Philistines Rampant

August 30, 2011

It’s been said before, and better, but it bears repeating: the Tea Party is a cancer on the Republican organization. Though hopefully not malignant, it ain’t good. And it’s unsightly.

When the sainted Bill Buckley first won prominence, one of his earliest tasks was to run the nuts out of conservatism. Chiefly: the John Birch Society. Once things were sufficiently fumigated, National Review and he helped elect President Reagan who, in turn, introduced the idea of “big tent” Republican politics. That is, the tent was big enough for everybody (except the loonies, who are to the Republicans what Al Qaeda is to Islam).

What followed was the nascence of the modern GOP, not to mention national prosperity and international laurels.

Now, a band of Fascist pirates in conservative clothing has hijacked the tent by shouting down the moderates and seems intent on a Bachmann caliphate. Loonies will be loonies – they insist on it – but their war whoops are stealing thunder from legitimate Republican contenders for the presidency. That is, candidates who have some grasp of American history and geography.

Even John McCain recently faced a stiff re-election challenge from a Tea Party candidate in Arizona.

What’s more, Tea Party grandstanding detracts from deserving conservative thinkers and stains the entire right. Who steals my purse steals trash… but he that filches from me my good name robs me of that which not enriches him, and makes me poor indeed. [Othello, act 3, scene 3.]  

With Mr. Buckley having ascended to harpsichord music and regattas eternal, who will cleanse and re-dedicate the temple? His protege and former National Review staffer David Brooks, now of The New York Times, gave it a shot when he criticized Rush Limbaugh in that paper. The probem was, Mr. Brooks’ column reaches about a quarter as many left-leaning intellectuals as Mr. Limbaugh’s radio program reaches hard-right fundamentalists.

Which meant, ironically, when Mr. Limbaugh denounced Mr. Brooks on-air, Mr. Brooks was probably one of the few in the audience who had ever heard of David Brooks (or the Times).

And anway, Mr. Brooks (though a wizard – albeit of a lesser stripe than his mentor – with words) isn’t the dynamo Bill Buckley was. He’s a scholar, not a general.

The challenge in re-directing the flock is that the most vocal members of it have sworn off intellectualism. Or, for that matter, almost any -ism. That stuff sounds too much like Socialism. (Which they venemously denounce, despite cashing Social Security checks and claiming Medicare benefits).

The whole production, as Mr. Buckley might have written, is simply too much for words. Here’s hoping for a conservative spring… Al Aribya coverage optional.

Mad Tea Party

"But, dear... this tea party is mad, mad, mad!"

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Notes & Asides

March 25, 2011
  1. The first President Bush read Bill Buckley, the second read Rush Limbaugh. This says as much about each author (in Limbaugh’s case, a charitable term) as it does about each President.
  2. Per Twitter: why do people who write so poorly insist on writing so often?

William F. Buckley, Jr. (left) & President George H.W. Bush


Affirmative Distraction

July 29, 2010

Please excuse this article’s being here posted in place of overdue original content, but it makes some good points, and makes them well… especially for The New York Times. Though, it’s heartening that venerable rag hired Ross Douthat and let him write this. Mr. Douthat, in addition to NYT columnist, doubles as film critic for National Review and hails from New Haven, Connecticut. He joined the paper in 2009 and his career will bear watching.

In March of 2000, Pat Buchanan came to speak at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics. Harvard being Harvard, the audience hissed and sneered and made wisecracks. Buchanan being Buchanan, he gave as good as he got. While the assembled Ivy Leaguers accused him of homophobia and racism and anti-Semitism, he accused Harvard — and by extension, the entire American elite — of discriminating against white Christians.

A decade later, the note of white grievance that Buchanan struck that night is part of the conservative melody. You can hear it when Glenn Beck accuses Barack Obama of racism, or when Rush Limbaugh casts liberal policies as an exercise in “reparations.” It was sounded last year during the backlash against Sonia Sotomayor’s suggestion that a “wise Latina” jurist might have advantages over a white male judge, and again last week when conservatives attacked the Justice Department for supposedly going easy on members of the New Black Panther Party accused of voter intimidation.

To liberals, these grievances seem at once noxious and ridiculous. (Is there any group with less to complain about, they often wonder, than white Christian Americans?) But to understand the country’s present polarization, it’s worth recognizing what Pat Buchanan got right.

Last year, two Princeton sociologists, Thomas Espenshade and Alexandria Walton Radford, published a book-length study of admissions and affirmative action at eight highly selective colleges and universities. Unsurprisingly, they found that the admissions process seemed to favor black and Hispanic applicants, while whites and Asians needed higher grades and SAT scores to get in. But what was striking, as Russell K. Nieli pointed out last week on the conservative Web site Minding the Campus, was which whites were most disadvantaged by the process: the downscale, the rural and the working-class.

