A Very Good Question

In an article at The Week, a writer named Damon Linker asked an intriguing question: why aren’t conservative intellectuals disgusted with today’s GOP? (It should be noted that Linker is no movement liberal: he’s edited First Things magazine, been a speechwriter for Rudy Giuliani, and taught political philosophy at Brigham Young University.)

Now, in all fairness, some conservative intellectuals are sounding alarms. David Frum and David Brooks both come to mind, and I recently quoted from an eminently sensible article by the National Review’s Kevin Williamson. But one does wonder what someone like William F. Buckley would make of the current “clown car”–not just the easy targets like Trump, Carson and Fiorina, but Jindal, Cruz, Huckabee and other assorted ideologues and lightweights who currently represent the GOP’s “brand.” As Linker notes:

I don’t just mean the obvious stuff. You know, the unprovoked and petty anti-intellectualism of Marco Rubio denigrating philosophers by contrasting them unfavorably to welders (and presumably people who work at other skilled trades as well). Or Rand Paul’s nonsensical, conspiratorial musings about the Federal Reserve. Or Donald Trump’s xenophobic promises to build a 2,000-mile wall along the U.S.-Mexican border and round up and deport eleven million undocumented immigrants. (If they’re undocumented, how will we find them? House to house sweeps by armed agents of the state through poor and heavily Latino neighborhoods? That’s either absurdly unfeasible, as Jeb Bush and John Kasich pointed out, or a program for American fascism.)

And neither do I merely mean the dumpsters full of dubious assertions that are by now so deeply embedded in conservative ideology that every candidate tosses them out without making even the most cursory effort to bolster them with facts. Like the claim that America’s relatively slow growth rate in recent years is a product of our tax burden (when in fact tax rates were considerably higher during the high-growth decades following World War II). Or the related contention that taxes can be drastically cut without massively increasing the budget deficit because the cuts will spur such enormous growth that tax revenues will actually increase. Or the endlessly repeated alliterative vow that ObamaCare will be “repealed and replaced,” while neglecting to admit, let alone defend, the fact that the replacements favored by the GOP candidates would almost certainly leave millions of those currently covered by the Affordable Care Act without insurance….

I’m talking about specific policy proposals that amounted to nothing more than transparent nonsense. Maybe a credulous viewer with no knowledge of history, public policy, economics, or how the government actually works could respond to these proposals with a nod and a cheer. But informed viewers? Educated men and women of the right? Conservative intellectuals? They should know better — and know enough to realize when they’re being sold, or helping to sell, a bucket of BS.

Linker analyzes examples from the most recent GOP debate to make his case, and concludes that

Intellectual compromises are sometimes necessary in democratic politics. But selling one’s soul should not be…The Republican Party’s 2016 presidential candidates have descended into vapid, puerile bleating. Conservative intellectuals are better than this, smarter than this. The time has come for them to speak up and call the GOP field what it is: ignorant, insulting, and dangerous.

Agreed. America needs two adult political parties.

There is a respectable, responsible conservative case to be made–but so long as thoughtful Americans connect “conservative” with political figures like Louie Gohmert, Sarah Palin and the current presidential candidates–reasonable people will dismiss it.


  1. First of all, “conservative intellectuals”? Are you kidding me? Isn’t that an oxymoron?

    And secondly, where has this Damon Linker been for the past twenty years? In a cave? The Republican Party replaced what little there was of intellectualism in their party with the rantings and hatred of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Fox News, the lies Wall Street and big business, and the irrational thinking and bigotry of the Christian Evangelicals.

    On a morning when we are watching the cleanup of murder in Colorado that was, no doubt, spurred on by the above mentioned voice of the Republican Party, the musings of Damon are nothing but a fart in the windstorm that now engulfs our nation.

  2. I learned Thanksgiving night that my intelligent and reasonable granddaughter and her mother have been brainwashed, in a very brief time, by my granddaughter’s staunch Republican finance. They have always supported Planned Parenthood, women’s rights, unions, quality health care for all, improving aid to veterans, raising wages, supported Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, foreign diplomacy rather than declaring war willy-nilly, anti-racism, anti-Semitism, support immigration reform and civil rights for LGBTs. I must also add that my daughter-in-law is an Army Veteran and is just coming out of her second near-death treatment situation at the local VA Medical Center. Also, their son/brother and my grandson is a paramedic in the Navy and will be on the battlefield if the GOP declares the WARS they have threatened. Their reason – Donald Trump knows how to run a business…or so they have been convinced as qualifying him. They overlook his three bankruptcies, his three divorces and current wife who was a stripper. They also overlook and have turned their backs on the biracial, Mexican-American, LGBTs, seniors, disabled, low-income working family members, those of us eking out a living on Social Security and dependent on Medicare plus supplementals we pay for who are their family members. The fact that they can be so easily swayed by one staunch Republican in a very brief time has increased my fears for this country and the unavoidable possibility Donald Trump CAN AND MIGHT BE elected President.

