Monday, October 13, 2008

The Decline Of Intellectual Conservatism

Leonard Pitts writes of the tattered remnants of intellectual conservatism, "Are we to regard unthinking the only true conservatives?" Sarah Palin, Pitts writes, is as advertised: One of us.
And by "us," I don't mean you, necessarily, or me. I mean the lowest common denominator us, the us of myth and narrative, the us of simple mind, the reactionary, ill-informed, impatient with complexity, utterly shallow us.
He commiserates with fellow pundits Kathleen Parker and David Brooks, conservatives whose criticisms of Palin invoked the wrath of the Republican rank and file. 

To my way of thinking, though, the likes of Brooks and Parker brought this on themselves. Long ago, they looked the other way as the religious right brought both fervor and anti-intellectualism to the Republican cause. No doubt believing that the mob could be controlled, they stood silent while Creationism, homophobia, and irrationality seeped into the public discourse. If Brooks' and Parker didn't exactly create the sans culottes of modern conservatism, they stood by as the rampage began. They spoke out only when their purpose was no longer served, then acted offended when the mob came for them. 

The culmination of this is, of course, the explosions of rage at recent McCain rallies. The reactionary, ill-informed us, aggrieved and resentful even when in power, see their influence and importance slipping away. Fearing irrelevancy, they howl that Obama is a socialist and a terrorist, both patently ridiculous accusations that serve to show how intellectually bankrupt Republicanism has become. Of course, when an ideology characterized by its own moral certitude had driven the country into a ditch before the financial panic made matters worse, perhaps it's to be expected that its adherents will lash out at perceived enemies rather than look to themselves.

Then there are the other conservative intellectuals -- thinkers like William Kristol and Charles Krauthammer. They long ago put their ability at the service of ideology, and now have the credibility of a party intellectual in Stalinist Russia. In a typically over the top column, Krauthammer fulminates about Obama's "associations." Krauthammer admits that Obama is neither corrupt nor racist, but argues that his unscrupulous "use" of William Ayers, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and Anthony Rezko prove how cynically ruthless Obama is at his core. That this doesn't pass the laugh test bothers Krauthammer not at all, a man who will say or write anything to advance his personal agenda of keeping the United States deeply involved in Middle Eastern politics (with the exception of Israel's Likud party, with whom we have a moral obligation to follow in lockstep).

One problem with Krauthammer's argument is that everyone has associations. For example, I find John McCain's association with George Bush, Phil Gramm, Joe Lieberman, and the "shallow us" much more deeply problematic than than Barack Obama's tenuous connection to a former Sixties radical. Were he or she to think about it in those terms, the typical voter probably agrees. 

William Kristol, a leading cheerleader for the Iraq war, also thinks Obama's associations are a legitimate campaign issue. But Kristol counsels McCain to make nice anyway, ignoring the reality that they let the wolves out of the cage a long time ago and that the anger of McCain's supporters has been an inescapable part of the story.

The Kristols and the Krauthammers served an important function in the rise of modern conservatism. They provided a useful intellectual veneer for the gutter politics of Newt Gingrich, Tom Delay, and Karl Rove. By surrendering their independence, they've lent ramshackle intellectual trappings to the savagery of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Ann Coulter. They are also the other half of the story that Leonard Pitts writes about, that modern conservatism is as much about intellectual dishonesty as it is anti-intellectualism...


Sylvia K said...

Amen to all you say. I have gotten a laugh at Gail Collins and David Brooks' recent columns -- they're doing some fast backpedalling where Palin is concerned, but they're a little late with the new take on "hockey mom".

Catherine said...

Have you seen the Great Schlep u-tube from Sarah Silverman??? It's even better than the voodoo dolls--it's frickin' GENIUS. I take back every word I've ever said about that gal.

Anonymous said...

My employment in the private investments field means I am surrounded by Conservatives.

About a week ago I had a conversation with an IT guru, who is hyper southern Protestant religious, ex military, and very Republican. He said that his wife didn't think women should vote, or at least, not married women.

I said, "Come again?"

"Yes, she feels that a woman should trust her husband to do that for her because God's Law says she is to serve him, she must trust and abide in her husband's wisdom. So, biblically, their votes would be the same, and thus unnecessary for a married woman to vote."

I couldn't find my tongue to reply...

Then, today, another coworker who has not just drunk the Republican party platform Kool-Aid, he bathes in it, and is a middle-class typical southern bible thumper told me he was afraid for McCain, that he might be in danger of being assassinated because of all the frightening hate rhetoric from Liberals. Said he is hearing things like "kill the old man" etc. I told him that my perceptions were that McCain's rallies were far more threatening and violence-suggestive against Obama, that if anyone was in danger of a crazy man's bullet, it would be Obama, not McCain. She wanted to argue otherwise, that the dreaded Liberals were far more violent.

This person is an idiot and listens to ALL the propaganda talk radio of the religious right. He couldn't have an original thought if he wanted to.

Why is it when Righties speak of Lefties, they entone the word "liberal" to sound like they are saying "slimy underbelly of society, and the Devil's hatchetman"?

Notice when Conservatives use the word, "Liberal", they shake it off their tongues like a mouthful of gone-south milk?

I'm awfully tired of that, for sure. Gonna go tell ol' Uncle Beelzebub about that post haste.

Ima Pissdov said...

conservative intellectualism....isn't that an oxymoron?

Renegade Eye said...

The old line intellectual conservatives at early National Review, were ex-Trotskyists, who came out of the Max Schachtman current.

The old conservatives provided intellectual rationale for opposing civil rights legislation and support for the Cold War.

Scrumpy's Baker said...

I thought you might enjoy an email from the enemy lines... This was the last portion of a forwarded email from an "upright Christian" in-law received this weekend.

"According to The Book of Revelations:

The Anti-Christ will be a man, in his 40's, of MUSLIM descent, who will deceive the nations with persuasive language, and have a MASSIVE Christ-like appeal....the prophecy says that people will flock to him and he will promise false hope and world peace, and when he is in power, he will destroy everything.

And Now:

For the award winning Act of Stupidity Of all times the People of America want to elect, to the most Powerful position on the face of the Planet -- The Presidency of the United states of America .. A Male of Muslim descent who is the most extremely liberal Senator in Congress (in other words an extremist) and in his 40's.

Have the American People completely lost their Minds, or just their Power of Reason ???"

Every day the world gets a little bit scarier for me. Not because of Muslim extremists, but from knowing that people like this are out there. Lots of people like this.

K. said...

I don't think that there were any Muslims when Revelations was written, but why let facts get in the way?

Darlene said...

Great post. I would love to forward it to a couple of Republican dolts who fill my mail box with garbage. Trouble is, it would be over their heads and they wouldn't get it.

Maggie said...

Despite my liberal leanings, I miss WFB. The world is a smaller place without him in it.