Thursday, January 21st, 2010

Dear Conservative Movement: Stop Ruining My Life, by Michael Brendan Dougherty

St. RonnieDear Conservative Movement,

That was crazy in Massachusetts! Right? I mean, it was like two months ago that liberals were all up in our faces. They said, "NY-23! We beat that Doug Hoffman, teabaggers!" Yeah. They beat a third-party candidate. And then Ted Kennedy's still-warm seat was just handed to us. They can console themselves with a congressional district, while we strangle the most important liberal reform since the Johnson administration.

So, yeah. We're supposed to be happy. I know we're all talking about the glory days of 1994, or 1984. I'm sure there is some mid-level staffer at National Review, trying to conjure the tears of Barry Goldwater on behalf of Scott Brown. But in case you've forgotten, even by your own standards, you're kind of in terrible shape.

First, you're obsessed with yourself. You try everything in the culture-The Incredibles, Wal-Mart, Crocs-and you ask: Is it conservative? This makes us look like creep socialists from the 1930s, debating endlessly about whether something is sufficiently proletariat. Weren't we supposed to defend truth, beauty, and goodness (like St. Thomas Aquinas?) You ask us to measure Bill Watterson, Bill Cosby and Bill Clinton by one measure: conservative/not conservative.

You go so far as to encourage people to fabricate their entire identity from the Republican platform. Look at S.E. Cupp. She used to be a person! Now, under your influence, she is one of the lamer Rush Limbaugh monologues from the Clinton era. She's a copy of a copy of Xerox of a rejected P.J. O'Rourke riff. How can you live with yourself, conservative movement?

You may not know this. But all the smartest people on the Right are basically ashamed to be associated with you. Your "success" in building a set of near-permanent institutions, think-tanks, and magazines to promote your ideals in an uncontaminated environment leaves us with two choices:

1) Sell out to the movement. That is, we may occupy ourselves by explaining that whatever the GOP is promoting-whether it be torture, pre-emptive war, Mutually Assured Destruction, or supply-side economics-is an enduring Western value. If John Boehner is doing it, we're supposed to figure out why Edmund Burke would support it.


2) Sell out the movement. That is, pitch our articles to liberal audiences. Trash the movement (like I'm doing), and trade our actual conservative convictions for the ephemeral respect of our peers.

If one of us tries to walk a fine line between these two, we'll be accused of either disloyalty by the hacks or of hackery by the principled and aloof. One way merits a secure gig in the movement's intellectual ghetto. The other may win a few of us a higher status but a more insecure job at a respected outlet.

This situation makes actual arguments difficult, since everyone assumes we are simply enacting long-term branding strategies, rather than stating our views honestly. You've made it impossible for us to have a conversation.

Because you've made yourself a prostitute for the GOP, a cynical and corrupt organization since Reconstruction, all of your young geniuses are tainted. People don't respect their ideas, because they can't assume they are genuinely held, rather than cynical ploys to keep Joe Palinsupporter in line.

And so, young conservatives hate themselves. They live in fear that if they do state their actual views, they'll be forbidden from any meaningful work in the future outside the movement.

The reason Ross Douthat won't share his views on gay marriage in detail is simple. He knows gay marriage opponents will be portrayed as the Bull Connors of the near-future. And he wants to keep writing film criticism and noodling theology for educated readers.

How many times did William F. Buckley have his tepid, once-moderate sounding defense of segregation quoted to him? A million times. By liberals, and paleo-conservative racists both. But Buckley was indestructible. Douthat and the rest of us aren't. We know that for the foreseeable future, liberals have the whip-hand in forming the "prevailing structure of taboos."

Which brings me to the last point. You're a failure, and your ambitions are so limited, it makes me cold.

The prelapsarian conservatives of the 30s opposed foreign adventurism and naive Wilsonian internationalism. They wanted to shrink the size of the federal government. In over 70 years, despite massive public spasms of disgust with the federal government, conservatives have only made it larger and stupider.