  3. I keep telling my children that it is vital that their generation turn out to vote in 2016. If. They stay away the last gasp of the rich old white men will negatively effect the next 10-20 years of their lives.

  4. It is extreme to believe yourself entitled to your own set of facts. But where exactly is that coming from?

    It’s clear that the average Republican is merely accepting what her choice of entertainment media is telling her. Confirmation bias. But where did the original belief being confirmed come from?

    The answer is the same entertainment media started by saying here’s why you are a superior person. Here’s something that if true would reward who you are. Here’s what separates you from the undesirables. Here’s what you can brag about knowing.

    The source of all of that is not random. It is carefully orchestrated. We don’t like conspiracy theories but, on the other hand, some people conspire.

    Of course the notion of propaganda is as old as politics. But this is more, enhanced, especially effective and addicting.

    I believe that the father if it all was Lee Atwater a relatively unknown political operative of Bush I.

    He spawned Karl Rove and Dick Cheney and Rupert Murdoch showed up looking for media wealth and soon an industry was born. The packaging of influence. The buying of votes.

    It works. It’s an entirely viable business from which great wealth can be made as long as you put that ahead of truth and country.

    It saved the Republican Party from an unfortunate streak of inadequate personnel but then it consumed them, took them over, defined them. They didn’t own it, it owned them. It became who they are.

    Like viruses the business needs a host to exist, to grow and reproduce. Unchecked the virus subverts life to become only a breeding ground for the virus whose function and purpose is merely to continue on.

    I don’t see a cure. The only end now is to quarantine the victims and let them die off – remove the host.

    As that process unfolds we do need to study the virus. How does it start, who does it target, how contagious is it?

    Maybe we can learn enough to prevent another costly epidemic.

  5. “It’s clear that the average Republican is merely accepting what her choice of entertainment media is telling her. Confirmation bias. But where did the original belief being confirmed come from?”

    Pete: HER, HER CHOICE! How very Republican of you in your first lecture/monologue of the day to single out women as being the “average Republican” and choosing entertainment media. You insult Sheila and all women who read and comment on her blog. We track news in its many forms; researching reports from both sides of the aisle. The “average Republican” today is working diligently to remove women from the political arena and deny their rights on all levels, moving them back to being “barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen” status. I research what you refer to as “entertainment media” reports before passing them on OR refuting them. Are you referring to social media or entertainment in the forms of The Onion and other satirical media postings or those views passed on by actual entertainers who have political views? Clint Eastwood and that empty chair entertainment? Or do you consider the posts supporting the current Republican presidential hopefuls as “entertainment”? There is a difference between entertainment and what is considered social media. The two women I referred to were misguided by one staunch Republican man; one posts a few personal pictures on Facebook, the other lacks all understanding of computers and uses her cell phone only for personal calls so is unaware of both types of media.

    “As that process unfolds we do need to study the virus. How does it start, who does it target, how contagious is it?

    Maybe we can learn enough to prevent another costly epidemic.”

    The virus you referred to started at least 20 years ago and targets all of us who disagree; was ignored as a minor issue, or issues, and allowed to spread throughout the country by continuing to fail to recognize the dangers and ignore its insidious nature. It is years too late “to prevent another costly epidemic”; we are all infected by the disease hidden today behind the the old, once trusted title of GOP. If the current GOP has its way; their epidemic will become a pandemic when they declare the wars on other nations they seek, a list they add to regularly.

  6. My recollection of the beginnings of trash talk TV and radio with a Right Wing bent was with the Morton Downey Jr show, others were Joe Pyne and Alan Burke. Who knows if these people actually believed what they said, but they found an audience and made money doing it. These people were in stark contrast to William Buckley a Conservative Intellectual.

    I think the Corporate Powers and wealthy individuals who fund the Republicans are thoroughly happy with the Anti-Intellectualism rampant in the Republican Base. The Base has a strong dislike for certain parts of the Federal Government such as EPA, Federal Reserve, SEC, etc. This fits nicely into the Anti-Regulation philosophy of the moneyed interests of the Republican Party. The base does like the War Hawks, you know the exceptional people doctrine.
    Since this doctrine funds the Wall Street-Security-Military-Industrial Complex the 1% are over joyed. Perhaps there is no more perfect candidate for the Republican Base and moneyed power than the Trumpet.