This was particularly pronounced among the private colleges in the study. For minority applicants, the lower a family’s socioeconomic position, the more likely the student was to be admitted. For whites, though, it was the reverse. An upper-middle-class white applicant was three times more likely to be admitted than a lower-class white with similar qualifications.

This may be a money-saving tactic. In a footnote, Espenshade and Radford suggest that these institutions, conscious of their mandate to be multiethnic, may reserve their financial aid dollars “for students who will help them look good on their numbers of minority students,” leaving little room to admit financially strapped whites.

But cultural biases seem to be at work as well. Nieli highlights one of the study’s more remarkable findings: while most extracurricular activities increase your odds of admission to an elite school, holding a leadership role or winning awards in organizations like high school R.O.T.C., 4-H clubs and Future Farmers of America actually works against your chances. Consciously or unconsciously, the gatekeepers of elite education seem to incline against candidates who seem too stereotypically rural or right-wing or “Red America.”

This provides statistical confirmation for what alumni of highly selective universities already know. The most underrepresented groups on elite campuses often aren’t racial minorities; they’re working-class whites (and white Christians in particular) from conservative states and regions. Inevitably, the same underrepresentation persists in the elite professional ranks these campuses feed into: in law and philanthropy, finance and academia, the media and the arts.

This breeds paranoia, among elite and non-elites alike. Among the white working class, increasingly the most reliable Republican constituency, alienation from the American meritocracy fuels the kind of racially tinged conspiracy theories that Beck and others have exploited — that Barack Obama is a foreign-born Marxist hand-picked by a shadowy liberal cabal, that a Wall Street-Washington axis wants to flood the country with third world immigrants, and so forth.

Among the highly educated and liberal, meanwhile, the lack of contact with rural, working-class America generates all sorts of wild anxieties about what’s being plotted in the heartland. In the Bush years, liberals fretted about a looming evangelical theocracy. In the age of the Tea Parties, they see crypto-Klansmen and budding Timothy McVeighs everywhere they look.

This cultural divide has been widening for years, and bridging it is beyond any institution’s power. But it’s a problem admissions officers at top-tier colleges might want to keep in mind when they’re assembling their freshman classes.

If such universities are trying to create an elite as diverse as the nation it inhabits, they should remember that there’s more to diversity than skin color — and that both their school and their country might be better off if they admitted a few more R.O.T.C. cadets, and a few more aspiring farmers


Pretenders To The Throne

May 19, 2010

Rush Limbaugh is an author, in the most sluttish sense of that word (that is, its loosest and most non-discriminatory application). So are Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, and Sean Hannity. They’ve all published (and, to some extent, written) books. “Books” is another loosely and generously applied word, but it’s true all their books share some commonality: they’re double-spaced, published in large font, and don’t include any words requiring a dictionary. These guys know their audience, and it’s not the Harvard political science department. Rush himself has less than a year’s worth of Southeast Missouri State University under his belt.

William F. Buckley, Jr. wrote real books. The single-spaced kind, with no pictures. He graduated from Yale University and published his first, God & Man at Yale, shortly thereafter. It was revolutionary for its time, and he followed up with over 50 more; some political discourse, others spy novels, travel journals, or biographies. He also served briefly in the Central Intelligence Agency, as a field officer in Mexico, and hosted the talk show Firing Line. He wrote a nationally syndicated newspaper column, On The Right, ran for mayor of New York, and founded a magazine, National Review. NR is still a bastion of conservative thought… not just of party line conservatism, but of conservative thought. Through it, he mentored young thinkers like Dinesh D’Souza and Richard Brookhiser.

Rush & co. are noisy, arrogant pretenders to Buckley’s throne. Buckley earned the title Lion of The Right; today’s pundits are hyenas cackling over the lion’s leavings. None enjoy his intellect or joi de vivre; Buckley was playmaker, coach, and commissioner of a game in which the rest are Monday morning quarterbacks. They abstain from play, whereas Buckley launched a movement and defined conservative thought. Limbaugh and the others define only conservative rhetoric, and trust their audience not to spot the difference.

William F. Buckley, Jr.


The Party Line

March 29, 2010

The Grand Old Party has lately been a house divided; Lindsey Graham and Olympia Snowe (R-SC and R-ME, respectively) keep a moderate tack, while conservative armchair quarterbacks like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly harangue them for imaginary disloyalty to the party.

Messrs. Limbaugh, O’Reilly, Beck, and the rest would do well to look up one other famous Republican, Abraham Lincoln, who served this country as President and wisely observed that “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” Where once Ronald Reagan and Bill Buckley sought to invite conservatism as a whole into a “big tent,” Rush & Co. seem more eager to divide the house at every turn. This is helpful to neither the party overall, nor national dialogue.  