Let's list how! Eisenhower's Cold War mobilization, Nixon's wage and price controls and the EPA, Reagan's massive expansion of military spending, financed by tax cuts that were sold to the public as "revenue generating." The process culminated in the hilariously fascist sounding, grant-writing chop shop known as the Department of Homeland Security. So: failure.

Don't get me started on foreign policy. There we were always at odds. I was a kind of isolationist. Your two unwinnable wars did little to dissuade me on that point.

But then this free market stuff. Live within your means. Fend for yourself. Be responsible. I believed that. But the people you elected didn't. Bankers, GE, Archers Daniels Midland, military contractors, really all sorts of speculators-they deserved wealth transfers, cheap credit, debt cancellation. These are your welfare queens, conservative movement. Do you know how bad this makes us look, after having attacked poor people and minorities as free-riders?

Anyway, perhaps most grandly, you've tried to preserve Christian civilization, in decline since the 60s, or the 20s, or the French Revolution, or since William of Ockham, if you ask Richard Weaver.

Though a minority of us still read and adhere to some hearty theology, Dutch Calvinism, Tractarianism or Latin-Mass Catholicism, you've abandoned your charges and America to Jesus-is-my-Boyfriend style mega-churches. If the choice is between listening to the wisdom of Kirk Cameron and singing Jars of Clay songs and pledging our virginity versus going to college, reading Kant and fornicating? I can tell you, categorically, we'll be going at it like heathens and Democrats.

But perversely, you seem to thrive on this sort of failure. You've always accused liberals of creating social ills with government programs, immediately followed by proposing government programs for said social ills. The same is true of you. The more anxiety we have about family breakdown, the more we donate to the Heritage Foundation. Because the cure for deracinated social atomism is obviously a white paper.

The only thing you're really good at is preserving the conservative movement. And that project bored me to tears.

I will admit it. There was something I found seductive about you. If someone wants to shout "Abortion is disgusting" (it is) or "Taxes suck" (they do) or "Let's defend America First!" (always), they can find a place to do it in the conservative movement. If they are presentable enough to date women, within two years or so, they'll be writing for conservative magazines, appearing on conservative podcasts, maybe even hanging out with elected officials.

It begins with one unshakable intellectual conviction in college, like "Entrepreneurs are awesome!" (a little Randian for me), or "modernity is chaos"-and suddenly someone is a part of a movement staffed with other bright, young, idealistic conservatives who think, drink and talk like they do. Privately, they even complain about you, like I do.

But it doesn't take long for the nausea to set in. You start teaching us to embrace an inferiority complex, one that makes us feel like rebels, while making us more dependent your largesse.

You've tried to sweet-talk me-to convince me that a Kenyan socialist is sleeping in the same bedroom once occupied by Saint Ronnie, the divorced patron saint of union-busting.

But, we're done. I tried to "improve you," from my associate editor perch at a dissenting conservative magazine. Now? I wish you would go away. You're an obstacle, taking every civic impulse of your audience and turning it into rotten populism. You turn every bit of goodwill and honest anxiety into a sleazy direct-mail fundraiser.

Some of us want to actually conserve what is good about this country. Some of us want to write fiction that has nothing to do with "conservatism," as you call it. Some of us just can't swallow our embarrassment anymore.



P.S. Scott Brown is what you used to call a "squish." So, you're settling too.

Michael Brendan Dougherty is (still) a contributing editor to The American Conservative. As of this writing S.E. Cupp was one of his Facebook friends.

60 Comments / Post A Comment

HiredGoons (#603)

"The only thing you're really good at is preserving the _________________ movement."

THIS is the problem with practically every institution I can think of.

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

So true.

Also, /i /i /i /i

deepomega (#1,720)

Subtitle of my upcoming book, "Everything I Know I Learned From The Wire"

Rod T (#33)

HRC comes to mind. (Human Rights Coalition and Hillary Rodham Clinton you wonder? Both?)

HiredGoons (#603)


deepomega (#1,720)

SPLC! (This is fun!)

Bravo, Michael. A conservative with views I would not be ashamed to air, even here at The Awl. You've found a new reader.

