The People v. The Pundits

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The People v. The Pundits

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Fev 7, 2008, 3:32pm

After observing the primaries of the last couple weeks, I realized a few things.

One is that the world of the pundits is much smaller and less influential than I realized. It's a fairly small group of people that subscribes to conservative magazines like National Review, listens to people like Rush, or watches Hannity and Colmes.

While Rush, Anne Coulter, National Review et. al. attacked Sen. McCain, sometimes in vile ways, for being insufficiently conservative, the people made up their own minds when they voted. Conservatives made up their own minds. They ignored the pundits and the self-appointed experts. They refused to be ideologues, and that, I think, is the most conservative thing of all.

One famous quote asserts that "conservatism is the negation of ideology." One consequence of this is that conservatism changes -- hence our constant difficulties at definition. For example, in the movie Amazing Grace, Wilberforce was the man against slavery. He was the reformer. Was he the conservative? Or was it those who opposed him? Was Lincoln, the first Republican, the man to end slavery, a conservative? Lincoln is one of my litmus tests. If you hear someone knocking Lincoln, be very suspicious of that person's inability to distinguish reason from fanaticism. And 9/11 should have given us a chance to re-evaluate fanaticism, as well as an opportunity to exchange petty bickering for consensus on the more important issues. If the party has to change to solve problems, then so be it.

Sometime in the 1990s, I went door to door for Buchanan -- these were my third-party years. It was really tough. At odds with my personality and temperament. I kept being told, when people bothered to talk to me, that they voted the person, not the party. At the time, I thought these people were idiots. That they were simply ignorant of the philosophies of the parties. That they didn't even have much of a philosophy. I'm ashamed to admit that I wished some of them had read Burke. Well, the idealism of youth.

At some point I realized that this search for doctrinal purity, that the search for perfection anywhere, was an absurd waste of time. It was more characteristic of the ideologue, the fanatic, the bookworm who wasn't paying enough attention to the world around him. As you might expect, 9/11 brought that point home even further. When Lynn Cheney quit appearing on Crossfire around this time, her reason was that it just didn't seem important anymore. I knew exactly what she meant.

I knew also that conservatism would, once again, have to re-shape itself to the times. I've been calling this new approach post 9/11 conservatism. Maybe I'll call it cutting-edge conservatism. This is not to say it should become unprincipled. It should not, however, as Ann Coulter implies, hold a template of ideas and try to paste them onto the world. You're only going to wind up trying to fit a square peg into a round world. The prudent question is: What needs to be done? Then do it, regardless of what the pundits say in their search for static, doctrinal purity.

So while I remained heartened by the electorate (unusual for me, an elitist) I remain disappointed in some conservative pundits. I always knew some of them were outrageous, but surely some have gone too far and, in the process, revealed how shallow their thinking is. Instead of being clear thinkers, many have revealed themselves to be unreflective ideologues.

I remain disappointed in myself for being like them in previous years. God knows what damage I did in my starry eyed, hostile attempts to persuade family and friends. I was encouraging not the healthiest way of looking at the world.

I often regret ever taking an interest in politics. I read once about a black conservative saying of D.C., after he left it: "This is a town where people destroy each other for sport." Now how in the world did a kid who read Tolkien, a student who studied poetry, wind up preoccupied with a town like that? Understanding the issues has done little for me except make it clear that few people understand the issues. Few people can think critically, if at all, and this has only depressed me more. There's little or nothing I can do to change the world or the minds of voters. So the acquisition of all this knowledge very likely has been a waste of time. Oh, all those books. I should've been out chasing girls.

The mother of a friend of mine, while she was dying, asked me in a baffled voice why I had such an interest in politics. It made me reflect. It had been an interest of mine since high school when I first read Buckley and Rand. It had become so much a part of me that I had long ago forgotten the attraction. Now I was being asked with the finality of the dying.

At first I said I didn't know. No one had asked me in so long, if ever. Then as I thought about it, I told her that I wanted to understand the world, that I was interested in ideas, and that politics, since it dealt with ideas, would help me understanding things: life, the world, how things work.

She laughed.

Fev 7, 2008, 7:15pm

Politics is just one manifestation of human endeavor, and certainly not the highest or loftiest or most beautiful - but neither is it the most trivial, or narcissistic, or banal. It seems to me, deniro, that you weathered the storm and came out the other side - older, wiser, and with a clearer, more genuine vision. That is nothing to belittle, or to dismiss, but rather to appreciate. The life of a sentient being - no small thing.

Fev 7, 2008, 7:31pm

Like the ancient mariner, sadder but wiser. But one wonders whether ignorance really is bliss.

Fev 7, 2008, 10:21pm

There's no shame in being a pro-war liberal. If anyone wishes to identify themselves as such, I wouldn't hold it against him or her. He or she would just be wrong, of course.