The recent Congressional passage of landmark healthcare legislation seems poised to force the issue, and perhaps some reconciliation: the fighting and voting over President Obama’s health bill was vicious, to say the least, and neither side escaped unbloodied. Politically, the bill’s passage may have two effects: one, hardening even further the resolve of conservatives in opposing liberals, and the other: emboldening the Obama administration and encouraging it to tackle other reforms. Chief among those other reforms will likely be modifications to the banking and financial industries.

Here, some compromise may be had: though conservative Republicans have traditionally favored big business and seen government as an engine to promote economy (while Democrats believe economy is an engine itself for social good, and should be regulated to that end), the extent of public distaste for banks and business is so great now that politicians of either stripe may find themselves obligated to push financial regulations, despite their historic allegiances to either side.

The public cry for financial reform may prove able to forge cross-aisle coalitions, as Democrats and Republicans toe the same line for the sake of votes. Coalitions like that may be beneficial to Americans overall, in reigning in bankers and financiers, but will hopefully be at least equally beneficial to the GOP in terms of fostering an ability to compromise and move forward, at least with one another.


Environmentalists Repress Dissent

November 23, 2009

According to e-mails hacked and re-posted on public file sharing sites in Russia, there has been a concerted, concentrated, and organized effort by scientists subscribing to theories of global warming to silence any scholarly opposition.

There are two main schools of thought with regard to climate change: the first is that the planet is heating quickly and that human activity is the biggest, and perhaps only, cause of it. The second is that there is some climate change happening, but the causes, effects, and extent of it are not fully understood. There isn’t enough historical data available to know if any change is the result of recent activity, or historical trends… and if the result of recent activity, then what activity, precisely?

The Wall Street Journal reports that scientists who subscribe to the first, “imminent doom” theory have threatened to “shut out dissenters and their points of view,” going so far as to disallow peer review of scholarly research by dissenters. Phil Jones, an environmental scientist who believes humans are the only cause of global warming, explained to colleague Michael Mann at Penn State that he would “keep them out somehow.”

University of Alabama scientist John Christy, who has asked scientific organizations to allow dissenting opinions to be published in scholarly journals, is alarmed at the contents of the e-mails: “It’s disconcerting to realize that legislative actions this nation is preparing to take, and which will cost trillions of dollars, are based upon a view of climate that has not been completely scientifically tested.”

If the environmental lobbies and politically correct “scientific” orthodoxies continue to hold sway, it appears that such a view will never have the chance to be completely tested. The overly vocal left won’t allow it.

As much as Rush Limbaugh may shout down cogent left-leaning criticism for the sake of the party line, so too do leftist scientists treat colleagues who criticize what climate researcher Mojib Latif calls “a kind of mafia that is trying to inhibit critical papers from being published.”

Environmentalist methodology.


Brooks, On Rush & Co.

October 4, 2009

David Brooks is the oft right-leaning, and sometimes actually conservative, journalistic sore thumb which sticks out at the decidedly leftist rag The New York Times.

In his October 2 article, “The Wizard of Beck,” he reaches some of the same conclusions this web log did in a recent post called “Civil Service.” Chief among them: loud-mouthed, red faced “radio jocks” like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and Bill O’Reilly are prolific fonts of sound and fury but, ultimately, signify nothing. They push reactionary positions which are neither realistic nor productive, and which often are hardly conservative at all. In general, they’re long on noise and short on ideas. Perhaps it’s telling that none of these radio pundits has ever held, or even run for, public office. They prefer the comfort of criticism removed from responsibility. As Mr. Brooks puts it:

“It is a story of remarkable volume and utter weakness. It is the story of media mavens who claim to represent a hidden majority but who in fact represent a mere niche — even in the Republican Party. It is a story as old as “The Wizard of Oz,” of grand illusions and small men behind the curtain.”

Which begs two questions. The first is, how long will rational, conservative voters abide these men? The second: has The New York Times been scouring this web log for inspiration?

Sound and (chubby) fury.

Sound and (chubby) fury.

Addendum:

Mr. Limbaugh has responded to the criticism in an e-mail to web log Politico, asking, “How many Americans know who David Brooks is?” Which is a shame, and an insult: Limbaugh’s answer to Brooks’ article isn’t a response to the critical points at all, or even a logical defense. It’s misleading rhetoric, and it implies that not many Americans are literate enough to stay abreast of one of our country’s oldest and most respected, albeit decidedly liberal, news publications.

Limbaugh, in one sentence, managed to illustrate perfectly the potentially fatal schism the GOP faces: the split between David Brooks, Bill Buckley, and the educated, intelligent conservative… and the hateful, obtuse, and ignorant wretch who trusts in Rush. In short, the split between The Wall Street Journal and the Klan’s monthly mailer.