Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Breaking into Journalism from the Right

April 13, 2010

Megan McArdle is always worth reading, and she says a lot that is true in this post on the closing of the conservative mind, but I think she is mistaken about a couple of points that are of particular interest to me.

She writes:

It is not impossible to go from conservative ideological media to the elite mainstream press, and indeed people have done it. But the people I know who have managed are noticeably moderate. They also tend to be absolutely brilliant, rather than merely solid reporters who really know their stuff–particularly if they are something other than the house conservative on an otherwise liberal opinion page. The political and technical standards for graduates of the Washington Monthly or Harpers do not seem to be quite that high.

When it comes to conservatives who’ve become commentators on predominantly liberal sites, Bill Kristol’s stint at the New York Times, Erick Erickson on CNN, and the factually challenged Marc Thiessen’s ascent to the Washington Post op-ed page are but a few examples that show how possible it is to transition from the conservative ideological media to the elite mainstream press.

These particular conservatives managed the feat despite their well documented indifference to intellectual honesty, but don’t be discouraged, aspiring conservative writers, there are plenty of better journalists who’ve made the transition too: Jonah Goldberg has a column at the Los Angeles Times, David Brooks went from The Weekly Standard to The New York Times, Peggy Noonan began in the Reagan White House and wound up at The Wall Street Journal, Rod Dreher wrote at National Review before going to the Dallas Morning News, David Frum worked on the Wall Street Journal op-ed page and at National Review, and now publishes in all sorts of mainstream outlets, Bill Bennett is a regular commentator on CNN, Malcolm Gladwell went from The American Spectator to The Washington Post to The New Yorker. Quibble with any three of these folks and the overall point still stands, bolstered by many folks I haven’t mentioned: lots of people, including many who aren’t particularly moderate, make the transition from conservative ideological media to mainstream outlets, and if anything this is becoming ever easier to accomplish, or so I gather based on stories of the bad old days.

In my personal experience, mainstream outlets are actually eager to hire conservatives so long as they subscribe to basic professional standards, and I am not alone in thinking so. As I reported in a Doublethink essay awhile back:

In August 2007, veteran conservative journalist Robert Novak appeared on the Diane Rehm Show, where he advised young, right-leaning aspirants in his field to “go into the closet” if they want to succeed. “Don’t tell anybody you’re a conservative, because you’re not going to get the job,” he said, “and you’re not going to get the advance.”

Better advice is offered by Dr. Stephen Bird, academic director for the National Journalism Center, a nonprofit that places mostly conservative journalists in numerous mainstream media internships every year, hoping to bring more depth and balance to American reporting. “Here’s what I tell interns going into the media,” he says. “Pursue excellence in everything. Everyone admires excellence and gravitates toward it.”

Bird notes that though the proportion of conservatives among journalists is incrementally higher relative to the early 1980s, the right remains outnumbered. “I would think it would make them more marketable—any time you’re in the minority you become more desirable in the marketplace,” he says. “I just think that’s a true statement. I’ve told them that at different times, just as I’ve told people of different minority groups that they have a better marketing position. They need to know that when it comes time to negotiate a salary.”

J.P. Freire, an editor at the Washington Examiner, is one young conservative journalist for whom this rings true. “I think it’s kind of an ace in the hole,” he says. “As a conservative in a liberal field, you come up with angles other people don’t consider, get stories no one else thinks of doing.” Freire wrote for a movement publication in college, worked as managing editor of the American Spectator (where he is now a contributing editor), and before that at the New York Times, where he served as an assistant to former op-ed columnist John Tierney. Later, he was offered a job heading up the team of Times newsroom assistants, which he’s long regretted having turned down. “I liked the environment. I thought everyone was fine, and I was openly conservative,” he says. “The reporters I talked to seemed very fair. I think most of them knew they were to the left and tried to control for it.”

