Friday, January 9, 2009

Movement conservatism

Mark Thompson sums up what he and I and Alex Massie and others have been saying about movement conservatives.

To catch everyone up on this, Mark has posted here and here on the subject (which has lead him to the term "talk radio dogmatism") stating that the GOP's problems
have not been caused by religious conservatives or adherence to free market beliefs, but instead by a sort of "talk radio" dogmatism in which any given issue becomes a litmus test for whether one is a "true" conservative or Republican.
Which is absolutely true, and essentially what I mean when I describe mainstream conservatives as "shrill" or "brash" and similarly when I complain that conservatives are rarely "conservative in disposition" anymore, but in talking points only. Which leads to my term "talking-points-conservatism." (we might also discuss "talking-heads conservatism")

You see, the problem doesn't necessarily arise due to differences in ideology, but rather the difference in approach. I may differ with Mark on the value of free markets or public education, or with others on the merits of defense spending etc. but the real crux of the problem seems to be that if one strays outside the accepted dogma, or talking-points, one is immediately labeled a closet-liberal, a protectionist, or a heathen. At one point Mark mentioned that Culture11 is part of the de-malkinization of conservatism (or the GOP, I can't recall), and I think this is also a good observation, as Malkin is the embodiment of talking points conservatism, and joins the ranks of Hugh Hewitt and Rush Limbaugh as the vanguard of talk radio dogmatists.

So what are these talking points which make up Conservatism 2.0? From whence does this litmus test arise?

Enter Alex Massie with his "Cult of the Idea of Reagan."
In that sense, then. the troubles of Republicanism now and of the Tories in the last 15 years, were built upon their previous successes. The difficulty is that the second (or third) generation is rarely as talented or adaptable as the trailblazers who won power in the first place. Instead of finding fresh ideas and solutions, they inherit positions and prejudices that, because they worked once before, are assumed to be eternal truths rather than particular answers to particular problems at a particular time.
And because they're seen as eternal truths, any deviation from them is grounds for heresy.
So here we have the framework of modern conservatism, with its foundational dogma stemming from the early 80's and anyone who strays outside of its ideological borders labeled heretics. My forays into the problems I see with supply-side economics are enough to ostracize me from many circles. I stress again, though, it is not so much the difference in ideology but in disposition and approach that causes this to be a problem.

Mark sums up the three terms we've come up with:
For what it's worth, I think of the three phrases to describe the problem, my "talk radio dogmatism" is the catchiest but probably least accurately captures the problem. Massie's "Cult of the Idea of Reagan" is probably the most accurate, but also the most verbose. E.D.'s "talking points conservatism" pretty much splits the difference.
I would suggest again reading Austin Bramwell's "The Right to Remain Silent" as it touches on the value (or lack thereof) in being part of "the movement." The trouble, of course, is that the movement is so much more influential on the face of things than the few independently minded conservatives out there, who choose to evaluate the world through lenses other than Reagan conservatism.

Essentially the side-effect of all of this is not only hyper-partisanship, but also to stagnation within conservatism, and a dearth of new ideas and creative thinking. It leads to a great number of supposedly intelligent people spending a great deal of time with their heads in the proverbial sand, chanting "Drill baby drill" or other such one-dimensional, quadra-syllabic intonations. It leads to the choice of Joe the Plumber not simply as Presidential mascot, but as war-reporter.

In the end, really, it leads absolutely nowhere. We become lost in the echo chamber.

UPDATE: Now I've begun pondering Mark's summation in a different manner. I think that the three terms we're using are not so much interchangeable as they are inter-functional. "Talk radio dogmatism" describes, in a sense, the sort of belief-structure that makes up modern movement conservatism (as dogmatic and shallow); "talking-point conservatism" describes the function or modus operandi of this belief structure; and "The Cult of the Idea of Reagan" provides the framework and historical basis for the belief-structure, and helps explain how the ghost of (the idea of) Reagan still haunts us (regardless of the man's obvious contributions to American politics).

I'd add that 24-media-exposure plays its part as well, but that's another story altogether.


Mark Thompson said...

...Nods head repeatedly.