McCain seems to fit the pro-war liberal mold fairly well, much like Paul Berman or Lieberman who both seem to get much accolades from conservatives. It was even rumored that McCain was mulling over a party switch. Given his voting record, it would seem quite apt for him to do so.

Conservatism, liberalism--what's the difference?

Fev 8, 2008, 9:06am

Prompted by deniro’s eloquent example, I ‘ve been kicking around my own Apology for a Life Spent Reading and Doing Puzzles, or my St. Peter’s brief (in the event that I get run over by a bus tomorrow, it may be a good thing to have this argument prepared. In the event that I live a longer life it is hoped that the argument will improve or -at the very least- that I will gather a few more character witnesses on my behalf).

What has occupied my time? A few puzzles: time for one, prime numbers, beauty and man’s response to it. Have I solved any of them? No, not even close. Does it matter? I hope not, or I am cooked. My defense rests on what I call the ‘spirit of inquiry’ – I hope that I have lived up to this spirit, and sincerely feel that it has offered plenty of opportunity to live this life well.

(P.S. I am also very kind to animals and young children).

Fev 8, 2008, 7:38pm

"The mother of a friend of mine, while she was dying, asked me in a baffled voice why I had such an interest in politics."

Because there are people who want to do things to us, and we have to try to stop them.

Fev 8, 2008, 8:48pm

What people?
What do they want do to us?
How do we stop them?

Editado: Fev 9, 2008, 2:46am

Conservatives made up their own minds. They ignored the pundits and the self-appointed experts. They refused to be ideologues, and that, I think, is the most conservative thing of all.

Well, no, not really, if by that you mean that they voted for McCain. In virtually every Republican primary state on Super Tuesday, McCain came in no higher than second and often came in third among self identified conservatives. Conservatives don't like him, and the conservative pundits merely reflect that.

No doubt, part of it is ideological. But it's also a question of trust. Conservatives value loyalty and honesty--that's a big part of what makes one a conservative. Among other things, there's a fair amount of evidence that McCain considered leaving the Republican Party in 2000 and also considered becoming John Kerry's running mate in 2004 (or at least the Kerry folks thought they could get him, which even on it's own says a lot). Those things alone were deal breakers for me and for many conservatives, long before Limbaugh or Coulter began to speak out in this election cycle.

Sorry, deniro, but I'm a bit tired of hearing "conservatives" trash the most popular contemporary conservative writers and speakers (or "pundits", as you call them). I guess that's sort of a litmus test for me.

LATER EDIT: And apologies for the quotation marks around your political affiliation. But, honestly, I think you deserved it this time. The quotation marks are sort of like devil horns. Every time you commit a bad deed they grow a bit more.

Editado: Fev 9, 2008, 2:01am

Let me make two more serious points about McCain:

1. Conservatives had plenty of reasons to be against McCain in the primaries. Now that he’s won, it’s clear that they should be for him in the general election. To that extent I would disagree with my good friend, Ann Coulter. Then again, there’s nothing wrong with Coulter, Limbaugh or whomever else putting some pressure on McCain to, so to speak, get with the conservative program a bit more. Though, Coulter saying that she will vote for Hillary might go a little far. I assume she will take it back, but who knows?

2. I think part of the problem with McCain is not merely that he has a list of issues where he deviates from the contemporary conservative line. Actually, all of the other major Republican contenders had a similar list of deviational issues. However, for the other candidates these deviations were all explainable or predictable based on one pattern or another. For example, Huckabee’s deviations were based on his, as it were, bleeding heart Christianity; Paul’s were based on his libertarianism; Romney’s were based on political expediency (though, of course, he would deny it), or perhaps they were based on an overarching philosophy of looking at the job of Governor or President as being sort of like a CEO of a giant corporation, or whatever. Now, of course, this is not necessarily to justify the deviations, but at least they are, in one way or another, consistent. But, as far as I can tell, McCain’s deviations seem to be almost random, or worse, based on sheer egotism. His statement that he “never understood economics very well,” would seem to support the random thesis. But many of his “maverick” positions would appear to be more readily explainable by referencing his ongoing feud with Bush. I honestly have no idea where McCain would come down on a whole host of things that might come up during a possible McCain presidency. And one almost gets the feeling that McCain himself doesn’t know either. This should give any conservative pause—even if he does get an 83% rating, or whatever, from the ACU.

