A Quick Rebuttal

Quoting Megan McArdle’s admonition that the right should start policing its lunatic fringe, Jon Henke’s work against World Net Daily, and my criticism of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, Fox News, and Human Events, the blogger Bill Quick tries to make sense of it all.

So…what the hell is going on here?? Why are the supposed “best and brightest” of the Young Conservative Lions suddenly waging war on scruffy “outsiders?”
I think the answer is pretty simple: They’re scared to death they are going to lose their influence to the wave of Tea Party, Blogger, and Other Barbarians trying to remake the GOP, and conservatism, in their own image.

What gives? I’ve criticized a multimillionaire talk radio juggernaut, a highly rated television personality, a former governor, America’s highest rated cable news network, and an Inside the Beltway movement publication older than I am, and Bill Quick collects all these under the banner of “scruffy outsiders”? Perhaps his scare quotes are meant to acknowledge that these folks are actually movement conservative insiders.

It is their influence that I object to — not because they pose any threat to my career, but because they’ve consistently demonstrated a willingness to manipulate, mislead and exploit the grassroots folks that Mr. Quick imagines that I fear. As I said just yesterday, these folks deliberately play on the worst impulses of the conservative base, stoking their paranoia and misleading them about reality, all for the sake of bigger audiences and greater revenues. My idea of respecting the grassroots is writing about these cynical, dishonest elites, and the gulf that separates their rhetoric from what actually motivates them. But Mr. Quick doesn’t have any answer to that.

He goes on:

These are the youngsters whose immediate intellectual forebears turned the Reagan Revolution into the Double Bush Moderate Joke, and squandered the conservative majority in the process of kissing the asses of the liberals with whom they hung out in Georgetown bars.

That small paragraph is a neat summary of the delusion gripping Mr. Quick’s corner of the blogosphere. In his mind, the “intellectual forebears” of George W. Bush’s administration are people like Megan McArdle, Jon Henke and I. Funny, that isn’t how I remember it. In 2000, the RNC foisted George W. Bush on the nation as a fait accompli. Fox News and Rush Limbaugh threw their energy into getting him elected. Karl Rove served as his political architect. The conservative movement stayed remarkably loyal throughout his two terms, despite President Bush’s profligate spending.

These were the intellectual roots of the Bush Administration, and the folks I’ve named would’ve bragged about that back in the days of Karl Rove’s “permanent Republican majority.” Strangely, Mr. Quick apparently imagines 2000 to 2008 as the consequence of libertarian leaning blogger types urging I’m not sure what. What is he talking about?

He is also convinced that the loss of George W. Bush’s conservative majority is due to people like Jon, Megan, and I. Perhaps a more clear headed observer would cite the Iraq War, runaway spending, Tom Delay style cronyism, an economic catastrophe and a government staffed by incompetents. Of course, I would say that to distract from the prominent role I played in John McCain’s campaign. Oh, wait, I’m reminded that it was actually elder conservatives like Bill Kristol and young writers like Michael Goldfarb who helped run that campaign.

This is also jaw-dropping: “…the natural tendency of the professional kiddie-pols to set themselves up as intellectual and ideological gatekeepers for both movement and grassroots conservatism leads to these self-flagellating civil wars about the nature of ‘proper’ conservatism.” Really? Somehow I thought that controversy over the nature of ‘proper’ conservatism pre-dated Jon Henke’s World Net Daily criticism—must a big tent include those engaged in deliberate intellectual dishonesty?—but I guess I imagined all the heretic hunting criticism of every disgruntled former Bush Administration staffer, plus the attacks on David Brooks, Bruce Bartlett, Kathleen Parker, Peggy Noonan, David Frum, Ross Douthat, Ramesh Ponnuru, and lately even Rich Lowry.

This nugget from Mr. Quick is more plausible:

I am proposing that intellectuals, while valuable in the sense of providing the mental underpinnings for movements, tend to make lousy real-world leaders. As I also pointed out, without those rowdy mobs of grass-roots troops, the ideas of the intellectuals go nowhere. And when the intellectuals decide that their ideas – and their leadership – is wasted on the grassroots lumpenproletariat – then that leadership heads directly over a cliff, and takes the movement with it.

Though I can’t speak for Jon or Megan, I can assure Mr. Quick that I’d rather serve mango lassies from an outdoor stand than make my living as a leader in the conservative movement. Writing is fun because you get to say what you honestly think! As for the ideas of intellectuals going nowhere without rowdy mobs of grass-roots troops (what are their successes again?), how does Mr. Quick explain welfare reform, or the Project for the New American Century, or NAFTA, or capital gains tax cuts? Apparently I’ve missed a lot of rowdy mobs.

One last excerpt:

In the final analysis, their problem is a natural sense of elitism. It’s not their fault. They were raised that way in the way they raised themselves. Their own experience indicates to them they are the best and the brightest.
And elitism, per se, is not necessarily an evil thing. After all, half of all humanity is below average. I am an elitist myself. But the problems with elitism arise when elitists think their talents qualify them to control. And that is what this latest kerfuffle is all about: Who is going to control the conservative movement.

Let me explain something to Mr. Quick: I haven’t any desire to control the conservative movement — as far as I can see, becoming a movement has corrupted conservative philosophy, and I often wonder if conservative ends would be better served by blowing it up. There are valuable movement institutions and integrity-filled movement people I respect, but not because they’re parts of the Inside the Beltway conservative industrial complex.

I’d love to see a better movement, and a better GOP, for the sake of the country, but bringing it about isn’t the primary project that occupies me. As a writer, I’d rather be penning long form narrative journalism — in fact, I am starting an utterly apolitical non-fiction book project right now — and as a citizen who is politically engaged, I am most invested in bettering public discourse in America.

The way that citizens argue in a democracy isn’t the only important factor in advancing the good of a polity and the individuals who make it up. But it is one important factor. Intellectual honesty, arguing in good faith, and refraining from deliberately misleading others are necessary elements for healthy self-government, where public discourse serves as a crucible for ideas. I write against Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, Fox News, and Human Events because they fail these basic tests.

UPDATE: I see that RSM has a new post up comparing me to Adolf Hitler. It’s as good a way as any to distract attention from the question I put to him — if you’re loyal to the grassroots, RSM, and you’re a savvy enough Washington DC presence to know that elites inside the movement are exploiting them, why don’t you ever write about that?