Bittersweet (#765)

Ditto. Great piece. It all resonates – I lol'd reading the religion paragraph.

mwickens (#3,114)

If you think Massachusetts was about conservatism, think again:

NicFit (#616)

3) Just admit that the only taxes you support are those earmarked for killing foreigners and occupying their land.

Wasn't that easy?

mwickens (#3,114)

Yes, I should read before commenting.

NinetyNine (#98)

I like this forgetting to close a tag. It's very retro. You might even call it conservative.

Eureka Street (#1,349)

Slants right, anyway.

Jim Demintia (#1,815)

The problem with modern conservatism is the simultaneous hypertropying and ossification of its ideological wing.

Neoliberal economic orthodoxy, dogwhistle racism, neocon hyper-interventionism, evangelical fundamentalism–these aren't ideas, they're cartoons of ideas that have long since metastasized and strangled to death any sane proposition or policy from conservative thought. There's a reason the last Republican administration had contempt for "the reality-based community." Reality is not something struggled with or for in modern American conservatism–it's a movement for the brainwashed and the happily insane.

LolCait (#460)

"gay marriage opponents will be portrayed as the Bull Connors of the near-future"

By 'will be portrayed as' you just mean 'are', right?

oudemia (#177)


JHenryWaugh (#212)

Only when we conveniently ignore the case of Obama.

Bittersweet (#765)

And, Michael, Ann Coulter has just appeared at the top right of my screen, magically proving all your points.

Mindpowered (#948)

Really? All I got was S. Betcha P.

Kind of symbolic given how Coulter has been knocked from her perch by Palin/

Bittersweet (#765)

I think I'd take SP over Ann any day – at least Sarah looks like she'd be fun to have a beer with.

wiilliiaamm (#225)

Impressive. You had me at the PJ O'Roarke slam. Critical arguments from a conservative….I worry that now you may have to sleep with one eye open from now on….you know how the Extremes and fako moderates take to your kind.

La Cieca (#1,110)

You might have been more convincing had you leapt to these conclusions a year ago, or five years ago, or 10 or 20, when what you've just discovered became more than obvious to everyone except "conservatives."

HiredGoons (#603)


MichaelBD (#3,115)

You're right. Seven year old Me should have known better.

HiredGoons (#603)

I was laughing at the cadence of the comment.

kneetoe (#1,881)

Michael: Is that "M" in "Me" some kind of conservative thing having to do with keeping alive the weird spelling/capitalizing rules of days past(having used my first ever smiley face earlier today, I will just say in words that I am just being goofy here).

MichaelBD (#3,115)

Okay. I was just being bitchy.

To kneetoe, that was just incidental bad typing.

La Cieca (#1,110)

That said, as they say, I should be the last person in the world to be discouraging movement in the direction of wisdom. To begin at least to see the world with some measure of clarity at the tender age of 27 is a wonderful gift: don't let cynical old me (or Me) distract you.

MichaelBD (#3,115)

LA Ceica, just FYI, I mentioned that I did write for a magazine that was pretty critical of the "movement" on conservatism's own terms.

Ron Obvious (#351)

Help me out here, gang. So, this S.E. Cupp biped takes Adam's Apple Annie's perch on the feeding chain, Annie herself moves up to Peggy Noonan's spot and Nooners… what, gets turned into soylent green?

atipofthehat (#797)

Noonan is…people?

Sorry, you'll need proof.

Ron Obvious (#351)

People substitute? Like soy with opposable thumbs.

deepomega (#1,720)

This is all why I kinda hate the two political parties? I mean basically any semblence of ideological consistency is gone! Conservatives like small government except for the 90% of the time when they don't, liberals like helping poor people except for the 90% of the time when they don't, &c &c.

Bittersweet (#765)

Ditto, deleting the "kinda."

Ron Obvious (#351)

Hey, Michael Brendan, you might also want someone else to start your car for you over the next few months. Just sayin'.

KarenUhOh (#19)

It's a Contract On America.

Ribs (#2,690)

Slam dunk Karen

Aatom (#74)

Somewhere, Andrew Sullivan is jerking off while re-reading this piece over and over again.

I honestly can't blame him. Bravo.

