The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

What I Said to Pete

Posted on | March 14, 2011 | 17 Comments

Pete Da Tech Guy took a gander at my recent go-rounds with Little Miss Attila — as I’ve called it, “blogospheric badminton with ‘feminism’ for a shuttlecock” — and expressed his enjoyment of the discourse. So I left this comment at Pete’s post:

Glad you enjoyed the spectacle. Joy is one of my favorite people in the blogosphere, but as a self-described “recovering lefty,” she needs to complete the full 12-step program, which includes rejecting the rhetoric and ideology of the Left.
Conservative women trying to co-opt the “feminist” brand is counter-productive from a strategic standpoint. Women who think of themselves as “feminists” are overwhelmingly liberal Democrats. Most women don’t like the “feminist” label and, therefore, the proper conservative strategy is to make liberals own that term and its pejorative radical connotations. Conservative rhetoric ought to be crafted to appeal to the mainstream (i.e., non-”feminist”) woman — for she constitutes the “swing” vote — rather than pandering to whatever sentimental attachment a relative handful of ex-lefties may have to that term.
This is nothing new, nor is it specific to feminism or conservatism. Successful political movements very often require that intellectual activists bite their tongues about the movement’s public rhetoric — intended to sway the undecided — when that rhetoric conflicts with particularistic ideals that the intellectuals (as they typically do) cherish as totems. In the pre-Internet age, such inevitable tensions were generally resolved behind the scenes. Nowadays, blog wars bring these tensions out into the open, at least for those who pay attention to such squabbles.

That goes a bit deeper into Political Theory than is my habit. The gap between the exoteric language of politics (arguments made to rally public support to one’s cause) and the esoteric rationale of politics (the logic of the movement as understood by insiders) is a subject of study that, among conservative intellectuals in recent times, has been most associated with the so-called Straussians. I’m an anti-Straussian.

There is no need for a full-blown discussion of the esoteric/exoteric distinction here, except so far as it bears on the public nature of intra-conservative dialogue on the blogosphere. What offended me very deeply in Little Miss Attila’s initial post — published before I’d commented on the Barbara Kay column — was that it constituted a direct attack upon my prestige within the movement.

By pre-emptively accusing me of “oversimplified fiddle-faddle,” what Attila was proclaiming was: Stacy is an idiot who can make no useful contribution to the discourse. Do not listen to him.

(Readers will note that Attila worked the title of Donkey Cons into her attack, suggesting that the 2006 book I co-authored with Lynn Vincent was somehow part of Attila’s case against me. Nevertheless, to borrow an expression from Cicero, “But I pass over this, and choose to let it remain in silence.”)

Stipulate that Attila and I disagree as to the meaning and utility of the term “feminism,” and also disagree quite profoundly about that movement and its ideological aims. Why, however, should she seek to destroy my influence with this attack aimed directly at my prestige as a politcal writer? (For certainly no one whose arguments may be pre-emptively dismissed as “oversimplied fiddle-faddle” could be deserving of influence or admiration.) What could inspire Attila’s desire to publicly humiliate me in this manner?

Have I done nothing helpful to the conservative cause? Or, if my work has previously been helpful, does Attila now judge that I have nothing further to contribute, so that I should be discarded and shunted aside?

(McCain now descends the steps from the podium, exits stage right, emerges before the proscenium, carrying a stool. He lights a cigarette and sits down on the stool.)

OK, Attila only meant that “fiddle-faddle” remark as a joke among friends — a rather sharp-edged joke, but a joke nonetheless. God knows, I’ve offended people with my jokes before, so I shouldn’t be getting my nose out of joint because Attila ruffled my feathers. (And what lovely royal peacock feathers they are!)

Habitual joking, including my self-deprecating humor, has the unfortunately predictable effect of encouraging some people to treat me dismissively, as if I am incapable of serious thought. This is a problem of which I am profoundly aware, having lived with it since childhood. Yet you see that it is relevant to the esoteric/exoteric distinction which is the actual subject of this post.

