May 28, 2009
My paleo friends must have laughed themselves silly at the sight of Mark Levin and David Frum going at each other like Tybalt and Benvolio in the streets of Verona. Ah, but what of Rod Dreher, who now sides with Frum against Levin? A spanner in the works for those whose rule is, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” isn’t it? Let’s see if we can sort this out.
Of course, it was Frum whose “Unpatriotic Conservatives” was the most vicious blow yet struck in this long feud. (In my hobby of dreaming up titles for books no one will ever pay me to write, my history of the intra-conservative Peloponnesian War would be called First, They Came for Mel Bradford.) Daniel McCarthy has reminded us that much of what Frum wrote for his National Review cover story in 2003, he had previewed 12 years earlier in a 1991 American Spectator cover story. Some may wish, as conspiracy-minded left-wing bloggers were wont to say during the previous administration, to question the timing.
No conspiracy theory is necessary to say that Frum accuses Patrick Buchanan and others of Jew-hating, which accusation intimidates me not at all, as my philo-Semitism is well known to all who know me, whether foe, friend or family. (My Jewish cousins are “Second Amendment Democrats” who live in Montgomery, Alabama.) Some of my neoconservative friends have questioned why I write for Taki, a man they accuse of atrocious sentiments. Well, if I have been misunderstood by my enemies, perhaps the same is true of Mr. Theodoracopulos and, as I remarked in reviewing Rod Dreher’s Crunchy Cons, I write for money.
My opinions of U.S. foreign policy, especially in the most recent Iraq war, are nuanced. It is my staunch belief that no nation ever benefitted from military defeat and that the unquestioned invincibility of American arms ought to be the greatest security of our peace. Yet it is also my belief that Falkland’s great conservative dictum”“When it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change””might also be applied to Arab despotisms. If we wish to overthrow vicious dictatorships, why not begin 90 miles from Key West? Cuba is an island, our Navy is up to the task, the Marines are ready, and such of the occupation troops as were not content drinking rum and Coca-Cola with the local jiniteras could take their weekend R&R passes in Miami.
Free the Cohibas! (What are you, some kind of un-American?)
The reader apprehends at once that it has never been my aspiration to be a “senior policy adviser” to any candidate, nor do I aspire to a Cabinet post or a think-tank fellowship. Je suis un journaliste, if I may be permitted what Dreher calls “faggy French.” Others, alas, are not content merely to write for a living, but fancy themselves called to much higher avocations. It is this factor of ambition, not ideology, which accounts for the attacks of Dreher and Frum against Levin, and also against Rush Limbaugh.
OK, maybe you hate both Levin and Limbaugh. Fine. That’s irrelevant. The point is that they are successful in the very difficult business of talk radio and, before either Dreher or Frum went after Levin, they first attacked Limbaugh. (Dreher here, Frum here.) Again, you might be tempted to question the timing. Republicans lose an election, after nominating John McCain as their candidate over the objections of both Levin and Limbaugh, and yet the blame falls not on the failed candidate, but on the successful radio stars.
What is going on here? Look, I’ve been a professional journalist since 1986. I didn’t get into journalism because I cared about politics. Hell, I didn’t even care about journalism. But my career plan to become a zillionaire rock star required me to have a day job to pay the bills, and I got sick of wearing a hard hat and driving a forklift. So I started at a tiny weekly paper in Austell, Georgia, for $4.50 an hour and worked my way up. By the time I got to Washington in 1997, I’d already won a national award as a columnist, but the Washington Times wasn’t interested in hiring Georgia columnists, so I became a news editor, figuring to work my way up to being a columnist again. But that didn’t work out any better than the rock-star career and . . .
Yet I know what everybody in the journalism business today knows: The market for the printed word is evaporating, and Republican opinion-mongers are a dime a dozen nowadays. We may someday look back on the era 1994-2006 as the Golden Age of Conservative Punditry, when every moderately well knowk cable-news commentator or halfway clever staffer for The Weekly Standard either had a book deal or was shopping a proposal.
As with deluxe condos in California, however, the bottom has fallen out of that market. In 2006, a division of Random House published Rebel-in-Chief: Inside the Bold and Controversial Presidency of George W. Bush by Fred Barnes, a wretchedly sycophantic book destined to be remembered in much the same way we now recall Belshazzar’s feast on the night that Babylon fell. (There we go, back to Mesopotamia again.)
What all of this means, then, is that a Republican political journalist hustling a book has got to find an angle, and both Dreher and Frum have figured that trashing the only famous Republicans who still have any meaningful influence”guys like Limbaugh and Levin”is the way to go. They want to join the ranks of The Republicans Who Really Matter.
Meanwhile, Levin had quite a different idea. He figured that the Obama administration would be a miserable disaster, and that what was needed was a reiteration of basic GOP principles. Levin’s Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto
has been at or near the top of the New York Times bestsellers list for weeks.
Ergo, to guys like Dreher and Frum who have staked their careers and reputations on the bet that standard-issue Republican conservatism has become obsolete, the success of Levin’s book is not merely a goad of envy, but an indication that their knack for political prophecy is no better now than it was circa 2003. In his “crunchy” sectarianism, Dreher has established himself as the king of a cul-de-sac, whereas Frum is trying to sell a “new majority” that no one’s buying.
If Judge Sotomayor is going to be Borked, it won’t be because of anything Rod Dreher wrote. And if the GOP stages a comeback, it won’t be because of the advice they’re getting from the New Majority. Despite Richard Spencer’s grisly hopes for the Party of Zarathustra, my simple hunch is that if the “Alternative Right” is going to do something politically meaningful in the near future, it will not be either as part of a Frumian centrism or a Dreheresque monasticism. For better or worse, what Dreher disdains as “the habits of the horde” will prevail.
Expect the peasants with pitchforks to be as scornful as ever of pointy-headed intellectuals who can’t even park their bicycles straight. That Levin has cast his lot with the rabble is significant. As a student of Burnham might say, the “managerial elite” of the GOP has become decadent,
Has anyone heard from any students of Burnham lately? Because just last night, I’m told, residents of Chattanooga reported hearing eerie laughter coming from the direction of Forest Hills Cemetery.
Question the timing.
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