Eddie Barrera has had a slightly different experience. He’s an editor at Adotas, a Web magazine devoted to media and technology. A onetime New York Post reporter who later worked for The Los Angeles Newspaper Group, rising from staff reporter to desk editor, Barrera says that though it may have once been true that conservatives had a tough time getting a fair shake, it’s no longer the case. “As far as the bosses I’ve had, I’ve been treated very well in my career,” he says. “I’m pretty outspoken, and I haven’t always been treated well by all of my colleagues. But it hasn’t hurt my advancement.” Asked how he’d advise a young person starting out in the field, Barrera says that one rises in accordance with one’s talent and work ethic.

That’s been my experience in journalism, though I was warned against entering the field as student at Pomona College. I remember attending a lecture-dinner at Claremont McKenna College where talk at my table turned to the Los Angeles riots. A fellow student argued that inner-city blacks were justified in lashing out at police, given the prejudice they endure. A conservative dining companion was vehement in his rebuttal. Even a black person treated unfairly by a white cop hasn’t any right to lash out against other people, he insisted. As for improving minority success in the job market, he argued that anyone who finished school and worked hard would be a valued employee, excel regardless of societal racism, and find himself better off. But when I made an offhand comment about pursuing journalism after graduation, the same conservative student was aghast. “Why go into that liberal media?” he asked.

He insisted that I’d be foolish to enter a field where my fate would be controlled by leftists who’d treat me unfairly, even if only behind my back. “It may be just one liberal boss who messes with you,” he said, “but you won’t have anyone on your side to back you up. Little things can make a big difference in your career. And if you want to rise to the top know they’ll never let a conservative get there. The New York Times will always be edited by a liberal.” So much for working hard and assuming I’d be treated fairly absent clear contrary evidence.

Fortunately, I ignored his advice. I took a job at a major newspaper chain, where ideology never once impeded my rise, though I never concealed my beliefs and vocally supported the recall of Democratic California Governor Gray Davis. When I left that newspaper, I was offered a scholarship to a graduate program in journalism, where my professors were almost entirely left of center. As it turned out, they weren’t merely fair instructors, but exceptional ones who were willing to help me improve whatever writing I submitted, even if they disagreed with the arguments therein. Theirs was a pedagogical and journalistic project, not a political one. They’d treat anyone fairly who was also there to do good journalism, and editors at most publications employ the same litmus test in my experience.

What about folks hoping to transition from conservative outlets to reporting positions? Ms. McArdle says they’re required to meet higher standards than someone at The Washington Monthly or Harpers, but I don’t think that’s right. It’s been some years since I read Harper’s regularly, but Robert Boynton and Jack Hitt are the two alumni of that magazine who I can think of off the top of my head, and they’re damn talented guys whose work is far more reported and narrative than it is ideological. The Washington Monthly is famous for its alumni going on to great posts in journalism — and again, the lifetime output of James Fallows, James Bennett, Nick Lemann, Mickey Kaus, among many others, handily demonstrate that its staffers are exceptionally talented, and that they’re often doing challenging reported pieces that aren’t particularly ideological, though all are obviously liberals. Even taking The Washington Monthly today, it is difficult to think of a conservative outlet where people are doing reporting or narrative journalism of the same quality — and individual writerly talents like Ramesh Ponnuru at National Review and Matt Labash and Matt Continetti at The Weekly Standard are perfectly capable of getting MSM gigs if they want them. (Reason magazine is a hotbed of journalistic talent too — and far more consistently rigorous in its intellectual standards than NR or The Weekly Standard — but I am omitting it from this discussion on the assumption that it’s a solidly libertarian magazine. As MSM publications aren’t sensitive to having “enough libertarians” in the same way that they seek token conservatives, I actually think talents like Radley Balko and others suffer — they’d certainly be better choices than a lot of the conservatives hired at prestigious publications.)

There are plenty of talented journalists at conservative publications, but their numbers don’t even come close to the number of talented journalists at left-leaning publications, as the results of the Best Journalism of 2009 makes perfectly clear. Conservative journalists should be killing on stories like this one or this one or this one — or to cite a newer example, especially this one — but even on many subjects where ideological predispositions would seem to give them an advantage they seem to get beat, perhaps because on the left there are journalists who happen to be liberal, whereas on the right it’s as often people who think of themselves as conservatives first, and journalists second.

