Weak Brew

At a coffee shop I frequented in college, some clever individual had scrawled “drinking coffee should be a substitute for most college educations” on the restroom wall. Michael Gerson seems to be under the impression that it’s also a substitute for real punditry.

Like Daniel and Matt, I’m late to seeing Michael Gerson’s latest foray into the world of Goodwill couches, laptops, and mochas. And like them, I find it rather irksome.

Gerson seems to think conservatives have something to learn from the left’s “emotional branding.” “I have never been in a coffeehouse that displayed posters of Ronald Reagan or Margaret Thatcher,” he observes.

For that, I say thank goodness.

That these figures and other heroes of the right have not yet been flattened and commercialized into cheap, shallow pop icons is a credit to conservatism, not a strike against it. (The Reagan worship of the current election cycle, I think, is already threatening to do this.) Politics is already fueled enough by the fires of name recognition and the cult of celebrity.

Gerson would reimagine the GOP as a dippy, intellectually-flaccid suburban megachurch, with Gerson and similar figures as its earing-wearing, t-shirt-clad, mall-punk youth pastors. As I noted elsewhere today, he evinces little concern for or understanding of history or philosophy, preferring to promote his treacly, emotion-centric modernism. Perhaps this would sell; megachurches have certainly done wonders for church attendance (if less so for religious commitment and depth of understanding), and many, it’s true, have become valuable community institutions, providing the sort of private social backbone that government cannot and should not. But it’s a mistake to conflate religion, culture, and politics, and what Gerson proffers here is hardly viable or desirable as a foundation for a national political movement.

And OK, it’s true, of course, that there’s nothing inherently wrong with the buzzy psuedo-revolutionary ethos of lefty coffee shops. In college, I spent enough time in them to memorize the wall graffiti. But good espresso has little to do with good politics, and Gerson’s lament that conservatism has failed to invade the walls of the nation’s hipster hangouts says far more about Gerson than conservatism.