah being the Eeyore of the conservative blogosphere. You can’t hate him for that, folks. Depression is a disease, and there’s no point arguing with Allah when he is mired in darkness.

Of course, in a truly dire situation, depression is a synonym for realism. The inarguable fact is that the Republican Party hasn’t been in such utter disarray in 15 years, perhaps even 35 years, if you want to go back to the Gerald Ford era. The problems of the GOP are multilayered, and each layer contains an apparently insoluble problem.

The biggest problem of all is a lack of leadership. If you’ve listened to Rush Limbaugh in the past couple of years, you’ve heard him say a thousand times that the problem with George W. Bush is that he never was, never wanted to be and never could be, The Conservative Leader.

You can go back to Dubya’s original signature issue, No Child Left Behind (the subject of a write-up in Friday’s Washington Post), which was (a) not conservative, and (b) never going to work. NCLB was nothing but pandering to soccer moms who sincerely want to believe in a Lake Woebegone world where “all the children are above average.”

The same unconservative belief that informed NCLB — that human beings are so many lumps of clay who can be magically transformed by the proper government interventions — has also, when you think about it, informed U.S. policy in Afghanistan and Iraq. The U.S. military did an excellent job of destroying the regimes of the Taliban and Saddam, but then “mission creep” set in and the idea took hold that we would transform these nations into modern democracies (complete with women’s suffrage) essentially indistinguishable from Belgium.

Unfortunately, the State Department failed to supply adequate quantities of the one ingredient necessary for this project: pixie dust.

More than 200 years ago, Edmund Burke said of the French Revolution:

The effect of liberty to individuals is that they may do what they please: we ought to see what it will please them to do, before we risk congratulations.

If Bush had minded that single maxim of Burke’s — and this is just one of many conservative truths that have been ignored for eight years — he might not have done a lot of the things that have since led to disaster. Which brings us back around to Sarah Palin.

You see, one of the reasons Palin horrifies so many conservative intellectuals (and Allah seems to be one such) is their fear that she embodies all that was wrong with Dubya. You have to go back to 1999-2000 to recall how the conservative movement got into this disastrous cul-de-sac known as Bush 43. If you are a Republican, think back to the debates between Gore and Bush, think about the issues as they were discussed then, think about how Gore was hobbled by the stain of Clinton’s scandals, and how Bush’s basic job was to convince Americans that (a) he would restore dignity and decency to the White House, and (b) tax cuts are good for the economy.

Even with such an apparently simple political task, Bush placed second in the popular vote. The Republican “brand” (as it is now fashionably called) was already damaged in 2000, and even then it was apparent that Dubya hadn’t brought any pixie dust from Austin.

What exactly was the GOP’s “brand damage” problem in 2000? Well, under Newt Gingrich, the Republican Party was stuck with the image of being “mean-spirited,” “divisive” and “partisan” (note: Democrats are never harmed by accusations of partisanship). Therefore, in an attempt to reverse-engineer the “triangulation” method that Dick Morris had taught Bill Clinton, Bush was marketed as a “compassionate conservative” who could address the concerns of “soccer moms” in Republican ways.

Bush spent seven months and three weeks trying to put that agenda into action, when suddenly Mohammed Atta et al. changed everything. In the two ensuing election cycles — 2002 and 2004 — Team Bush won big on the national security issue. Beyond tax cuts and Supreme Court fights, the domestic agenda receded into political irrelevance. And who cared? As long as the GOP was kicking butt every election year, any conservatives who complained were ignored (or denounced as “unpatriotic”).

Yet somewhere between Bush’s historic triumph in November 2004 (when he became the first president since 1988 to be elected by a popular-vote majority) and November 2006, the wheels fell off the Permanent Republican Majority. Suddenly, as if awakened from fairy-tale slumbers, conservative intellectuals began to regret that George W. Bush was not one of them.

Think about it. Peggy Noonan, Christopher Buckley, David Frum — what is the thread that connects them? All worked as speechwriters: Noonan for Reagan, Buckley for Bush 41, Frum for Bush 43. While these Republican wordsmiths had all praised Dubya’s machismo magnificence when he was contrasted with such pompous rivals as Al Gore and John Kerry, the bloom fell off that rose after 2006.

That born-again, down-to-earth, drawling Texas thing — somehow, it had once made Bush seem like Gary Cooper in High Noon. But as the disasters mounted and the poll numbers headed southward, that Gary Cooper glow faded and these conservative intellectuals turned on their TVs to behold, with unspeakable horror, President Jethro Bodine.

