Sand in the clam, indeed

Julian Sanchez has a fantastic post (via the Dish) about the ressentiment of the contemporary conservative base.
Conservatism is a political philosophy; the farce currently performing under that marquee is an inferiority complex in political philosophy drag. Sure, there’s an element of “schadenfreude” in the sense of “we like what annoys our enemies.” But the pathology of the current conservative movement is more specific and convoluted. Palin irritates the left, but so would lots of vocal conservatives if they were equally prominent—and some of them are probably even competent to hold office. Palin gets to play sand in the clam precisely because she so obviously isn’t. She doesn’t just irritate liberals in some generic way: she evokes their contempt. Forget “Christian conservative”; she’s a Christ conservative, strung up on the media cross on behalf of all God’s right-wing children.

Think back to the 2004 RNC—which I happened to be up in New York covering. After witnessing three days of inchoate, spittle-flecked rage from the people who had the run of all three branches of government, some wag (probably Jon Stewart) puzzled over the “anger of the enfranchised.” And it would be puzzling if the driving force here were a public policy agenda, rather than a set of cultural grievances. Jay Gatsby learned too late that wealth alone wouldn’t confer the status he had truly craved all along. What we saw in ‘04 was fury at the realization that ascendancy to political power had not (post-9/11 Lee Greenwood renaissance notwithstanding) brought parallel cultural power. The secret shame of the conservative base is that they’ve internalized the enemy’s secular cosmopolitan value set and status hierarchy—hence this obsession with the idea that somewhere, someone who went to Harvard might be snickering at them.

The whole post is well worth reading.

I know that I keep returning to this theme, but the state of our civic discourse is such a shambles for precisely this reason. While my politics in general align pretty solidly with the Left (certainly when it comes to my banner issues like marriage equality and universal health care), I am not such a fool as to deny that there is much about the liberal political milieu that is ridiculous, objectionable or unworkable. (The sanctimony and the pernicious belief that all problems have a political [read: governmental] solution to name just two valid criticisms.) Conversely, conservatism as political philosophy is an indispensable part of any real, intelligent discussion of how the country should be run.

But no! In the Dish link above, Conor Friedersdorf provides a nice little list of smart, reasonable conservative voices:
I hope readers who share in [Sanchez's] lament will check out some of the great work being done at Cato and the Institute for Justice, or the writing of folks from Reihan Salam to Tim Carney to James Poulos to Rod Dreher to Yuval Levin to Eugene Volokh to Daniel Larison, some of the writers at National Review, especially the print version, old standbys like City Journal and The New Criterion, the always intelligent Claremont Review of Books, even the radio show of Dennis Prager and certain feature pieces at The Weekly Standard that involve neither foreign policy nor Sarah Palin -- this is a woefully incomplete list, but it begins to signal that there is indeed an intelligent loyal opposition in America, one that gets some things right and other things wrong, but that would certainly improve upon our politics if its best ideas were more influential.

More influential, indeed. If you think the "conservatives" on Capitol Hill spend any time thinking about Rod Dreher's writing, I have several shares in a mining concern you might be interested in buying. None of those (certainly intelligent) thinkers come within a country mile of influencing "conservative" thought as vividly expressed by Fox News, Limbaugh et al or (almost) the entire GOP caucus. No, they're too busy thinking of new ways to inflect "obstruct!" and to make sure no Christian is mistakenly wished a Merry Solstice.

I remember, way back in my Ashcroftian Christian childhood, how beset the people in my church believed themselves to be. Admittedly, much of this was a literal belief in the existence of malign spiritual influences behind most of what was considered objectionable in the world. But there was a general sense that we evangelicals were a bulwark around the battered remains of moral decency and right thinking. This despite the fact that you couldn't swing a maypole in my hometown without hitting three churches. This aggrevied sense of victimhood, of persecution clearly informs the majority of rhetoric spouted at various Tea Parties.

Like Sanchez, I think things are going to get worse before they get better. While the GOP is almost certain to pick up a passel of seats in the upcoming midterm elections, heaven only knows what they will do with more influence, other than have more voices to sing the same dissonant chorus. I keep wanting to shake the Republicans and say "you're better than this!" and they keep wanting to prove that they're not.

1 comment:

  1. You know that the Dems are not any better. The same column could be written about how the pols of the Left are influenced not by the intelligent, but by the most strident voices and malign influences.

    I say, a pox on both Houses of Congress! Re-elect no one. Why? Seniority rules have led us to this impasse. Congress is controlled by nutters and loonies from both sides who come from reliable districts; every election, they return to DC with more power and fewer scruples. Look at Pelosi and Reid. Are they the best the Dems have? Rangel? What gives Pelosi her power is a nutcase district, a good memory, and seniority to punish anyone who crosses her. Take away the seniority, and she'd be sharing an office with the night watchman.

    So, in the spirit of helping us find a nicer handbasket, and knowing that term limits aren't going to fly, I propose the mod-3 seniority system. Every third election, a Rep loses all seniority, and starts out lower than an incoming freshman. Now, rather than rewarding safe seats in fringe districts (left and right), perhaps Congress might pay a little more attention to, oh, actual competence rather than simple longevity. Hey, it is a start.