I realize that some of this actually reinforces Ms. McArdle’s arguments, and I don’t mean to suggest otherwise, or that I completely disagree with her post — I merely disagree with the assessment that it’s significantly more difficult to move from conservative leaning publications to mainstream publications, so long as you’re doing work as good as your competitors — and I encourage any young person on the right considering a career in journalism to be unafraid of ideological discrimination when making your choice. Given the financial state of this field, that should be the least of your worries.

In Defense of Hipsters

April 13, 2010

In order to save Elizabeth Nolan Brown the trouble, let me note yet another instance of normally sane journalists suspending critical thinking and their sense of fairness whenever a story presents an opportunity to mock hipsters.

The headline here is New York’s Hipsters Too Cool for the Census — this atop a subhead informing us:

Many New York City residents aren’t returning their census forms. The return rate is only around 50 percent, but the lowest rate of return (around 30 percent) is the hipster enclave of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. These young, recent graduates with ironic mustaches and plaid shirts are apparently too busy tweeting to fill out a simple census form.

So already we’re told that the hipsters are “too cool” to fill out census forms, and that they’re “too busy Tweeting” to fill them out, despite the complete lack of evidence for either of those propositions, and the fact that the very article bearing that title and subhead contains multiple other explanations for the low census return rates.

1) The transience of Williamsburg residents.

SMITH: Two 20-somethings, Nate and Mike, are working behind the counter. They share an apartment and should be sharing a census form, but…

MIKE: Did we get the forms?


MIKE: We did. I didn’t see any yet.

Mr. STARK: We still get mail from the past 30 people that have lived there. So it’s like who knows if people are getting these.

2) Political reasons.

Just outside the record store, I meet Jamie Lilly. She knows the ads. She got the form but she thinks that returning it is just supporting a government that she doesn’t believe in.

Ms. JAMIE LILLY: You know, on a personal note, maybe some people, they figure what’s the point to be counted if you don’t count for much anyway? If we don’t count, why be counted?

3) A large population of census ambivalent Hasidic Jews.

…you can’t blame it all on the cool kids. This is the Hasidic part of Williamsburg, where the Satmar Orthodox Jews live. Only one quarter of households here so far have participated. Not only are they reluctant to fill out the census, they don’t even want to talk about it.

That’s if we merely look inside the NPR story for information that discredits its own headline and subhead. Doing additional research by looking up demographic data from the relevant community board, we see that the area is roughly 38 percent Hispanic, that 20 to 24 year olds make up just 9 percent of the population, and that more than 50,000 people lack English proficiency.

So enjoyable as I’m sure it is to make the most tired hipster jokes ever in headlines and subheads, I’m confident in saying that neither recent college graduates “being too cool” nor their “being too busy Twittering” explain the low census form return rate in Billyburg.

Paging Colin Powell

April 12, 2010

You might think a journalist like myself has special insight into the way news cycles work, but I must say that for every feeding frenzy that I predict, there is a story like this one that strikes me as huge, but is mostly ignored.

George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld covered up that hundreds of innocent men were sent to the Guantánamo Bay prison camp because they feared that releasing them would harm the push for war in Iraq and the broader War on Terror, according to a new document obtained by The Times.

The accusations were made by Lawrence Wilkerson, a top aide to Colin Powell, the former Republican Secretary of State, in a signed declaration to support a lawsuit filed by a Guantánamo detainee. It is the first time that such allegations have been made by a senior member of the Bush Administration.

Colonel Wilkerson, who was General Powell’s chief of staff when he ran the State Department, was most critical of Mr Cheney and Mr Rumsfeld. He claimed that the former Vice-President and Defence Secretary knew that the majority of the initial 742 detainees sent to Guantánamo in 2002 were innocent but believed that it was “politically impossible to release them”.

General Powell, who left the Bush Administration in 2005, angry about the misinformation that he unwittingly gave the world when he made the case for the invasion of Iraq at the UN, is understood to have backed Colonel Wilkerson’s declaration.

The central news here is stunning — a former Bush Administration official asserting under oath that his bosses knowingly kept hundreds of innocent men imprisoned. Beyond that, there is the curiously phrased assertion that Colin Powell “is understood to have backed” these allegations. What exactly does that mean? I find it hard to imagine circumstances that would cause me to phrase something that way in a reported piece.