Thus their reaction to Sarah Palin. While the Republican Party grassroots looked at Palin and saw an American Margaret Thatcher (except much sexier), the conservative intellectuals looked at her and saw . . . Vice President Ellie Mae Clampett.

Shootin’ her some vittles! Takin’ care of young ‘uns. Let’s go a-swimmin’ in the ce-ment pond!

You see? The fear and loathing of Sarah Palin among (some) conservative intellectuals is a subconscious reaction to their belated recognition of Bush’s weaknesses. The liberals who bashed Bush as being “in a bubble” and “out of touch” had a point. Since 1999, Bush really has been encased in a hermetic capsule of expert advisers. And this capsule was purposely constructed with the eager assent of the conservative intellectuals because, deep down, they never really believed he had it.

By “it,” I mean what Ronald Reagan had, that finely-honed political sense, that keen instinct for the right word, the right stance — the “vision thing,” as Bush 41 once said.

Reagan had that, had it in his very marrow, in every molecule of his being. As much as the Noonans, Frums, Buckleys and David Brookses of the GOP wanted to believe that Dubya had that Reaganesque quality, he never did. He was . . . just another Bush.

Looking back, these intellectuals realize they deceived themselves, projecting onto Dubya qualities he never had. So now they see the GOP grassroots enthusiasm for Sarah Palin and, with all the cynical disillusionment of the ex-True Believer, they say, “Don’t kid yourself.”

Just as the conservative intellectuals once projected their hopes onto Dubya, now they project their disappointments onto Sarah. But the fault is theirs, not hers. And Sarah has something the intellectuals don’t have — an army. Brother, I’ve seen that army.

So you can take your David Frums and your David Brookses, and let Sarah take that army and, by God, we’ll see whose Republican Party this is.

UPDATE: Fellow insomniac Ed Driscoll:

She certainly could have been a fine vice president if McCain hadn’t “suspended his campaign”, permanently, in retrospect, in late September. But does that make Palin the next Gipper?

Does she have to be, Ed? What Would Reagan Do? Well, I think the first thing is, he’d tell us, “Stop looking for the next Ronald Reagan, you morons!” Why not just do the best we can with what we’ve got? Whatever Sarah Palin’s faults and shortcomings, she’s still got more natural political talent than any Republican candidate whose name is currently being floated for 2012. Don’t overthink it.

UPDATE II: John Cole blames Sarah for “whip[ping] up McCain/Palin crowds into something that resembled a modern day Triumph of the Will.” This is nothing but undiluted Team Obama spin, as I explained last month in the American Spectator:

The tactic of blaming Palin for “racist anger” toward Obama developed as a theme during the fall campaign, evidently based on post hoc ergo propter hoc thinking within Team Obama. Threats against Obama increased as the campaign heated up after Labor Day, and since this followed the Aug. 29 announcement of the Alaska governor as Republican running mate, Palin herself was scapegoated.
That claim was distilled in a November article in the London Daily Telegraph with the misleading headline, “Sarah Palin blamed by the US Secret Service over death threats against Barack Obama.”
The Secret Service never said any such thing and the Telegraph‘s story didn’t actually say that they had said it. Rather, Telegraph reporter Tim Shipman was paraphrasing a Newsweek account of the campaign that quoted Obama adviser Gregory Craig in mid-October expressing concern about “the frenzied atmosphere at the Palin rallies.” The same paragraph of the Newsweek story asserted (without attribution) that the Obama campaign had been “provided with reports from the Secret Service showing a sharp and very disturbing increase in threats to Obama in September and early October.”
It was the Obama campaign, not the Secret Service, which suggested a connection between the “frenzied atmosphere” around Palin and the threats. Obama himself appeared to believe there was such a connection, raising it in his final debate with John McCain.
That accusation evidently stemmed from an Oct. 14 newspaper report that an audience member at a Palin rally in Scranton, Pa., shouted “kill him” when Obama’s name was mentioned. The Secret Service investigated but was unable to corroborate that account, as Newsweek subsequently reported, and yet the alleged threat has entered the colloquial what-everybody-knows version of the campaign.

And for an Obama supporter to be flinging around Triumph of the Will comparisons — oh, that’s rich.

