Crazy Pills

I’m Gonna Let You Finish But… by A Milder Despot
September 22, 2009, 3:03 pm
Filed under: A Milder Despot | Tags:

…Beyonce’s overall thesis was the best thesis of all time.

First, a backgrounder. Let’s remember my post on “reform” vs. “restoration” conservatives.

It’s telling that not a few leading reformers are ex-Bush Administration officials. Bush took huge chances in a lot of ways to distance himself from the old coalitions and ended up villified for the majority of them. It is pretty definitive that Bush was more reform than restoration.

I’m not here to defend the people who are currently termed, correctly or not, as “leaders” of conservatism or the GOP. Michael Steele is silly. Glenn Beck is a shock jock. Ann Coulter is ridiculous. Rush Limbaugh’s in it for the money. John Boehner’s in it to keep the party line, whatever that may be nowadays.

What I am curious about is what S. Goodspeed’s idea of the “public intellectual” is. Was the GOP and conservatism that much better off five years ago when Irving Kristol, Bill Buckley and Milton Friedman were all still alive? These intellectual giants were feeble old men at the time with little value to add. Yet George W. Bush had just been swept into office for a second time and there was much hand-wringing in the media about the prospects of a “permanent GOP majority.”

Before I continue, let me say that this is decisively a problem of spotlight, not ideas. There is no paucity of smart conservatism. There is, however, an unfortunate lack of attention given to those that ARE the serious intellectual pundits.

I can’t now name a “public intellectual leader” of the Republican party off the top of my head right now. But I couldn’t then, either. Sure, we had the three aforementioned old men, but I’d consider them elder statesmen, not prominent driving forces of debate.

Furthermore, I can’t, off the top of my head, name who the “public intellectual leaders” of the Democratic party are. Saying that Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck et. al represent whatever one considers to be the “public leadership” of the conservative movement is no better than saying that Maureen Dowd, Keith Olbermann and Bill Maher constitute some kind of leading lights of the Left. Going on pure popularity/viewership/readership this is most assuredly true. But I wouldn’t be so foolish as to claim these people should be rebutted or taken seriously by smart people such as us. These talking heads on both the left and the right hold sway, power, and influence but should not be taken seriously.

I do agree that there isn’t enough of a public intellectual core of the conservative movement and that far more press is given to, as you call them, rabble-rousers. Much as I hate it, the primary representatives of conservatism are exactly who you pointed out in the mainstream media: neocons and ‘reformers.’

I hate neocons. I do, however, recognize that they are (mostly) serious about intellectualism. When I think “big time serious pundit” I think first and foremost George Will, who is the last great defender of traditional three-legged-stool conservatism (kinda… he’s more a two-leg guy, which is another point FOR him). Then Charles Krauthammer. Then all the ex-Bush administration guys (Brooks, Frum, Gerson). I also agree, mostly, on your “established/traditional” pundit list.

The “partisan conservative punditry” is where I think the future of a public intellectual base for the GOP lies (though would exclude Barone. Great electioneer, lousy pundit). Goldberg, as I’ve made known, I think is very smart, has a young voice, and is sufficiently able to articulate a vision of mainstream conservatism without descending into anti-intellectualism.

Your “up and coming” conservatives is wrong… at least with who you think represents this. Douthat is young but I would describe him as “the smartest Mike Huckabee Republican.” He is about the social issues.

If I had to choose the “up and coming” conservatives who I feel should be given more press and voice, I’d say Megan McArdle, Jonathan Adler, Veronique de Rugy, Will Wilkinson… people of this stripe represent the “intellectual pundit” part of the conservative movement. They’re all libertarian(ish) but, of course, that’s what I feel is the bread-and-butter of conservatism.


2 Comments so far
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I think that when pointing out the distinction in who the intellectuals are on either side, the problem is that none of the real thinkers or leaders are the elected officials. You mentioned John Boehner and Michael Steele as irrelevant, but that’s the House Minority Leader and the Chairman of the RNC. If their opinions don’t matter, then whose do?

While I disagree with them, there is no question that, for the most part, Krauthammer and Will are some of the leading idea men on the right. But what does that say? The only serious contributions come from pundits. Commentary and Heritage, the homes of what used to be some of the Right’s better ideas have become irrelevant thanks to their lack of seriousness.

The actual leaders in the Republican party you yourself have ruled out. For the Democrats, the opposite is true. We don’t have to turn to Krugman and other pundits or even left leaning intellectuals at think tanks like O’Hanlon. The leaders of the party, Obama, Schumer, Frank, etc. are themselves well respected. I think that the real criticism is that the Republican party lacks the leadership right now to put it on any sort of new track. You need ideas and you need to move somewhere. You’re seeing a battle among the candidates for 2012 to take the party there based on fiscal discipline, but they can’t seem to agree on a real direction yet. And it doesn’t appear to be enough.

Comment by fluffly

Like I said, the commonly-agreed-upon and elected leaders of the party are sorely lacking. They need better. The big ‘hope for the future’ conservative that I can think of right now is Mike Pence. He’s alright.

But the same can largely be said of the Democrats. Obama is the President, and he’s fine, I guess. But the Congressional Democrats are terrible. If you really want to hang your hat on Pelosi, Reid, Schumer, and Frank that’s fine. They are certainly not great (see approval ratings) and certainly not “public intellectual leaders.”

Comment by A Milder Despot

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