Tag Archives: intellectuals

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 Or the endlessly repeated alliterative vow that ObamaCare will be “repealed and replaced,” while neglecting to admit, let alone defend, the fact that the replacements favored by the GOP candidates would almost certainly leave millions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.