UPDATE III: A reader helpfully points out, “Reagan never looked like this”:

“Frenzied atmosphere,” indeed.
November 16, 2008

Tod Lindberg, informal adviser

Some semi-useful points:

Today’s Democrats may well overreach in much the same way that Republicans did after they won their congressional majority in 1994, when they took the “center” out of center-right. If so, Democratic hubris will create opportunities for the GOP to get a hearing.
And so far, center-left government is largely an abstraction for the country. People like the sound of it, especially against the backdrop of a financial crisis and recession. In these center-left times, voters are receptive — or rather, it is their receptiveness that makes these times center-left. But whether they will like the new Obama tilt in practice remains to be seen.
So Republicans should not despair. They will have plenty of time to work up a critique of Obama’s policies as they unfold. But Republicans should not count on Democratic failure — and they certainly should not regard it as inevitable because of a conservatism they impute to an electorate that has, shall we say, moved on.

I think the key thing in this whole column is the bug at the end:

He was an informal foreign policy adviser to the McCain campaign.

“Informal”? What does that mean, to be “an informal foreign policy adviser”? Is that kind of like “the cheapskate bastards wouldn’t pay me,” or what? This is why I don’t give free advice to politicians. I might tell ’em to go to hell, but that’s the limit of my free advice. I’m always happy to state my opinions, but if I ever became an actual “adviser” (informal or otherwise), I might get blamed for the politician’s screwups. And I don’t need that guilt.

In that sense, then, Lindberg has offered himself as a convenient scapegoat for everything that went wrong with the McCain campaign. We blame you, Tod!

November 12, 2008

Quote of the Day

“The electorate is malleable because there’s a lot of ignorance there.”
Mary, commenting at AmSpecBlog

Exactly, which is why I argue against overthinking the election. Good example of overthinking: John McCain lost Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada, three southwestern states with burgeoning Hispanic populations. The overthinkers will tell you that this was because of conservative opposition to amnesty for illegal immigrants, and that therefore Republicans must endorse amnesty to “reach out” to Hispanic voters. Facts and logic, however, are on the other side of the argument:

  • John McCain was the leading Republican advocate of amnesty, and there is no evidence that this produced any net electoral advantage for him.
  • Ronald Reagan signed the 1986 amnesty, but once the amnestied illegals became citizens and began voting, they went 2-to-1 for Democrats.
  • If you look at the exit polls (for example, in Nevada) you find that not only did Hispanics vote 3-to-1 against amnesty-supporter McCain, but that he got only an 8-point majority (53%-45%) among whites.
  • McCain almost certainly lost more white votes because he supported amnesty than he gained among Hispanics.
  • Because white voters are still a majority of the electorate (e.g., 69% in Nevada), it would make more sense for Republicans to seek increased support among white voters than to try to gain Hispanic votes by pandering on amnesty.

Illegals are not citizens and can’t vote. Hispanics who are legal citizens may or may not support amnesty for illegals, but it is likely that Hispanics disproportionately support Democrats for reasons that have nothing to do with immigration enforcement.

Karl Rove will always tell you that Bush, in his elections as governor of Texas, succeeded because of his support among Hispanics. What Rove never explains (and may not even realize) is that:

  • Hispanic Republicans in Texas are mostly old-settlement Tex-Mex — people whose ancestors have lived in the U.S. for generations, in some cases even before Texas statehood. You’re talking about “Bubba Rodriguez” and “Heather Lopez” types, OK? They are thoroughly assimilated, middle class, fluent in English and, notwithstanding their Hispanic surnames, are as American as apple pie. To use the Republican votes of these Tex-Mex as an argument for amnesty is absurd.
  • Bush won election and re-election in Texas at a time (1994-98) when the tone-deaf liberalism of the Clinton administration was driving millions of white middle- and working-class voters away from the Democratic Party. The real secret of Bush’s success in Texas was that he increased the Republican share of the white vote. In his 2004 presidential re-election, for example, Bush got 74% of the white vote in Texas. If McCain had got 74% of the white vote in Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico, he would would carried those states.
  • Whatever the success of Bush in Texas, at a national level, he never got a majority of the Hispanic vote — getting just 44% in 2004. Keep in mind that many of those Hispanic Republican voters are Puerto Ricans (born with U.S. citizenship) and Cuban-Americans (welcomed as refugees from communism since 1959) who either aren’t interested in the amnesty issue or else actually oppose amnesty for the same reasons other Americans oppose amnesty.