What continues to sicken me is that movement conservatives have made liberals look like the sane ones in DC. Do you know how craven and ridiculous you have to be to make that happen?

I voted for Obama because something about him seems eminently more conservative than whatever bloated nanny-state warmongering nonsense the Rovians have been peddling to the lowest common denominator for the past decade. Remember when conservatives were proud to be the elites of society? Sigh.

"Remember when conservatives were proud to be the elites of society?"

THIS. SOOO much.

HiredGoons (#603)

I both love and hate William F. Buckley.

I just hate Ronald Reagan.

La Cieca (#1,110)

You have just defined the difference between camp and kitsch.

migraineheadache (#1,866)

The idea of "modernity is chaos" as an intellectual conviction confuses me.

LondonLee (#922)

Modernity = Atheism

HiredGoons (#603)


Public masturbation.

Ribs (#2,690)


Ronit (#1,557)

This may be the best thing the Awl has ever published.

yes, I'm ranking this above "How to cook a fucking steak"

Mindpowered (#948)


"How to cook a fucking steak" is Picasso.

This is Rockwell.

sigerson (#179)

MBD is and was naive to think that politics is ever about anything other than the accumulation of power. Thus, think-tanks, academics and niche trade journals are, at their core, essentially propaganda, i.e., rhetoric drafted for the purpose of persuasion. Truth, consistency of thought, principles? Just tactics.

Atencio (#399)

Right, but accumulating that power depends on having plenty of people beneath you are are motivated by nothing more than "belief in the message." So for every dishonest politician who doesn't believe 3/4ths of what he says, there's a 100 volunteers which believe every word 100%

I'll let you figure out which one scares me more.

S.A. Miller (#3,149)

"I'm a conservative, but not one of those conservatives." he explained to his cool liberal friends.

See also: conservatives who pretend to be libertarians

It must be nice to be self-appointed as one of the "smartest people" on the right.

Sid Burgess (#3,150)

Interesting, I tweeted this earlier.

Then read this article a few hours later. I tired of being in a "conservative" movement that doesn't get potholes. That doesn't get the purpose of government, society, and collaboration.

Ready to fill some potholes…

headcheeese (#3,152)

In the conservative movement's defense, S.E. Cupp was never particularly bright nor talented.

Phil Koesterer (#2,708)

The Awl needs (better?) copyeditors, but: hear, hear!

gretchen (#4,182)

Does this mean only straight men and lesbians can be conservatives? "If they are presentable enough to date women, within two years or so, they'll be writing for conservative magazines, appearing on conservative podcasts, maybe even hanging out with elected officials."

TruthTeller (#6,365)

More than 150 years ago, R.L. Dabney nailed the Godless, secular "conservatism" of his day. What he said is even truer today of today's Godless/secular "conservatism" which has failed, and SHOULD have failed, because it has ignored Christ. Said Dabney:

"Conservatism's history has been that it demurs to each aggression of the progressive party, and aims to save its credit by a respectable amount of growling, but always acquiesces at last in the innovation. What was the resisted novelty of yesterday is today one of the accepted principles of conservatism; it is now conservative only in affecting to resist the next innovation, which will tomorrow be forced upon its timidity and will be succeeded by some third revolution, to be denounced and then adopted in its turn. American conservatism is merely the shadow that follows Radicalism as it moves forward to perdition. It remains behind it, but never retards it, and always advances near its leader. This pretended salt hath utterly lost its savor: wherewith shall it be salted? Its impotency is not hard to explain. It is worthless because it is the conservatism of expediency only, and not of sturdy principle. It tends to risk nothing serious for the sake of truth."

John Lofton, Editor,
Communications Director, Institute On The Constitution
Recovering Republican

TruthTeller (#6,365)


"Conservative Movement" Dunghill Rejects — Good Riddance To Them!

Our preacher this morning (1/17/10) preached on John 5:1-18 which deals with a pool called Bethesda and a certain man there which had an "infirmity" for 38 years. Jesus healed him. He was made whole. He took up his bed and walked.