    FOX, CNN, and MSNBC have carved out their own audience, which is totally unrelated to intellectual journalism or reporting, but has as it’s prime purpose to spin and in turn make money for the Networks.

    As a Leftie and a Democratic Socialist and a Bernie supporter, the McMega-Media ignores his thoughtful but demonstrative platform. The McMega Media prefer the bombast and simple jingles rather than a thoughtful approach.

  7. “Propaganda must not investigate the truth objectively and, in so far as it is favourable to the other side, present it according to the theoretical rules of justice; yet it must present only that aspect of the truth which is favourable to its own side. (…) The receptive powers of the masses are very restricted, and their understanding is feeble. On the other hand, they quickly forget. Such being the case, all effective propaganda must be confined to a few bare essentials and those must be expressed as far as possible in stereotyped formulas. These slogans should be persistently repeated until the very last individual has come to grasp the idea that has been put forward. (…) Every change that is made in the subject of a propagandist message must always emphasize the same conclusion. The leading slogan must of course be illustrated in many ways and from several angles, but in the end one must always return to the assertion of the same formula.”

    Adolf Hitler in “Mein Kampf”

  8. Why are intellectual GOP conservatives going along with the present know-nothing posturing candidates for the Oval Office when they know better? It’s because they detest liberals more than their own political kin and have no place else to go given their party’s hard right turn to appease the libertarian and nihilist elements who have crept into their “Big Tent” and taken over the circus. They don’t have a seat at the table anymore with libertarians like Paul and the firebrand Cruz running the show, phony opportunists/ideologues who would rather decimate the Republican Party than yield or compromise on the issues.

    These “take no prisoners/forget the Constitution” types prefer rather to burn the whole shebang down in some Attila the Hun response to governing by consent of the governed. The intellectuals are probably thinking that this, too, shall pass, and that in the interim before sanity reappears they must pretend to go along with their rabid right until the likes of Cruz and Paul go away, all in the interest of saving the party apparatus from the fate of their predecessor Whigs.

    I have often blogged elsewhere that the Republican Party is now at risk for a descent into Whigdom due to political self-immolation, but I can’t know that at this juncture, and I hope it doesn’t happen since I am still wed to the two-party method of making democracy work though, as I recently blogged, we may have to adopt a parliamentary form of government in order to deliver democracy given the breakdown and internal brawls of the Republican Party and its possible demise into the mists of history.

    The key to survival of the Republican Party involves excising the cancer they have imported into their midst. “Big Tents” in which everyone can find a modicum of representation is fine, but no tent is big enough to house political hoodlums. Responsible Republicans should arrange a trip to the operating room before their cancer becomes metastatic, if it hasn’t already and they are too late. Their call.

  9. JoAnn: Excellent list of your reasons to leave the GOP behind when voting to which I would add that any Republican we might elect to the presidency will be sworn to nominate birds of the same feathers to replace retiring court justices. Once seated we will have them for the rest of their lives especially if Congress remains under GOP control.

  10. Thank you for the intelligence and asking the questions that need to be asked.

    And responders, stop with the blind arrogance, the my way or you’re an idiot replies.

    Let these posts open your minds to another opinion, to think, to explore another point of view.

    Are we to a point where we can only believe what the radio show spew, the hate talkers speak?

    I hope not.

  11. JoAnn, as near as I can tell about half of Republicans are women. ‘Nuff said.

    Patrick, you assume amidst all of this discussion about propaganda that people are entitled to it and it deserves the same place at the table as truth. Why would you even think that?

  12. The problem is the anti-intellectual, elitism of the left that dominates today’s discourse and is reflected in so many of these comments. If a person doesn’t share a leftist’s views, well that must mean that person is ignorant, intolerant, or hateful…or all three. It can’t be that a conservative might actually view the world differently and no less legitimately than a liberal.

    Here is an example:

    “You insult Sheila and all women who read and comment on her blog. We track news in its many forms; researching reports from both sides of the aisle. The “average Republican” today is working diligently to remove women from the political arena and deny their rights on all levels, moving them back to being “barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen” status.”

    Of course just as many women as men hold socially conservative views on such things as abortion. Do those conservative women want to see women out of the political arena and confined to the roll of being “barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen?” Of course not.

    It’s the complete lack of tolerance liberals have for alternative views and their slandering the people who hold them with derogatory labels that is evident here. Nothing more, nothing less.