The trends in Hispanic voting patterns since the 1986 amnesty show no net political benefit for the Republican Party as a result of that amnesty. Instead, by amnestying about 2 million illegals in 1986, policy-makers signaled a lack of seriousness about border enforcement, which encouraged more illegals to come.

It is clear that our current immigration policy is a failure, which shouldn’t be a surprise, because it was authored by Ted Kennedy in 1965. But rather than advocate sound policy, the Republican overthinkers echo liberal demands for amnesty and accuse their conservative opponents of bigotry. To argue that John McCain lost the election because Republicans didn’t pander enough to Hispanics — well, as George Orwell said, “One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that: no ordinary man could be such a fool.”

November 12, 2008

The perils of political overthink

From my latest American Spectator column:

. . . The self-interest of intellectuals demands that they portray every election as fraught with existential significance, an honest-to-goodness Hegelian shift in the zeitgeist. Divining the zeitgeist and integrating the latest paradigm shift into our weltanschauung is the stock-in-trade of intellectuals, and if all that elevated cogitation could produce an extra 207,000 Republican votes in Ohio, maybe I would give a damn. But it can’t and I don’t.
The economy sucks, the war in Iraq is costing us about $5 billion a week, the deficit’s out of control, and every time you turn on the TV, another giant corporation is either declaring bankruptcy or getting a bailout from the taxpayers. You don’t need an
intellectual to tell you why this was a tough year to be a Republican, but that’s not going to stop the pointy-heads from explaining What It Really Means. . . .

Please read the whole thing. It’s a mocking attack on David Brooks, but more than that, it’s an argument against the entire genre of over-intellectualized analysis which Brooks has made a specialty. To pretend that political trends are so complex — nuanced! — that only an intellectual can explain them is a sort of scam that serves mainly to justify the intellectual’s function in politics.

Liberalism for decades has suffered from the influence of “big picture” thinkers (John Kenneth Galbraith comes to mind) whose business was/is to make the intellectual case for unpopular policies. No matter how often the American people reject higher taxes at the ballot box, you can always find some liberal intellectual to write a newspaper op-ed column arguing for higher taxes, so that Democrats feel comforted in continuing to pursue policies that lead directly to lost elections. If Obama and the Democrats in Congress pass a tax increase, you can be sure that they will do so to a chorus of cheering Washington Post columns. You can also be sure that the tax increase will hurt the economy and cost Democrats votes at the next election. But some politicians would rather be praised in the newspapers than to win elections.

Now we’re seeing how this tendency toward intellectualism has infested conservatism. For a decade or more, David Brooks has pushed his “national greatness” idiocy on the GOP, denouncing Republican advocates of limited government, and warning of the baleful influence of “populism.” But that pointy-head son of a bitch can’t deliver a single vote in Ohio or Florida, and following his advice has brought nothing but disaster to the Republican Party.

Airdrop him on Jalalabad, I say.

November 11, 2008

Cognitive partitioning & meritocracy (Part II)

(This is the second part of a blog essay about how the processes of meritocracy have created a social and cultural gap between conservative intellectuals and grassroots conservatives. In Part I, I discussed how widespread standardized testing and the democratization of higher education fostered a “cycle of selectivity” in which America’s brightest students have come under increasing pressure to grind it out academically in order to gain entrance into top schools.)

My late Aunt Barbara was a high-school biology teacher, frequently honored for her excellence. A couple of years before her retirement, she found herself under pressure to change grades for some of her students who had scored poorly on a big test. The students were among the valedictorian candidates at LaGrange (Ga.) High and the poor test grades in an advanced honors course threatened to affect the final selection of valedictorians. (Like many other schools, LaGrange now recognizes multiple valedictorians, reflecting the “prizes for all” trend.)

Aunt Barbara refused to budge on the grades, but as she explained the pressure parents applied to the system (this incident was just one example), it reinforced my perception of what a sea change had occurred in public schools since my own youth. Bright students are nowadays herded into “gifted” programs in elementary school and into the AP/honors track in high school. The 4.0 all-A average that used to be the acme of academic excellence is no longer sufficient for the aspiring young meritocrats. Honors classes award extra credit so that a 5.0 is now possible.

