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Real Conservatism

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The mainstream media's abandonment of climate coverage is not the only malady affecting the Fourth Estate these days. One of the great disappointments of our time is the decline in the representation of real conservatism in the press.

There are plenty of folks on television, talk radio and op-ed pages who are marketed as conservatives, but who are really Republican Party apparatchiks willing to glorify all things GOP. Sadly, some of these commentators used to be actual conservatives capable of calling out nonsense on both sides of the aisle, but by the mid-2000s, they had morphed into my-party-right-or-wrong hacks who excused every bit of nonsense that came out of a Republican politician's mouth in the name of the GOP cause, such as it was.

I can still remember reading innovative conservative commentary on such sites as JewishWorldReview.com in the late-1990s and early-2000s, and reading columns by Thomas Sowell, Michelle Malkin, Laura Ingraham, Jonah Goldberg and Walter Williams attacking both Democratic and Republican malfeasance with profundity and passion. Somewhere along the line, these men and women only came to see fault and fraud on the left, an intellectual tragedy for those who came to admire them for condemning corruption wherever it was found in American politics.

Why don't we see real conservatism anymore -- the sort of principled conservatism that recognized deception and dishonesty on both sides? It's as though someone has committed identity fraud on a grand scale, submitting pro-GOP agitprop under the names of commentators who used to recognize the GOP as fallible.

With rare exceptions -- such as Daniel Larison of The American Conservative -- no one's serving up conservatism they way they used to make it. Instead, what we see today is the equivalent of gourmet chefs making fast food -- pundits who should know better than to give the GOP an automatic pass, but who have become so ideologically blinkered that they turn two blind eyes to Republican ridiculousness.

Three years ago, in a piece that becomes more mournful with every new reading, conservative writer Patrick Ruffini noted:

As a pretty down-the-line conservative, I don't believe I am alone in noting with disappointment the trivialization, excessive sloganeering, and pettiness that has overtaken the movement of late. In 'The Joe the Plumberization of the GOP,' I argued that conservatives have grown too comfortable with wearing scorn as a badge of honor, content to play sarcastic second fiddle to the dominant culture of academia and Hollywood with second-rate knock-off institutions. A side effect of this has been a tendency to accept conspiracy nuts as a slightly cranky edge case within the broad continuum of conservatism, rather than as a threat to the movement itself.

Those advocating a tough stand against the Birthers like to point to William F. Buckley and the [John] Birchers.

In founding National Review, Buckley made a point of casting out the conspiracy nuts and the cranks of his day because he saw them as a fundamental threat to a conservatism that was just emerging as a political force. In doing so, he was able to define conservatism for a generation...

This is why there is a unique urgency now to cast out the obscurantists and the conspiracy nuts. We don't have a Buckley anymore. Our intellectual giants have died off and not being replaced. And preventing the lowest common denominator from filling the void is a constant daily struggle.

In a movement and a party that has largely defined itself outside centers of higher learning in recent years (for good or ill) I believe the time is ripe for a return to Buckleyite elite conservatism.

Of course, in the years since Ruffini wrote that piece, we have continued to see a hyper-partisan race to the bottom on the right, with conspiracy theories in abundance (Eric Holder is scheming to undo the Second Amendment!) and logic and common sense out of stock. The latest example of the promotion of pro-GOP punditry over old-school conservatism is the announcement of S.E. Cupp's selection as the token non-liberal co-host on MSNBC's new show The Cycle. I've had the pleasure of interviewing Cupp, and I don't deny that she's a talented writer and speaker... but the second coming of Michael Oakeshott she is not. Certainly, a traditional conservative would have had a better response to Chris Mooney's arguments regarding climate change than one that involved pounding once again on the dead horse that is "Climategate."

In fact, one can argue that MSNBC is demonstrating liberal bias by selecting a pro-GOP personality like Cupp instead of a real conservative like Larison, someone who can refute progressive arguments with integrity as opposed to insults. It's as though Cupp was hired to be someone progressive viewers can laugh at, as opposed to someone capable of credibly challenging liberal thinking. (It's reminiscent of Bill Maher bringing on the most ridiculous conservatives he could find during his Politically Incorrect days, to promote the idea that conservatism was itself ridiculous.)

Instead of polluting the airwaves with the GOP-can-do-no-wrong crowd, how about putting on people who actually understand conservative principles and are willing to go after people in both parties for deviating from those principles? Some of those folks are still around, though you'll have to put some effort into finding them. It's wrong that we've gone from Firing Line to intellectual decline.