As far as I can tell, only Fox News has done the obvious follow-up reporting.

Peggy Cifrino, principal assistant to Powell, said in a written statement to Fox News, “General Powell has not seen Colonel Wilkerson’s declaration and, therefore, cannot provide a comment. Nor, obviously, can ‘it be understood that he backed’ the declaration as reported by Tim Reid of The Times.”

I am hesitant to skewer Colin Powell here since the strangeness of all this reporting makes it difficult to know exactly what is going on, but here is my tentative thought: Either President Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld are being slandered, and deserve for Gen. Powell to speak up on their behalf, or else they’ve committed grave injustices, in which case Powell owes it to the country to say as much. Instead we get a weaselly statement that neither confirms nor denies anything on the dubious ground that Powell hasn’t seen Colonel Wilkerson’s declaration. Am I wrong in imagining that if he wanted a copy he wouldn’t have much trouble getting ahold of it? Or that he is perfectly capable of commenting on the general question of whether the Bush Administration knowingly held innocents?

Perhaps General Powell is preparing a statement even as I type this. If not, I certainly hope he’ll come under pressure to reveal what he knows about this matter, whether its effect is to confirm or repudiate his former aide’s accusations.

Presidential Powers

April 8, 2010

Kevin D. Williamson writes:

Because the power to determine who is an “enemy combatant” is vested in the same executive charged with carrying out military and intelligence operations, the present policy is an invitation to abuse. This is especially worrisome if we concede Andy’s very broad theory of executive power, which, if I understand it, holds that the president and his appointees are empowered to ignore the law (“congressional statute”) if they believe that the law interferes with their constitutional national-security mandate.

Andy McCarthy replies:

…the proposition that the president is empowered to ignore congressional statutes that purport to inhibit his constitutional authority is not a controversial one. When Republican presidents ignore statutes enacted by Democrat-dominated congresses (e.g., FISA), it becomes controversial (even if Democrat presidents have ignored the same statutes). But the principle that presidential power cannot be reduced or repealed by statute is black-letter law and that has been relied on by every president (including the current one, every time he signs a mammoth bill containing this or that provision by which Congress seeks to usurp executive authority). Courts, furthermore, overrule Congress all the time because of what Hamilton aptly called “the propensity of the legislative department to intrude upon the rights, and to absorb the powers, of the other departments” — and, I’d add, to intude on the rights and absorb the powers of the states and the individual. I don’t know why people so easily accept judicial invalidation of congressional statutes but blanch when presidents ignore congressional statutes of dubious constitutionality. Anyhow, this tug-of-war between the president and Congress is to be expected because the Constitution does not firmly delineate boundaries where one’s power ends and the other’s begins.

This misses the point of Mr. Williams’ objection. We can all agree that certain presidential powers cannot be stripped by Congress. For example, the president gets to nominate Supreme Court Justices, and that doesn’t change if Congress passes a statute that says, “The president may not appoint anyone to vacancies in the Supreme Court during odd years.”

The controversial thing here is the assertion that the president’s war powers trump everything else in the Constitution — that merely by asserting a power is required to wage war, the president may do as he pleases, regardless of powers that the Constitution delegates to other branches. If Mr. McCarthy ever addresses this subject, I hope he’ll point out the specific words in the Constitution that persuade him the president possesses the expansive powers he suggests. I also wonder how he would react if President Obama issued a proclamation stating, for example, “Our terrorist enemies are attacking us partly due to opinion pieces in the American press that inaccurately characterize and unduly criticize Islam. Therefore under my power to wage the War on Terrorism, I am implementing an official prohibition on publishing this kind of content for the duration of the conflict.”

President Obama: Trending Toward Cheneyism

April 7, 2010

Kevin D. Williamson talks sense at The Corner, repudiating President Obama’s imprudent assertion of executive power:

I hate to play the squish, but am I the only one who is just a little bit queasy over the fact that the president of the United States is authorizing the assassination of American citizens? Andy writes that this is “obviously the right call.” I might be persuaded that this is, in fact, the right call. But obviously? No hesitation there? It seems to me that the fact of U.S. citizenship ought to be a bright line on the political map.

