Saturday, September 10, 2005
Andrew Ferguson, writing in the 10th anniversary edition of The Weekly Standard, surveys modern conservativm, and is pretty unimpressed with what he sees.
A grim assessment.
Conservative institutions, conceived for combat, have in power become self-perpetuating, churning their direct-mail lists in pursuit of cash from the orthodontist in Wichita and the Little Old Lady in Dubuque, so the activists can continue to fund the all-important work of . . . churning their direct-mail lists. The current story of Jack Abramoff's lucrative self-dealing, involving as it does such movement stalwarts as Ralph Reed and Grover Norquist, may seem lunatic in its excesses, but the excesses aren't the point. The point is the ease with which the stalwarts commandeered the greasy machinery of Washington power. Conservative activists came to Washington to do good and stayed to do well. The grease rubbed off, too.
Under the circumstances, it's not much of a surprise that the threshold Buckley tried to maintain has collapsed. I suppose any philosophical tendency, as it acquires power and popularity, will simplify itself, define itself downward. That's democratic politics for you. But something more corrosive is also at work. Marshall McLuhan was righter than anyone ever would have guessed. The medium really is the message. Conservatism nowadays is increasingly a creature of its technology. It is shaped--if I were a Marxist I might even say determined--by cable television and talk radio, with their absurd promotion of caricature and conflict, and by blogs, where the content ranges from Jesuitical disputes among hollow-cheeked obsessives to feats of self-advertisement and professional narcissism (Everyone's been asking what I think about . . . You won't want to miss my appearance tonight on . . . Be sure to click here for my latest . . . ) that would have been unthinkable in polite company as recently as a decade ago. Most conservative books are pseudo-books: ghostwritten pastiches whose primary purpose seems to be the photo of the "author" on the cover. What a tumble! From The Conservative Mind to Savage Nation; from Clifton White to Dick Morris; from Willmoore Kendall and Harry Jaffa to Sean Hannity and Mark Fuhrman--all in little more than a generation's time. Whatever this is, it isn't progress.
A grim assessment.