Since making all A’s and a high SAT score no longer suffice to guarantee admission to the top colleges and universities — plenty of ultra-smart grinds have tasted the Bitter Thin Envelope of Rejection from Harvard or Yale, to which their hopeful parents had insisted they must apply — these young grinds also cram their teenage lives full of extra-curricular activities designed to highlight their “leadership” or illustrate that they possess that “something extra” which will make their application stand out amid the pile of applications from the brainiac herd.

By the time a kid gains admission to a top school, then, he hasn’t had an unscheduled moment since eighth grade, and nearly all of his overscheduled adolescence has been spent in the company of his brainiac peers. And, with rare exceptions, these peers are all offspring of affluent, ambitious, college-educated parents like his own, so that for all the rhetorical emphasis on “diversity,” there is a stultifying sameness to the millieu in which these teenage strivers are reared.

Even if there were more diversity in their backgrounds, however, the brainiac’s actual teenage experience has become homogenized. Think of Anthony Michael Hall’s character in The Breakfast Club. Now clone him several times over, and you will have a useful portrait of the AP/honors classroom at the typical large “comprehensive” high school in the leafy upper-middle-class suburban cul-de-sac enclaves where most of these nerds are raised. (Except that, two decades after The Breakfast Club, more of the nerds are Asian.)

Peers and perceptions
While it continues to be my firm belief that David Brooks ought to be dumped from a C-130 onto a Taliban position east of Jalalabad, Brooks is nevertheless a keen-eyed sociological observer. In 2002, he wrote an interesting article in the Weekly Standard about the “almost crystalline meritocracy” that produces the students who inhabit our nation’s elite campuses:

They grew up from birth being shepherded from one skill-enhancing activity to another. When you read their résumés, you learn that they got straight A’s in high school and stratospheric board scores. They’ve usually started a few companies, cured at least three formerly fatal diseases, mastered a half dozen or so languages, and marched for breast cancer awareness through Tibet while tutoring the locals on conflict resolution skills and environmental awareness.

Brooks can be forgiven the hyperbole, for he exaggerates only slightly. One important influence of this pressure-cooker process — the factor that relates most directly to the defects of our conservative intellectual class today — is that it isolates the young meritocrat within a peer group of his fellow nerds. Since ninth grade (if not before), the National Merit Scholar finalist has associated with and measured himself against other brainiac nerds like himself. These are the only true peers he has, against whom he competes for academic honors, and with whom he can recall shared experiences.

Think how narrow is the path to high achievement that results in a 17-year-old receiving the Sweet Thick Envelope of Acceptance from his first-choice college. That path may seem wider in a posh suburban school district where the AP/honors track is crowded with the sons and daugthers of hyperachievers, but that is a cruel illusion.

There might be 35 kids at Sodded Lawn High who could succeed at Harvard, but it’s unlikely that more than two or three of them will actually gain admission there. There will be dozens of those super-bright grinds who are cursed to attend those schools whose campuses are populated almost entirely by Ivy League rejects — Tulane, Swarthmore, Duke, Haverford, Wesleyan, Emory, Colgate — students whose failure will stand as burning reminders to future waves of ambitious nerds how easy it is to fall short even by the second-rate standards of Penn, Brown and Cornell.

Because this elite path is so narrow, because any minor slipup might mean the kind of admissions-process embarrassment that compels a kid with a 1,440 SAT to accept a scholarship offer from State University, those in the “almost crystalline meritocracy” seldom have any non-meritocratic friends. They don’t spend their weekends helping a buddy install a custom cam in his third-hand Ford, nor will you find them working a part-time job at Old Navy. They’ve never worked the summer toting boards on a construction crew or gotten wasted at a farm party or engaged in any other activity that would have put them into the familiar company of those slackers and losers and hell-raisers who constitute the non-elite extracurricular club known as Future Republican Voters of America.

Meritocratic prejudice
I arrived in Washington from North Georgia 11 years ago seeking an answer to a question I’d heard over and over from conservatives down home: “What the hell is wrong with those Republicans in Washington? We elect ’em and send ’em up there and then it’s like they forget why they’re there and who put ’em there.”

A big part of the answer to that question involves this socio-cultural gap that the “crystalline meritocracy” creates between conservative intellectuals and the typical Republican voter. The editors and writers at major conservative publications, the wonks at the think tanks, the analysts and “senior fellows” and other functionaries of the rightward infrastructure in Washington — these people are drawn from the ranks of top university graduates who are the end product of that meritocracy. They reflect, in greater or lesser degree, the distinctive prejudices of their class, and these prejudices tend to alienate them from the Republican rank-and-file.