  13. Paul,

    If that’s not what they want, then what do they want? What does the GOP want for young fertile women? Carly F? Sarah P. what does she want for women? Could her own family give us a clue? Take a look at voting trends since the 80’s and tell me what the GOP wants for women.

  14. I think that liberals have a high tolerance for truth, a high tolerance for solutions, a high tolerance for diversity, a high tolerance for freedom, a high tolerance for equality (redundant; the same as freedom).

    Should we have a high tolerance for the alternatives to those?

    All I can say is that I don’t and hope that I never will.

  15. Paul K. Ogden; another typical Republican response, labeling humanitarian rights as being liberal views. Planned Parenthood provides many forms of testing and diagnosis plus health care treatment to men and women of low or no income status; Medicaid which is health care for low and no income Americans is required to add a percentage of their federal funds to PP because they serve the same group of Americans. Women’s rights to medical options in many forms is being denied. Unions which for years have aided workers in better, safer working conditions, benefit options and better wages have almost been destroyed and workers prevented from forming new unions. State health care systems (in Republican states only) deny access to apply for ACA till being denied by every company in the system – this frequently took months after the ACA deadline for thousands to receive their status with much higher rates and annual deduction amounts. We pay for our Medicare and necessary supplemental policies after having paid into Social Security throughout our employment histories. These are being attacked and attempts to control and deny access to OUR money continues by the GOP. Treatment on all levels, especially medical care, for veterans has been deplorable for many years – Viet Nam vets can tell you about that – those who still survive. Or look at recent veterans returning from Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries where our military has been sent to serve – those who survived. Seeking foreign diplomatic solutions for peace is a life-saving strategy rather than more wars and escalating the current on-going wars, including “boots on the ground” into other countries where we are not YET at war. Immigration levels were becoming a problem in the 1980’s; long before we had millions of illegal immigrants in this country, Republicans deny or table any and all bills with possible solutions but have no solutions to replace what they refuse to consider.

    These are all humanitarian, life-saving issues regarding our civil and human rights as American citizens. “Liberal” means open-minded and willing to change; this country and this world has changed drastically over only the past 25-50 years and we need to keep up with it and look ahead to coming changes. “Staunch” means steadfast and unmoving – meaning you Republicans want to stay in one place, going nowhere – except for attempts to move us back to the mid-20th Century.

    “A Very Good Question” indeed:
    “In an article at The Week, a writer named Damon Linker asked an intriguing question: why aren’t conservative intellectuals disgusted with today’s GOP?” Why aren’t YOU?

  16. I have a question. My question is simple. What is the definition of “an intellectual”? Until we all are working from the same definition of “an intellectual”, I suspect we’re simply talking to hear our heads rattle.

  17. Sheila posits, among very many other things today, that “There is a respectable, responsible conservative case to be made”.

    Wouldn’t it be useful if someone made that case here and now so we could properly debate it?

    Why has that never happened?

  18. I’m still awaiting the definition of “an intellectual”, the common definition that we all can use in this discussion and other discussions outside this forum.

  19. BSH, I’m not sure your point. There are any number of similar dictionary definitions for the word “intellectual”. Why not just select one and start to make your point there?

  20. What Theresa, Steve, and Earl said…topped off by Marv’s “It doesn’t take a lot of words”. Reach ‘way back there and pat yourselves on the back! You, too, Sheila!

  21. BSH:

    “Intellectual”, chiefly guided by the intellect rather than emotion or experience.

    “Intellect”, capacity for knowledge.

    “Knowledge”, range of one’s information or understanding.

    Sheila and most readers operate from a basis of knowledge; often through education if you are taught to look outside the limits of education for further knowledge, others learn from seeking information in the form of seeking facts and data through research in many forms. Life is a continuing learning experience; one bit of information I have learned from Sheila and many of her readers is how little I know. This is why I spend time researching on line and reading which often leads to further research. An intellectual is aware of knowledge they do have and the knowledge that they don’t have all the answers.

    As Pete stated; I’m not sure of your point…do you have one?

  22. “Intellect” is usually contrasted with “feeling.” In the Myers Briggs personality profile thinking is on a continuum with feeling as one of the four aspects of personality. I would posit that conservatives are more prone to following their feelings than liberals. This would mean that there would be fewer intellectuals overall among conservatives. It would be interesting to know if conservatives fall toward the feeling end of the spectrum in the Myers Briggs test.

  23. It’s never been about intellectualism. It is about empathy or lack thereof. Might making right. And to what extent one accepts this as reality and acts according to one’s own self interest or acts altruistically. To the extent intellectualism enters into the discussion it is about the intellectually gifted right using its powers of persuasion over the dimwitted and the ignorant. Thus Buckley and his ilk. Now we see more open appeals to authoritarianism, but the goals are the same. Only the strategies have changed.