Surely there has to be some operational constraint on the executive when it comes to the killing of U.S. citizens. It is not impossible to imagine a president who, for instance, sincerely believes that Andy McCarthy is undermining the Justice Department’s ability to prosecute the war on terror on the legal front. A government that can kill its citizens can shut them up, no? I ask this not as a legal question, but as a moral and political question: How is it that a government that can assassinate Citizen Awlaki is unable to censor Citizen McCarthy, or drop him in an oubliette? Practically every journalist of any consequence in Washington has illegally handled a piece of classified information. Can the president have them assassinated in the name of national security? Under the Awlaki standard, why not?

Odious as Awlaki is, this seems to me to be setting an awful and reckless precedent. Consider how “interstate commerce” has been redefined over time to cover that which is neither interstate nor commerce, for the sake of political expediency. It is easy to imagine “national security” being treated the same way, particularly in an open-ended conflict against a loosely defined enemy. And we aren’t assassinating U.S. citizens under the rubric of interstate commerce.

I’ve been raising this point too, and I’ve yet to get a satisfactory answer.

Mr. McCarthy is addressing the same subject today, and for once I agree with a lot of what he has to say:

According to the report, a U.S. official told Reuters that “Awlaki is a proven threat,” and therefore someone who could properly be targeted for killing. But by leftist standards — including those urged by Attorney General Holder when he was in private practice filing briefs in support of American-born “dirty bomber” Jose Padilla — Awlaki is most certainly not a proven threat. He has not been convicted in a court of law.

So here is the Obama Left’s position. If an alien enemy combatant, such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, mass-murders 3000 Americans and is then captured outside the U.S. in wartime, we need to bring him to the United States and give him a civilian trial with all attendant due process rights. If an alien enemy combatant is sending emails from outside the U.S. to an al Qaeda cell inside the U.S., the commander-in-chief needs a judge’s permission (on a showing of probable cause) to intercept those communications. If an American citizen terrorist outside the United States — say, Awlaki in Yemen — is calling or emailing the United States (or anyplace else), the commander-in-chief needs a judge’s permission to intercept those communications. If we capture an alien enemy combatant conducting war operations against the U.S. overseas, we should give him Miranda warnings, a judicial right to challenge his detention as a war prisoner, and (quite likely) a civilian trial. But, if the commander-in-chief decides to short-circuit the whole menu of civil rights by killing an American citizen, that’s fine — no due process, no interference by a judge, no Miranda, no nothing. He is a proven threat because … the president says so.

Of course, Mr. McCarthy agrees that individuals are proven threats who can be summarily killed merely because the president says so. Indeed, he somehow simultaneously believes that President Obama should have the unchecked power to kill American citizens, that he is a closet radical with jihadist sympathies, and that he is rightly ordering the assassination of an American jihadist. Incoherent as this is, the most troubling thing is that Obama apparently agrees with the part of this warped worldview that is most corrosive to liberty and limited government. When the Cheney wing of the Republican Party is endorsing your actions on national security, it’s a good sign you’re exercising dangerous amounts of unchecked power.

Will liberals go along with this?

Sarah Palin and the Tea Partiers

April 5, 2010

In a post arguing that Sarah Palin doesn’t owe John McCain anything, John Guardiano wonders why the former Alaska governor is campaigning for the longtime Arizona Senator.

I don’t know the answer, but the more I think about it, the less sense it makes that Tea Party types like former Governor Palin so much. Think about it. Folks in the conservative movement dislike John McCain, and are suspicious of folks who like him. They also dislike politicians who say things they don’t believe to get elected.

Sarah Palin spent campaign 2008 talking about how wonderful John McCain is. If she really believes this, why doesn’t it worry Tea Partiers who hate John McCain? If she doesn’t really believe that McCain would make a good president, doesn’t it bother them that she campaigned for him, and especially that now, when the White House isn’t at stake, she continues to campaign for him?

Either Sarah Palin is a John McCain loving Republican or she is a liar.

Neither of those traits are generally acceptable to Tea Partiers.

