Posted on | January 17, 2013 | 115 Comments
“We lost. We are losers. . . . Our operatives are incompetent and we live in a dream world.”
— Rob Long of National Review, in an interview with Joe Hagan of New York magazine during a Caribbean cruise in November
Has National Review, an institution founded in opposition to liberalism, become part of the problem it was intended to solve? This thought has occurred to me with increasing frequency in recent years.
Last January, immediately after Rick Santorum’s stunning upset victory in the Iowa caucuses, I attended a debate-night event in Manchester, New Hampshire hosted by National Review and was stunned at their cheerful acquiescence in The Inevitability of Mitt Romney. The primary campaign had just begun, and it took another three months for Romney to lock up the nomination, yet the NR crowd were ready and willing to applaud the coronation of the GOP Establishment choice.
This apparent unwillingness to fight tough battles against long odds disturbed me then, and at Christmas, I was further disturbed to read the New York magazine account of National Review‘s post-election Caribbean cruise, which I summarized thus:
[A]n article you should read in its entirety, if you want to be thoroughly depressed about the uselessness of our conservative elite: Wonks, pundits, pollsters and consultants on a free tropical vacation paid for by elderly magazine subscribers who, we presume, were grateful to be in the intellectual presence of the presumed heirs of Bill Buckley.
Unless you consider pre-emptive surrender to be a clever strategy, there is clearly something wrong when a political movement’s flagship institution shows such a willing acceptance of defeat.
The problem is not merely that National Review was aboard the Romney bandwagon early, nor that Romney was subsequently defeated, but rather that no one at National Review seems ashamed of themselves for their roles in helping to bring about this disaster. If they are leaders of the conservative movement, and if the conservative movement has failed — which it quite obviously has, or otherwise Obama would not be ruling by executive fiat — where is the accountability?
While I’m not saying that Rich Lowry must commit seppuku, why is there no admission by anyone at National Review that they have failed the movement they presumed to lead? A contemplation of these dark thoughts was inspired by Jonah Goldberg’s latest column:
[The conservative] movement has an unhealthy share of hucksters eager to make money from stirring rage, paranoia, and an ill-defined sense of betrayal with little concern for the real political success that can come only with persuading the unconverted.
A conservative journalist or activist can now make a decent living while never once bothering to persuade a liberal. Telling people only what they want to hear has become a vocation. Worse, it’s possible to be a rank-and-file conservative without once being exposed to a good liberal argument.
OK, a few questions immediately come to mind:
- Who are these “hucksters”? If they are merely “stirring rage, paranoia, and an ill-defined sense of betrayal” for their own selfish purposes, they must be eliminated. Name names, please.
- How much of this “bothering to persuade a liberal” has Jonah Goldberg done? Where is this legion of converts to conservatism — the Goldbergites, as it were — to whom he may point as evidence of his successful persuasion?
- To which “good liberal argument” do we need to be exposed? Because the very fact that an argument is liberal would seem to me sufficient evidence that it is wrong, and so I’m having trouble with the concept of arguments that are both liberal and “good.”
Perhaps I’m misunderstanding Jonah’s argument. Maybe I’m just a huckster “stirring rage, paranoia, and an ill-defined sense of betrayal.” However, Goldberg seems to be on more solid ground here:
To listen to many grassroots conservatives, the GOP establishment is a cabal of weak-kneed sellouts who regularly light votive candles to a poster of liberal Republican icon Nelson Rockefeller.
This is not only not true, it’s a destructive myth. . . .
It’s not that the GOP isn’t conservative enough, it’s that it isn’t tactically smart or persuasive enough to move the rest of the nation in a more conservative direction.
Because Goldberg is insufficiently explicit — he won’t name the “hucksters” — it is only by inference that we may deduce that this is a reference to the embarrassingly ineffective “Dump Boehner” movement that sought to unseat the Republican Speaker of the House. And if that’s the case, I agree: Boehner and the House GOP aren’t the problem. The real problem is the gross ineptitude of Senate Republicans, whose warped political judgment was manifested in the May 2009 decision of NRSC Chairman John Cornyn to back Charlie Crist over Marco Rubio, and which has been further evidenced in their multiple blunders of the 2010 and 2012 campaigns. But I digress . . .
While Goldberg’s vague jab at “hucksters” is likely aimed at those who organized the “Dump Boehner” movement, perhaps it is also retroactive excuse-making for National Review‘s Romney bandwagon trip that so disturbed me last January in New Hampshire. The unwillingness of the NR crowd to consider Santorum as a viable alternative to Romney bugged me then, and it still bugs me now.
Look at the exit polls: In Ohio, Romney got only 81% of the conservative vote, while Obama got 88% of the liberal vote. Thirty-five percent of Ohio voters called themselves conservative, as compared to 22% who identified as liberal. If Romney had gotten a larger share of the conservative vote, he would have won Ohio. Now, here are the truly frightening numbers: Obama got 44% of the Catholic vote in Ohio, and 29% of the evangelical (or “born again”) Protestant vote.
Is Jonah Goldberg willing to admit what seems obvious to me, namely that nominating a moderate Mormon contributed to the weakening of GOP support among conservative Christians? Isn’t it possible that an adamantly pro-life Catholic would have done better?
Understand that this isn’t an argument about “purity.” It’s an argument about competence: How do you win in politics?
The fact that the Romney campaign failed to win a sufficient share of conservative voters cannot be blamed on “hucksters.”
Scapegoating and blame-shifting are not attributes of responsible leadership, and if National Review claims to be leading a movement, shouldn’t the recent electoral catastrophe cause them to reflect on their own role in this defeat?
Losing makes me angry. It enrages me. Defeat is a humiliation that insults my sense of personal honor. And what I’m hearing from Jonah Goldberg and his National Review colleagues does not convey a similar feeling of outrage. They have been beaten, embarrassed and publicly shamed, and yet they don’t seem even slightly bothered by their current status as ineffectual laughingstocks, objects of scorn and ridicule.
Show me a good loser, and I’ll show you . . . a loser.
The National Review Institute Summit will convene Jan. 25 at the Omni Shoreham Hotel, Washington, DC., and while I deny any intention to stir up rage, paranoia and so forth, I sure hope some pissed-off conservatives will show up and ask tough questions of those who claim to be the rightful heirs of Buckley, Goldwater and Reagan.
Oh — did I mention Joe Scarborough will be there?