  24. Chris Ladd, a respected conservative writer for the Houston Chronicle, submitted a significant article in November 2014. He predicted that the new Republican majority would not draw on knowledge and skills that could contribute to the common good and capitalize on the emerging global economic market. Instead he said, “We are about to get two years of intense, horrifying stupidity”, and predicted that the House and Senate would focus on “climate denial, theocracy, thinly veiled racism, paranoia, and Benghazi hearings. Lots and lots of hearings on Benghazi.”

    Being a person who likes to test out such prophesies, I wrote them in bold face on a sheet of paper which I have located in a prominent place in our study area. So far, it looks like Mr. Ladd’s predictions are on track, to the shame of our political system. It’s not the we have a dearth of thoughtful writers and leaders. It’s a whole symphony of travesty.

    If you wish to see the article, it’s here: http://blog.chron.com/goplifer/2014/11/the-missing-story-of-the-2014-election/

  25. I see the hypocracy of the right and hope to see it exposed. Why can you fools on the left not see that all of your rants about the right are also true of the left. The difference is that the left’s indoctrination is more complete. It was hard for me to tell if Tom Lund’s quote from Hitler was a warning about conservatives or liberals, but since any comment from me is dismissed with the standard talking points, only two options are possible: either the talking points have been appropriately applied to my delusions, or you all have been thoroughly indoctrinated by the left’s propaganda. The only way you can be right is if all conservatives are stupid and that is a dangerous assumption.

  26. Ken, I know that this is late in the conversation, but if you read my post previous to your comment, I think that Chris Ladd is a pretty conservative guy. Would you classify his comments as being from one of the “fools on the left”? Not sure who you mean when you say “all of your rants”. His observations and predictions seemed to be accurate, even though I agree that everyone should be open to their blind spots (or entire visual field, if you prefer).

  27. Stuart! Let me rephrase. I admire the keen eye for the foibles of the conservative movement and wonder why most are blind to similar problems on the left. Mr Ladd’s warnings about a wrong path for conservatives is valuable. Can you help me find any liberal critical of liberal miscues. I never see ANY criticism of liberals by liberals.

  28. As a self-proclaimed liberal and absolute admirer of Shiela I nonetheless find I generally agree with Ken’s observation: I think that more of “us” tend to think of ourselves as never anything but guided by reason without a taint of the ad hominem or other things that distinguish from the great mass of dumb, biglted, sinister, prone to have bad breath, and all other things for why man was chased from the Garden of Eden conservatives of any stripe from us enlightened ones. We can sometimes….no…..quite frequently can engage in the same kind of behavior and speech that we are often too quick to point out on the right but have a blind spot when it comes to looking in the mirror.

    There….I said it and I’m glad!

  29. Don! A civil discussion and debate without insults is a first step towards discovering middle ground. We all need to be vigilant to ward off the tyrants and charlatans on both sides

  30. Political arguments, economic ones, as bad as they can be aren’t blatant racism, birtherism, anti-science, twisted minority religious views or even close to much of the bombast from Trump, Cruz, or Huckabee. The false equivalence is just not warranted by evidence.

    What is true is I don’t get much info anymore from rightwing sites, let alone center right, I have to seek it out, go deliberately after it or look to cspan or another broad source that can give some claim to opposing claims.

    The silos are walled high and increasingly narrow. Intentionally so by some, unintentionally by others who will find division when pursuing specific consumers and finding nearly by accident political division. I’d not be surprised to find many consumer choices that lean more or less heavily one way or another and once the wall starts building it is a matter of increasingly shorter time. I suspect accounting for this is under emphasized, here and many more places.

    There’s money to be made in these divisions. Most goods and services are not equally distributed, even if needed and most are not needed. That’s exploitable and we’re the focus groups. Pair that with intentional partisanship, the FOX NEWS focus on a once broad rightward leaning group is now forced to make editorial choices I’m sure it would prefer to be free to be more subtle about.

    Add what trades people will make, Tax policy for abortion when past childbearing age, military spending as security rather than healthcare. These are not simple divisions but increasingly finer ones and not rocket science either. Once the capacity for such massive data collection exists it’s impossible for me to believe it will not be so and used for purposes we only vaguely hold in awareness. What were once models of marketing we understood by growing up with them fell to big data, even if we understand it in part, peripherally, we operate from the older ones we knew better. We are lagging the passage of time, no longer leading it.

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