Jonah Golberg Vs. R.S. McCain On The Conservative Movement

My buddy Robert Stacy McCain over at The Other McCain took issue with National Review and one of my favorite columnists, Jonah Goldberg. Even though I didn’t agree with everything Stacy had to say, I thought he made some intriguing points, like….

The problem is not merely that National Review was aboard the Romney bandwagon early, nor that Romney was subsequently defeated, but rather that no one at National Review seems ashamed of themselves for their roles in helping to bring about this disaster. If they are leaders of the conservative movement, and if the conservative movement has failed – which it quite obviously has, or otherwise Obama would not be ruling by executive fiat – where is the accountability?

While I’m not saying that Rich Lowry must commit seppuku, why is there no admission by anyone at National Review that they have failed the movement they presumed to lead?

Isn’t that a fair point?

National Review refers to itself as the flagship of the conservative movement; yet it bent over backwards to help elect the least conservative candidate in the Republican primaries on the grounds that he was much more “electable” than the rest of the field (Of course, there were some of us hotly disputing the idea that Romney was particularly “electable”). In the end, even though “Mr. Electable” was up against a very weak incumbent, he still lost.

If you stick with your principles and lose with a worthy conservative candidate, that’s not ideal, but it’s understandable. If you fudge on your principles to go with an “electable” candidate and win, that’s not ideal, but it’s understandable. If you fudge on your principles to back a loser, that should at least prompt a little soul searching. There are a lot of people with sway in the Republican Party and the conservative movement who should be doing that kind of soul searching today and, yes, it’s fair to say that National Review should be among them.

On the other hand, I have to probably agree more with Jonah than Stacy here.

A contemplation of these dark thoughts was inspired by Jonah Goldberg’s latest column:

[The conservative] movement has an unhealthy share of hucksters eager to make money from stirring rage, paranoia, and an ill-defined sense of betrayal with little concern for the real political success that can come only with persuading the unconverted.

A conservative journalist or activist can now make a decent living while never once bothering to persuade a liberal. Telling people only what they want to hear has become a vocation. Worse, it’s possible to be a rank-and-file conservative without once being exposed to a good liberal argument.

OK, a few questions immediately come to mind:

Who are these “hucksters”? If they are merely “stirring rage, paranoia, and an ill-defined sense of betrayal” for their own selfish purposes, they must be eliminated. Name names, please.

How much of this “bothering to persuade a liberal” has Jonah Goldberg done? Where is this legion of converts to conservatism – the Goldbergites, as it were – to whom he may point as evidence of his successful persuasion?

To which “good liberal argument” do we need to be exposed? Because the very fact that an argument is liberal would seem to me sufficient evidence that it is wrong, and so I’m having trouble with the concept of arguments that are both liberal and “good.”

Want the names of some hucksters? How about Alex Jones? Joseph Farah? Jerome Corsi? These guys pump conspiracy theories they don’t believe to drive traffic and yet they’re treated seriously by far too many people.

Also, although I don’t think we’re going to convert any liberals, I think we should really be asking how we’re going to reach outside of the normal conservative channels and bring more people into the movement. Liberals have Hollywood, the mainstream media, and universities to do that. How do we reach the people who don’t listen to talk radio or read blogs? We can talk about the fair tax and school vouchers all day long, for example, but until we convince more non-conservative Americans that those are good ideas, there’s no chance those ideas can ever become law.

Last but not least, if “it’s possible to be a rank-and-file conservative without once being exposed to a good liberal argument,” I would say that has more to do with liberalism than the conservative movement. The liberals’ entire philosophy has been reduced to, “We’re nice and they’re mean; so do what we want!” Are we supposed to explain arguments they’re not even making anymore because they’d rather shout “Racist?” I don’t see the point.

Last but not least, let me register slight disagreement with both Stacy and Jonah in an area where they both seem to agree.

To listen to many grassroots conservatives, the GOP establishment is a cabal of weak-kneed sellouts who regularly light votive candles to a poster of liberal Republican icon Nelson Rockefeller.

This is not only not true, it’s a destructive myth. . . .

It’s not that the GOP isn’t conservative enough, it’s that it isn’t tactically smart or persuasive enough to move the rest of the nation in a more conservative direction.

Granted, the leadership of the Republican Party is completely and utterly incompetent and worse yet, Republicans in the House and Senate are so complacent that they’re fine with the consistent mediocrity. But it’s also worth noting that if they were all that conservative, we wouldn’t have to keep refighting the exact same battles over and over again. Conservatives shouldn’t have the slightest worry about where the GOP stands on illegal immigration, gun control, or higher spending. Yet today, nobody really knows if Boehner and McConnell will hold their ground or cave on those issues. When it’s impossible to ever be sure of where the GOP’s leadership is in the first place and they usually cave in to the Democrats when push comes to shove, it makes it impossible for conservatives to ever trust them. Reaching out to the middle is hard when your inconsistency makes it impossible to ever secure your own flank.

Maybe this kind of debate will ultimately turn out to be useless navel gazing, but given that three out of the last four election cycles have been bad for the GOP and this one isn’t starting out with a bang, it’s time to start asking and answering some questions we may have shrugged off in years past.

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