Editado: Fev 9, 2008, 8:15am

Personally I see both McCain and Clinton as centrists. I'm not sure what to think of Obama yet--apart from he's a great inspirational speaker--and whether that's enough I don't know. But to get back to Clinton and McCain--they have tendencies to the left or right according to their party affiliation but that's about it. For either in what they propose to do when they get there a lot will depend on how the new congress shakes down. The trends are all going the democratic way in that respect--I think if McCain does win--some conservatives are likely to hate him even more because I'd bet (that like a centrist) in bi-partisan fashion he will compromise to get things done with a democratic house and senate. What the conservative minded could still look for 1. he will no doubt continue the 100 year plan in Iraq--he will be very old when that is done and 2. he will play to the republican base when a Supreme Court justice needs to be appointed. What I'd like to hear from any of the candidates out there is more on population growth and how it will impact especially on 1. energy/transportation 2. education and 3. health care. In this regard I'd like to hear some ideas that just aren't short term fixes to the economy. It would be nice also if we revisited ideas about trade policy--deciding on and then protecting vital industries and capping not only spending but borrowing. I know that that wouldn't fit too well with 'Our war on terror' but we cannot continue to borrow money at the rate we are--with our dollar dropping like a stone. With costs and prices of material goods including fuel and food going up the way they have been the so-called Bush tax cuts for most people have been less than useless.

Editado: Fev 9, 2008, 9:21am

Sorry, deniro, but I'm a bit tired of hearing "conservatives" trash the most popular contemporary conservative writers and speakers (or "pundits", as you call them). I guess that's sort of a litmus test for me.

Surely liking Rush Limbaugh isn't your litmus test for knowledge of conservatism. To repeat: I've always considered Rush more of a populist libertarian with a sketchy view of the issues.

I guess the scare quotes are to suggest that I am not as pure a conservative as Rush. But I beg to differ. I haven't listened to him for a long time (a few minutes here and there when I can stomach it) but from what I can tell he's become more rigid than ever. Perhaps divorce, back surgery, and temporary loss of hearing have embittered him further. I heard him say, for example, that if McCain were elected it would destroy the Republican Party.


Even for Rush, that's overheated rhetoric. Likewise Ann Coulter's remark about supporting Mrs. Clinton, though I assume she was kidding, as she makes a living playing the role of provocateur.

As an aside: those two, and others, have backed themselves into a corner if McCain is elected. It happens every election. The pundits say he's not good enough, then when he gets elected they end up defending him, at least part of the time. I doubt that the politicians care what the pundits say. Nor should they.

If you want to say that conservatives did not vote for McCain, then that's fine, though I think the assertion is suspect not only because it relies on…what? Polling data? Someone in the party voted for McCain. To you, they are therefore not conservative? I think it's more complicated than that.

I don't think the pundits reflect the populace or even conservatives. I think they reflect their own ideas about conservatism. They tend to be more bookish and idealistic because they traffic in ideas for a living, whereas politicians do not, not completely anyway, and neither do most Americans who are too busy to be concerned with philosophical purity. The independent streak among Americans makes it difficult to divine why they vote for one candidate over another.

And by "pundits" I meant a certain group of people, with Rush and Coulter being the obvious examples because theirs were the loudest, most insistent voices. I know I shouldn't lump them all together, I know there are differences obviously, but it was shorthand for the sake of argument. The point was, I'd heard many pundits assert that conservatism was coming to an end, the party was ending, the country would suffer -- all very familiar wailing among conservative intellectuals, a sour bunch -- if anyone dared vote for McCain. I thought that was nonsense. I know as much about conservatism as anyone. I don't need to defend my pedigree.

Regardless, when we vote, we and the candidates ought to consider first what needs to be done, not what needs to be done so long as it fits our template. For example, if isolationism is no longer an option in a globalized world, then it should be jettisoned, no matter what party or movement is arguing for it. The question should be: Does it make sense?

As for the assertion that McCain once threatened to leave the Party, I dismiss as scuttlebutt what you consider justification to condemn. The point is he hasn't left the party.

I admit that McCain is a moderate just as Bush is a moderate -- and yet Bush is still called extreme right wing fascist, etc. Very likely only a moderate can get elected because the electorate is not conservative. A pure conservative such as you want would not get elected. People don't want someone who is an ideologue. These days, they prefer someone who is a maverick, not someone in lockstep with a party or movement. I loathe those people who are so committed to the Party that they will elect someone as corrupt as Bill Clinton twice, and possibly his equally corrupt wife.

That's not loyalty. That's stupidity.

Fev 9, 2008, 9:20am

I consider Mrs. Clinton a liberal. An exceptionally devious and dishonest one. If character means anything in an election, and it should mean a great deal, then she will be rejected by the electorate.

My uncle calls her the Antichrist. But he's kidding.

Or is he?

Fev 9, 2008, 10:13am

>7 barney67: Anyone who wants power. Anything they can. They want to send you to Siberia for smoking on a college campus, string you up by your thumbs for cutting down a tree in your back yard that has a semi-spotted warbler nest in it, lash you with a wet noodle for having a beer if you're 20 years old, take your money so they can pay farmers not to grow various food crops (typically while yelping about "hunger in America")... (next 16 million examples edited out for brevity).