Yet they love Sarah Palin.

Rhetoric the Right Should Repudiate

April 4, 2010

In the course of wondering whether an increasing federal role in health care will change the character of the American people, a perfectly sane thing to worry about, National Review’s Mark Steyn offers some questionable assertions, and links to arguments that are offensive to a degree that you don’t often see.

Here is the initial post that Mr. Steyn wrote.

An excerpt:

Ever since this health care “debate” got going, I’ve worried that American conservatives underestimate the ability of Big Government to transform the character of a people. After all, the Euro-weenies weren’t always Euro-weenies – else how would they have conquered the entire planet?

This is a rather strange considering that when various European countries built colonial empires their governments were far more tyrannical, and their people less free, than is the case today. Does Mr. Steyn believe a right-thinking American would be more at home in monarchical Spain prior to the defeat of the Spanish Armada, or Napoleonic France, or the England of King George, or the Germany of Bismarck or Hitler, than the prosperous social democracies that exist today? Mr. Steyn and I share a number of disagreements with the public policies embraced by many European countries, but yearning wistfully for the character that Europeans had at the height of their imperial power is ahistorical nonsense of the kind I’d never have expected from one of Western Civilization’s most prolific columnists before his affiliation with Rush Limbaugh’s radio show began.

In Mr. Steyn’s second post on this subject, he writes:

Even in the 13 colonies, a majority of people were not of an actively “revolutionary” disposition. In the last 40 years, the left didn’t hollow out every important American institution from the grade school to Hollywood because they represented mass opinion, but because they wanted it the most. The question is whether opponents of Obama’s dependency culture are up to their own “long march”.

The strange nostalgia is now aimed at Hollywood and elementary education circa 1970, as though they were whole then and hollow now. Again, I’ll bet Mr. Steyn and I would agree about a lot if we were both to critique the public education system circa 2010, but these sweeping assertions about recent history and the left’s “long march” would be a lot more persuasive were it grounded in specific complaints rather than talk radio style bluster.

This brings us to the post that Mr. Steyn excerpts (he leaves out the most offensive line) and links.

Kathy Shaidle writes (emphasis in original):

…the trouble with the Tea Party movement is that they tend to target their anger at only one source: Big Government.

However, angry Americans really need to face the unfaceable: that most of their fellow citizens are just as corrupt, incompetent and compromised:

Rahe talks about the American Revolution and so on. But the nation’s ethnic makeup is different now, for one thing. Way more residents/invaders/settlers from “manyana” cultures. More illiterates, more people with no sense of history.

Plus there’s the Katrina Culture. Did any of those “Help Us” types waiting on the “gubmit” to rescue them look capable of crossing the Delaware to you? They’d have been more inclined to steal Washington’s boots.

I’m honestly surprised that Mr. Steyn would link this. Even if he were comfortable with its casual bigotry against Hispanics and blacks — and I’d like to think he isn’t, though he shows no sign of objecting — he should be embarrassed by the ahistorical implication that Latin American cultures are too lazy to rebel against their governments, not to mention the hilarious sentence where Ms. Shaidle complains that people today have no sense of history, even as she asserts that there are more illiterates in today’s United States than there were in America circa 1776.

And if you want a perfect distillation of why the right has trouble attracting minority votes, here you have it: imperial Europeans were praiseworthy, Hispanics are “residents/invaders/settlers,” Katrina victims would just as soon steal George Washington’s shoes as help him, and together they’re responsible for the decline of American culture. Are these really the arguments for American decline that Mr. Steyn wants to uncritically pass along to Corner readers?

If anyone think that these are the strongest arguments for the proposition that a large federal role in health care at some point transforms the character of a people, please reconsider. Time permitting, I’ll have another post up making a stronger case for that plausible if uncertain proposition in the next few days.

Fiscal Conservatives and The War on Drugs

April 2, 2010

Jacob Sullum reports:

John Ray Wilson, the New Jersey man who was convicted in December of growing marijuana that he used to treat his multiple sclerosis, was sentenced on March 19 to five years in state prison. Wilson was not permitted to present a medical defense, because at the time of his trial New Jersey did not permit marijuana use for any reason. After he was convicted, New Jersey became the 14th state to allow the medical use of marijuana, although the new law does not allow patients to grow their own cannabis, instead requiring them to obtain it from state-licensed dispensaries. Gov. Jon Corzine, who signed the medical marijuana law, said he could not consider clemency for Wilson until after the trial. He has since been succeeded by Republican Chris Christie.

