After decades of the conservative punditocracy calling the shots, maybe it’s time the right-wing elite made room for a little street theater and some of those folks in the phone directory Bill Buckley endorsed so many years ago, Daniel Crandall writes.
Nothing irritates the elite more than being shown up by those they consider their inferiors. Make the conservative aristocracy look bad (not a particularly difficult thing to do), and charges of populism, or worse, will slide down their noses, as they grumble about the hoi polloi over cocktails and cigars in the Brooks-Frum “New Majority” smoking lounge.
Imagine you discover a way to decrease costs, increase revenue, and give the employees a greater stake in the company. Your senior manager, however, hates the idea and its radical nature. “It is not how we do things around here,” you’re told. Undaunted, you go around him, show the CEO the idea, and she loves it.
It is implemented across the company to great success. There’s a perceptible shift in the company culture. The senior manager, who shot it down, despises you because the organization now sees him, if not as an obstacle to advancement, as someone unwilling to shake up the status quo because it might put his authority at risk. Some wonder if he ever cared about the company at all, or was it just the salary and office perks that concerned him.
Some among the conservative intellectual elite are sounding like that self-serving senior manager. They are irritated with the populist rhetoric coming from Glenn Beck and the Tea Party activists for what appears to be no other reason than its effectiveness at mobilizing the public into action.
David Brooks took this potshot: “For no matter how often their hollowness is exposed, the jocks still reweave the myth of their own power. They still ride the airwaves claiming to speak for millions. They still confuse listeners with voters. And they are aided in this endeavor by their enablers. … [T]he slightly educated snobs who believe that Glenn Beck really is the voice of Middle America.”
Glenn Beck, according to David Frum, is “paranoid,” “hysterical,” “none too scrupulous about facts and truth,” and, perhaps worst of all, “working for himself … [choosing] his targets according to his own scheme of priorities,” which are limited to making “a pleasant living for himself by reckless defamation.” I wonder if Mr. Frum is familiar with the term projection.
Stephen F. Hayward is a bit more charitable than Frum and Brooks. Unfortunately, he still sees the boots on the ground in the political battles as “unfocused, lacking the connection to a concrete ideology.” While less dismissive of Beck and his fans, Hayward believes good conservatives come with law degrees (Hugh Hewitt –Michigan Law, Michael Medved – Yale Law, William Bennet – Harvard Law) or write serious books like William F. Buckley Jr., Milton Friedman or Irving Kristol. “Today,” Hayward writes, “the conservative movement has been thrown off balance, with the populists dominating and the intellectuals retreating.”
My bookshelves are full of tomes by conservative intellectuals (Buckley, Hayek, Kirk, Thomas Sowell, Robert Nisbet). I ask myself at the end of the day, however, did their books reduce the size and scope of government? No. Have they curtailed federal regulatory infringement on the lives of everyday folks? No. Has a single conservative intellectual done anything to reverse the trends S.T. Karnick described:
Since the end of World War II, the American culture has trended toward ever-greater promotion of narcissism, self-expression, antinomianism, identity politics, and questioning of all conventions and authority. It has become an instrument for the devaluation of all values.
In a word: No. And yet, for many Republicans these intellectuals are the conservative movement.
Brooks, Frum, and other conservative opinion-shapers have been the source for Republican talking points. Michael Medved, one of those shapers, with the fifth largest audience on talk radio, has stated the only way beat Obammunism is by “electing more Republicans to high office.”
In one sense, Medved is right. If we want to curtail the Left-wing fast track into the Euro States of America, then Republicans are the way to go. However, arguing, as often Medved does, that electing Republicans, especially of the moderate brand, is a way to “fight back against the menacing expansion of government” flies in the face of facts.
Consider a Heritage Foundation report on welfare spending in America. Spending has seen a steady upward climb, beginning in 1964 with LBJ and his “War on Poverty” dolling out about $50 billion (in 2008 dollars). In 1981, Reagan was elected and spending dipped, for a brief time, below $300 Billion. In 1996, with welfare eating up about $500 billion, along came Newt Gingrich, the Contract with America, and “reform” intended to “end welfare” as we know it. In 2008, spending is over $700 billion. Please explain how electing Republicans has stopped the “expansion of government.”
Concerning the intellectuals’ embrace of Reagan (David Brooks notwithstanding), one can only comment that nothing succeeds like success. In the 1970s, when Reagan’s conservatism inspired him to oppose Carter’s plan to abandon the Panama Canal the conservative elite, as represented by Buckley, National Review, et al, stood four-square with … Jimmy Carter.
What really has conservative intellectuals’ panties in a bunch? Are Tea Party folks, as Hayward says, “brain-dead?” Before these intellectual elites continue down that road, they might want to check with Mark Steyn, writing at National Review:
The intellectual heft at the tea-party protests consists of the animating principles of the American idea: the Founding Fathers writ large in comic-book lettering—TRADE FREEDOM FOR SECURITY AND YOU WILL HAVE NEITHER! That so many conservative sophisticates regard this as either hopelessly provincial or beyond the bounds of political viability testifies to the real intellectual bankruptcy out there.
From where I sit, in the hinterlands of the Pacific Northwest, Glenn Beck has done, in about a year’s time, what the right-wing intellectual elite residing in the New York-Washington DC megalopolis have never done. Beck got people to put down the books, get off their couches, and get out in the street. He is not satisfied with simply reading about America’s Founding Fathers or the history of Progressivism in America. He demands that the People make their views known to their elected officials. And people are responding.
William F. Buckley Jr. the godfather of conservative punditry., famously stated, “I am obliged to confess I should sooner live in a society governed by the first two thousand names in the Boston telephone directory than in a society g
overned by the two thousand faculty members of Harvard University.” Glenn Beck inspired not 2,000 but hundreds of thousands of average citizens to travel across America on planes, trains, buses, and automobiles to demand that their elected representatives live up to their oath of office and “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic.” Today, many of Buckley’s intellectual progeny bemoan this unseemly behavior; telling this phone directory riff-raff that they should listen to their betters.
I appreciate the information and intellectual stimulation that comes from the great minds on the Right, both past and present. Today, however, we have a chance to cleanse the Right of big-government Republicans and their intellectual defenders with a free-market, liberty-oriented populist movement. It would be a shame if this opportunity were lost to a few squishy conservatives writing for the movement’s bitter enemies at the New York Times and USA Today.