This Bible passage is particularly significant for me because I, too, had an "infirmity" for 38 years — the first 38 years of my life — that "infirmity" being unbelief. But, in 1980, by the grace of God alone, I was saved, born-again.

Now, at the time I was saved, I had been an active observer of and participant in "conservative" politics for about 15 years in the Washington DC area. The Goldwater-LBJ election began my interest in politics and writing. It was immediately apparent to me, watching this contest, that Goldwater made sense; LBJ did not. So, I reasoned, I must be a "conservative" Republican.

In 1968, I worked as a writer at the "National Republican Congressional Committee" which sought to elect Republicans to the House of Representatives. From 1970-73, I worked at the Republican National Committee as Editor of the GOP's national weekly newsletter. My bosses there were, first, Bob Dole, then George H.W. Bush.

In the following years, I was Editor of the American Conservative Union's "Battleline" publication. I was Editor of Richard Viguerie's "Conservative Digest" magazine. I wrote a nationally syndicated column for United Features which at one time was in about 100 newspapers. I ran around with all the Big Name conservative "leaders" — met with them, ate with them, partied with them, knew them up close and personal.

From 1964 to 1980, I ate, drank, slept, breathed "conservative" politics. To paraphrase Scripture, I lived, moved and had my being in "conservative" politics. As a heathen, I was totally swept up in the temporal-horizontal. I was the complete Bread-Alone Guy. And things were going very well. I was achieving some degree of prominence – getting speaking dates, being on national TV shows, my column was appearing in more newspapers. Yep, things were going fine – except I was headed for Hell.

Then, in 1980, I was saved. It was an actual, physical experience, something I knew had happened to me, something I knew had changed me. I knew I was now a Christian but had no idea what, exactly, this meant much less what I was now to do. My direction was soon to be shaped by a book and its author.

Shortly after being saved, a friend, M. Stanton Evans — for what reason I do not remember — gave me a copy of a book titled "The Politics of Pornography" by a Dr. R. J. Rushdoony. Huh? Rushdoony? That's a weird name, I thought — never heard of this guy.

Long-story-short: Thank God Stan gave me this book causing me to hear of this guy Rushdoony! In the coming years, I came to know him well personally. I read almost all his books (given me at no charge). I listened to hundreds of his tapes (at no charge.) We had many, many hours of personal conversations. He allowed me to write for his newsletter for 11 years. And all of what I read and heard from Rush answered my question — particularly in the political realm – as to what, as a Christian, I was now to do, to think.

What I learned from Rush was what Rush learned from the Bible, the Word of God. I learned that Jesus Christ is king of Kings and Lord of lords, the One Who has all power in Heaven and on Earth, including power over "politics." I learned that God's Word governs everything, including "politics." I learned that the purpose of civil government is to obey God, administer His Laws, and stay within the limits set by God.

Now, this was a shock! Because almost all those Big Name "conservative leaders" I ran with all those years before I became saved claimed to be Christians. But, in all our meetings, manifestos, platforms, late-night bull sessions re: what to do or not do, nobody ever indicated, even slightly, that Christ or God or the Bible had anything to do with "politics," had anything to do with our work!

In other words, this "conservative movement" I was a part of was, de facto, operationally, atheistic. We were merely "conservative" secular humanists seeking salvation through "politics" — politics that was "conservative" to be sure but still only "politics."

And after I was saved, and attempted to, at times, inject Christ/God/Bible into our plans, or just raise this issue, I was looked at as if I had lost my mind. The truth, of course, was/is that in being saved, by the grace of God, my mind had been renewed, as in Romans 12:2: "And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God."

And that's why the "conservative movement" has been a failure, and should have failed. It has been, and still is, in the political realm, Godless, "conformed to this world." It has been savorless salt and thus unfit for the dunghill (Luke 14:35.)

Unfit for the dunghill! Do you realize what it is to be so worthless you are not fit for a manure pile?!

Dunghill Rejects.

What a perfect name for the Godless, anti-Christian, modern "conservative movement." And I say good riddance to them.

John Lofton, Editor,
Communications Director, Institute On The Constitution
Recovering Republican

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