This case is upsetting for all sorts of reasons, and I see why legalization advocates are using it as an example of the morally suspect outcome in some drug cases, but I’d like to highlight another angle: based on the estimates I’ve found, it will cost almost $200,000 to incarcerate this man for five years in the New Jersey penal system.

Shouldn’t this be an issue for fiscal conservatives? Factoring in police and court costs, it’s going to require at least a quarter of a million dollars by the time New Jersey is done with Mr. Wilson. Is there anyone who will argue that this is a good use of taxpayer funds? In the effort to end the War on Drugs, I think the fiscal angle is powerful and insufficiently exploited. If social liberals and libertarians can win fiscal conservatives to their side, it may be a tipping point.

Mark Levin's Silly Assertions

April 2, 2010

“Conservatism should be held out as the only example of the antidote to tyranny.”

— Mark Levin (posted on his Twitter and Facebook feeds)

Even at the height of my feud with Mr. Levin, when I critiqued his rhetoric and he made fun of my name, I credited the talk radio host with possessing one of the most impressive intellects among his colleagues in right-wing media. Liberty and Tyranny may waste most of its attacks on straw men, but it ably lays out certain basic tenets of conservatism, so we know that its author is perfectly capable of conceiving pithy paeans to his belief system that are true.

But for some reason he is prone to making dogmatic statements so dubious that it is impossible to treat them charitably, because either the man is asserting things he doesn’t believe, or else his ideology has utterly blinded him to reality. Conservatism is one important factor that prevents free societies from becoming tyrannical. But it is not the only antidote to tyranny. Did conservatism end apartheid in South Africa? Or drive the British from India? Did the Allied powers led by Franklin D. Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin triumph over the tyranny of Nazi Germany via the antidote of conservatism? In the Spanish Civil War weren’t the eventual tyrants and the conservatives on the same side?

Mr. Levin’s statement may seem like a harmless untruth, especially if you’re someone who finds value in “rallying the base.” Upon reflection, however, it ought to be clear that it’s not only false, but harmful. Slowly but steadily, words like those turn thinking conservatives with defensible, reality-based beliefs into human talking points with an increasingly tenuous grasp on the comparative strengths and weaknesses of their belief system, and what it has to offer the world.

Convince a conservative that his belief system is the only method of ending tyranny the world has ever known and he will become hubristic, arrogant, and condescending, qualities that shrink movements rather than growing them. Whereas someone with a more realistic assessment of conservatism can persuasively articulate its actual strengths. Ever sat next to that uncle at Thanksgiving? The one you can’t talk to about politics? The guy whose pronouncements are so absurd that there isn’t even enough common ground for conversation?

I know how he got that way.

He listened to people like Mr. Levin. On doing so, he heard absurdities like, “Conservatism should be held out as the only example of the antidote to tyranny.” Several weeks later, sitting at the dinner table, his dogmatically liberal niece mentions something she’s been reading at college about Andrew Jackson’s execrable treatment of Native Americans.

“He was a tyrant,” she insists.

“Well, those Indians had their faults too,” the uncle replies, “–and another thing, they would’ve wound up better off if they were conservatives.”

“What does that even mean?” the niece says.

“It’s a fact,” he replies. “Conservatism is the only antidote to tyranny.”

Behold the many Mark Levin sycophants who, by lauding an absurd assertion, prove that they are the crazy aunts and uncles of American politics — well-meaning, lovable enough when they aren’t talking politics, and frighteningly able to suspend their critical thinking.

How Quickly They Forget

April 1, 2010

I can’t think of a present-day anti-terrorism methodology that Team Obama (a) did not at one time blast as anti-constitutional and (b) does not now accept in its near entirety.

Victor Davis Hanson

How about torture?

(As for the rest of the post Mr. Hanson has a point.)