Just one illustrative anecdote: About a year ago, a bright young operative in Washington (who is certainly not a snobby elitist Ivy League type) told me in all seriousness that virtually all college-educated women under 30 are pro-choice. Now, I don’t doubt that hard-core, single-issue pro-lifers are a minority in the college-educated female 18-29 demo, but I do doubt that hard-core, single-issue pro-choicers are a majority in that demo.

The available exit-poll data don’t allow such a detailed demographic analysis, but if 44% of 18-29 white voters punched the button for McCain-Palin, I think it safe to say that some signficant plurality of college-educated young women are pro-life. And I further believe that, ceteris parabus, the pro-life position is not a sufficient deal-breaker for enough college-educated under-3o women that the Republican Party dooms itself to defeat by being pro-life. In other words, there are a lot of “soft” pro-choice women who are either somewhat persuadable to a pro-life stance, or else aren’t strongly interested in the politics of abortion, caring more about economic issues, etc.

Having not been isolated within the intellectual class, however, I know that the absolute solid bedrock of the 21st-century GOP coalition are the pro-life activists. Those are the folks who put butts in the voting booth — they deliver on Election Day. The Republican Party can easily afford to lose 100% of the Harvard vote, but if the GOP loses the pro-lifers, you can kiss it good-bye, people. That isn’t to say the pro-lifers should be endlessly pandered to, but you can’t piss ’em off, either.

As with abortion, so on down the line on various other issues. To have a political movement that is active, energetic and confident enough to secure that magical 50-percent-plus-one of majority power, conservatives have to hunt where the ducks are and dance with the ones that brung ’em. The hard-core “base” alone may constitute only 30% of the electorate, but without the enthusiastic support of the base, you cannot then reach out successfully to the undecided, independent “swing” voters. And you can’t get the enthusiastic support of the base when the most prominent spokesmen for the movement are taking to the pages of the New York Times and the Washington Post to urinate on the party’s grassroots, or to engage in cowardly hand-wringing about the Hispanic vote. (Question: Why is pandering to Hispanics acceptable, while pandering to blue-collar evangelicals is not?)

Real trouble vs. imaginary crisis
Economic issues and the Bush administration’s blunder-plagued foreign policy are the sine qua non of the Republican Party’s electoral woes in 2006 and ’08. “Brand damage” and “Bush fatigue” are undeniable realities. The GOP lacks popular conservative leaders with strong crossover appeal to independents.

Yet what do we hear from so many of our Beltway conservative intellectuals? They conjure up a complex existential crisis of conservative ideology, and make important-sounding noises along the lines of, “The party of Ronald Reagan today stands at a crossroads …”

From these pompous beginnings, they proceed to cherry-pick the vote totals and exit polls, make ostentatious allusions to Russell Kirk or Barry Goldwater, throw in a bit of anecdotal example, all preparatory to pointing fingers at the usual suspects: Those damned Republican voters! Those ignorant xenophobic hicks in Flyover Country who foolishly insist that the conservative movement ought to try to actually conserve something! How dare those backwoods holy-rollers attempt to influence the party of David Brooks, Christopher Buckley, Francis Fukuyama and George Freaking Will!

Is it really so? Are the problems of the GOP really the fault of Republican voters, rather than the fault of the intellectuals? Go scan their output from 2001-04 and try to see if you can find where any of these eminent pundits warned of the political and policy errors by which the Bush administration rendered the Republican Party label increasingly toxic to independent voters. When you find that David Brooks column from 2003 warning about the baleful effects of the Community Reinvestment Act and the dangers of pumping liquidity into an already overheated housing market where traditional standards of creditworthiness had been abandoned, please let me know.

Damn. Once again, I’ve gone off on a mad tangent and haven’t fully explicated what I meant to tackle. I need to cool off a bit and try again. I want to talk about how summer internships have replaced summer jobs, and how the meritocratic conservative elites tend to flock to Washington at age 22 or 23, and how this exempts them from the kind of exposure to non-elite folkways that would inspire confidence in the common sense of common people. I realize that it may be unpopular for a conservative to defend the common sense of the electorate immediately after Barack Obama was elected with a 53% majority, but let’s face it: Voting against John McCain is a very easy thing to do — 53% of Republican primary voters voted against him, too.

To be continued . . .