Posted: April 18, 2008
hat a kerfuffle! Half a dozen talk-radio hosts, whose major talent is that, like hairdressers, they can talk all day long to one client after another as they snip, decided not long ago that John McCain did not hew sufficiently close to their gospel, the depth of which is Oprah-like. If a great institution of the Left could weigh in as she did in the choice of a nominee, why not her fraternal twins on the Right? It didn't matter that Mitt Romney, suddenly their Reagan, became a conservative in a flash of lightning sometime last year, or that Mike Huckabee was in many ways as conservative as Vladimir Lenin—the task was to stop the devil McCain. Though chastised by events, the talkers are still at it, even if only at a smolder.
Though undoubtedly powerful, the medium in which they work, giving patronizing instructions to quickly dismissed callers, encourages haste, conformity, oversimplification, and argument by domination (the host, with the button in his control, is always dominant). As a mere print person, whose words are not electrified and shot through walls, automobiles, pine trees, and brains, I realize that what I write in the bloody ink of a dying industry is more or less irrelevant. But nonetheless this ink will stay even as what they have said is already gone, and from my antiquated perspective, something is very wrong.
Ostracism following tests of ideological purity and "right thinking" is a specialty of the Left. Not that it doesn't exist on the Right, blooming with great malice as it does on the radio. But especially in light of their prospects now, conservatives have no room for it. For by their neglectful forfeit they have lost the battles of culture and education, and to remain other than an occult force they must express their beliefs through politics, from which, after November, they may be for a time excluded.
Why? To begin with, American columns should have cut through Baghdad three days after they began to roll, and exited three weeks later, leaving Saddam dead and the pliant Iraqi strongman who betrayed him—candidates would not have been hard to find—to keep the country harmless to the West or suffer the same quick take-down. Rather than being broken on the wheel of irreconcilable Muslim factions, the supple and intact American power would have shattered the Arabs' elation following September 11th, and by threatening their rule been able to discipline the various police states of the region into eliminating their terrorists. Far more efficient that way, without six and more murderous and unavailing years in which neither a single democracy has appeared, nor will one. (The surge is merely coincident with a change in Sunni strategy. Instead of watching the U.S. and Iran arm the Shia for a major sectarian war that our small force in Iraq cannot prevent, the Sunni choose to avail themselves of American arms while simultaneously removing the lunatic jihadists nipping at their heels.)
The Democrats' advantage in 2008 is that the costs of the war in Iraq have been highly disproportionate to its effects, not least in the decline of the American military, when it could have been otherwise. Conservatism has been dehorsed, because though conservatives rightly seek victory, it has not appeared except in the minds of those severely afflicted by cognitive dissonance.
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This and the economy threaten to throw the conservative enterprise back to where it was before Reagan and even before Buckley. Along comes John McCain, who has an 80% positive rating from the American Conservative Union but who as a truly independent soul does not fit, at the margins, some of the transient notions of what makes a conservative. Partly due to his independence and flexibility, he is the only Republican candidate who has a chance of winning, and thus preserving the core principles of conservatism, in relation to which he is unimpeachable. They are national security (in particular the strength of the military after Iraq and vis-à-vis China and a resurgent Russia), constitutionalism (as in individual vs. collective rights), and the economy (free markets vs. government industrial policy).
One can agree or disagree with his peripheral positions, but political orthodoxy is political death. If the chat hosts would rather have Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, they will get Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton—how delightful to go to jail for building your house on land once visited by an exotic moth—and they will wake up to a great regret, as if in their drunkenness they had taken Shrek to bed.
But guess what? Even if as the country veers left living conservatives gnash their teeth while dead ones spin in their graves, a small class of conservatives will benefit. And who might they be? They might be those in whose milieu the display of faith is more important than either sensible judgment or the national interest; those who, as in cultures in which purity is the prime value, elevate political martyrdom, and yet who themselves are never martyred; those whose influence and coffers swell on discontent, and who find attacking a president easier and more sensational than the dreary business of defending one. They rose during the Clinton years. Perhaps they are nostalgic. It isn't worth it, however, for the rest of us.
So rather than sabotaging their own party ostensibly for its impurity but equally for the sake of their self-indulgent and marginal pique, each of them might be a tad less self-righteous, look to the long run, discipline himself, suck it up, and be a man. And that would apply equally as well to the gorgeous Laura Ingraham and the relentlessly crocodilian Ann Coulter.