Welcome to the esoteric logic, my friends. 

More than 90 percent of the readers who saw this post didn’t bother to read down this far in the argument, and so excluded themselves from the ranks of insiders who actually know what’s going on.

Suppose a hypothetical: What if a guy who had been watching Republican insiders fuck things up for years decided to try to un-fuck the party? What if, until about January 2008, that guy had been forced to watch in silence, at close range, as this GOP fuck-up proceeded? What if he were intimately familiar with the architects of the Republican disaster and their modus operandi?

Now, carry this hypothetical further: Put yourself into the position of such a person. You understand that the people who have been fucking up the Republican Party are not stupid — they didn’t ascend to the heights of influence by being stupid — and will do everything within their means to preserve their power within the GOP. Among the things they will do is to fuck over anyone who gets in their way.

Contemplate that hypothetical for a moment.

Question: Is Stacy just joking around? Is he crazy? How can we possibly tell the difference between when he’s being serious and when he’s merely playing the clown?
Answer: You can’t. And neither can the Republican insiders who’ve been fucking things up all these years.

It doesn’t matter whether you agree or disagree with me about feminism. And Attila’s public dismissal of my “oversimplified fiddle-faddle” may, in some sense, serve my own purposes.

What is vitally important, however, is to consider whether my informed analysis of the GOP’s systemic problems has any value to the future prospects of the conservative cause. If you think I’m just another know-it-all blowhard on the Internet, fine: Dismiss me, ignore me, mock me — however it may suit your purposes. But before you do so, understand that you are, by that course of action, passing judgment on the entirety of my knowledge, experience and abilities, placing yourself in the position of arbiter of Who Matters and Who Doesn’t.

Everyone must decide such things for themselves, e.g., I long ago decided that David Brooks was a dangerous menace to conservatism. But this is merely my opinion, and people who disagree are free to be completely wrong.

When I speak of those who place themselves in the position of arbiter, I refer to those arrogant elitists — that is to say, those who wish to rule as Platonic archons — who presume to substitute their judgment for the independent choices of others. You see this, inter alia, among those insider snobs who are constantly attacking Sarah Palin. Their implicit esoteric logic is: “Republican voters are so stupid they might actually be beguiled by this unworthy woman! We must never miss an opportunity to warn them of her unworthiness!”

Anyone can see the contradiction: If Palin is so self-evidently an idiot, shouldn’t the insiders be confident that her idiocy will be apparent to voters? And if, as the insiders so obviously fear, the Republican Party’s organizing principle is to attract the votes of people so stupid they need to be told what to think . . . ??

Follow the argument a step further, and you approach the underlying systemic problem of the GOP: There must be something fundamentally wrong with the structure of a party whose insiders have such seething contempt for the voters who constitute the party’s electoral core.

“Houston, we have a problem,” you see.

The gap between the exoteric language of the Republican Party and the esoteric rationale of the party insiders has become so great that voters are instinctively repelled by the aroma of bovine excrement. Stipulate that the same aroma is much worse in the Democratic Party. But Democratic Party insiders have a basic respect for their party’s constituents that is missing in the GOP. 

The so-called “brand damage” problem for Republicans is clearly a function of a party structure that elevates to the status of influential insiders people who are contemptuous of the party’s grassroots. And it is the votes of the party grassroots that are the ultimate source of the power wielded by the insiders.

This is not a superficial short-term problem. Rather, it is chronic and systemic.

What the success of the Tea Party movement demonstrates is that, with the assistance of sympathetic leadership cadres — including but not limited to organizations like Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks — the grassroots can resist and counteract the influence of the GOP insiders.

Now, having read this far, let the reader judge whether I am propagating “oversimplified fiddle-faddle.” And permit me to remind you of something I wrote nearly two years ago:

Just because you don’t know what I’m doing,
don’t jump to the conclusion that
I don’t know what I’m doing.


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