Liberals are out-of-touch elites

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November 18, 2002 12:42 p.m.

Liberals are out-of-touch elites, led by a few aging movie stars and public TV hounds, doing constant battle and facing perpetual defeat at the hands of salt-of-the-earth conservatives whose bedrock understanding of real Americans and real American values is liberalism’s constant undoing. This is Charles Krauthammer’s world. Whatever other causes or effects the election may have had, it popped the cork on a new bottle of conservative conceit and self-congratulation. It gave new life and currency to a bundle of hackneyed phrases, tropes and ideas.

I did business in the world of professional liberalism long enough — to a certain extent I still do — to realize there’s more than a hint of truth to the stereotype. That’s all true. And I’m a big critic. And so on.

But one of the best ways to judge someone’s moral and intellectual seriousness — perhaps also their moral and intellectual caliber, but at least their seriousness — is to see who they pick as their enemies, who they choose to pick fights with. Someone like David Horowitz is a great example of the effectiveness of this method — a sorry sort of guy, bubbling on churning rapids of cash, constantly casting about for some new lefty freak to mount a new crusade against, all mixed-up with aggrieved passion and outrage. The whole enterprise is about as grave and righteous as tricking retarded grade-schoolers out of their lunch money.

Krauthammer is a very different, much more creditable, sort of animal. But the mode of operation seems fundamentally the same. (Columnist Michael Kelly belongs in the category too.) How serious are columnists who get all hyped-up for battle with cliches and outliers?

I can’t show you the link to the article that got me thinking about this — since I’ve been traveling this weekend and am writing at the moment without an internet connection. But it’s an article by Krauthammer in the new issue of The Weekly Standard (“The Fantasy Life of American Liberals“).

Now let me shift gears to discuss another point. And I want to be careful to make clear the ways in which the two points are not connected.

The question is simple … What happened to conservative reform? National Greatness conservatism? You know, McCain-ite TR worship and the rest?

Some will say that National Greatness Conservatism is alive and well in the zeal for the drive to Baghdad. But that’s a weak rejoinder. Aggressive foreign policy was only part of the equation. The truth, I think, is pretty clear: it’s dead. It doesn’t exist anymore. Now, the whole enterprise was never that big in terms of people. It was a few people around McCain, a couple editors at the Standard, and some miscellaneous other GOP malcontents and polemicists. The whole movement — inchoate as it admittedly was — was in significant measure a response to the crack-up of Movement conservatism, or rather the winnowing down of organized conservatism till it was little more than a vehicle to serve the interests of corporate power and politically-organized money. Of course, it was also an effort to give the party back its intellectual muscle and political fire.

What happened is that Bush got popular because of the war. And after that happened why did anyone need reform anymore? McCain’s political strategist, John Weaver, recently re-registered as a Democrat. Marshall Wittman has now taken a gig as McCain’s Communications Director, closing down his Project for Conservative Reform at the Hudson Institute. So, publicly at least, Marshall’s voice is silenced. At the Standard you just don’t hear those same themes voiced like you did a year ago — certainly not as you did two years ago. Why not? is a very good question.

I have little doubt that the silencing of that voice is bad for the country. I think it’ll probably prove even worse for the Republicans.

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