"How do we stop them?" Alas, I don't know. I do know, however, that ignoring politics guarantees that they won't be stopped.

Fev 9, 2008, 12:04pm

On #12--your uncle is engaging in a little bit of hyperbole. Mrs. Clinton--right or wrong--is very human as are her supporters. Demonizing people that you have disagreement with never solves a problem--it only exacerbates it.

Anyway I ran into this gem from the Washington post about Senator McCain's popularity with other republican senators:

Editado: Fev 9, 2008, 4:12pm

Not litmus test for knowledge of. Rather, litmus test for being. Disliking Limbaugh alone is not litmus test. But three or four or more sort of tilts it. Don't forget your "National Review, et al." That's about twelve right there.

I agree that it goes too far too say that nominating McCain would "destroy the party." But I do think it is a cause for worry. And I think you go too far in pigeonholing it as rigid ideology versus common-sense pragmatism, or whatever. One might say that a point in your favor is that the Republicans survived eight years of Bush, who ran and governed essentially as a moderate and compromiser--despite (as you note) the left's portrayals of him as the opposite. Then again, Peggy Noonan (another pundit, though, perhaps more to your liking) blames Bush himself for damaging the party--not because he was too right-wing, but rather, I think she thinks, due to his weak, vacillating, and non-Reaganesque wavering on principles and/or his communication of them.

On the point about conservative support for McCain: It has nothing to do with my definition. The exit pollsters simply asked voters whether they identified themselves as "moderates," "semi-conservatives," "conservatives," etc. McCain only won the moderates. Now, maybe that's a good thing for the general election. I don't know. But it does show that McCain, at least, as of last Tuesday had not garnered a plurality of conservative support. (And by the way, in the primaries so far, McCain didn't--or perhaps did, but only barely--even achieve a plurality of the Republican vote!)

Hillary Clinton is awful, horrible, dishonest and worse than Evita, among other things. She took a $100,000 bribe once (cattle futures). But I guess that's old news, and bringing it up is a nasty, nasty slur that shows a sincere lack of interest in providing adequate healthcare for our children.

Fev 9, 2008, 7:47pm

My criticism of pundits could have been miscontrued as outright dismissal. I didn't mean that. Disagreement is not abandonment.

I still read Noonan, National Review Online, and all the usual sources. But I've never followed Coulter and haven't listened to Rush seriously for at least ten years.

I'm not worried about the health of the party. I don't work for it. The party will adapt if it wants to survive.

My interest is that someone of good character and good sense gets elected to office. I don't envision voting for Democrats so long as they offer people like the Clintons, Gore, Kerry, and Howard Dean.

Dez 16, 2017, 3:35pm

Today's my Tenth LT-aversary. My first ever Pro & Con post is #6 above. I don't identify as libertarian any more, but #6 still holds up, in my not especially humble opinion.

More than ever, actually: When I wrote that, you could call a man in a dress "a man in a dress" in a NY city business and not worry about being fined $250,000, legally decline to bake a "gay wedding" cake, etc.

Dez 16, 2017, 3:40pm

And, on a lighter note, barney67 was still "deniro."

Ago 29, 2019, 4:07am

Whoa ... what a thoughtful post!

I've been away from LibraryThing for a while -- coming back and reading posts like this, and by certain other people, is so refreshing, especially at the moment, when the public image of conservatism is Donald Trump, when it's not pimply kids in Hollywood Nazi costumes carrying tiki torches (the liberal fantasy they frighten each other with).

I wonder if it would be possible to revive this Group ... I might be able to bring a few other thoughtful conservatives over to it from other places.

There are so many things to discuss right now. For instance, I find myself strangely attracted to Tulsi Gabbard, and not for the obvious reasons. (Okay, not ONLY for the obvious reasons.) But I would like to talk about this. Also about the 'Proud Boy' phenomenon, and several other things.

Is anyone out there?

Ago 31, 2019, 10:43pm

I suppose you could try, but all the debate (such as it is) happens in Pro & Con.

Set 18, 2019, 7:59am

Pro and Con seems a lot ... 'thinner' than it used to be. Not without value, but nothing like the 'good old days'.
This seems to happen to debate forums ... it's almost a law.

It's a shame about this one, though. Now more than ever, people on the Right need to be talking about what's happening and what we should be doing.

Dez 7, 2019, 5:57pm

OK. I'll bite. What do people on the right need to be talking about today? How to coexist with Trump? How to survive Trump? How to keep Trump in power, and to further his influence, much the way Reagan's influence went far beyond 1988? Or how to stay faithful in an age of Trump?

Or is Trump even a proper topic of discussion?

Dez 9, 2019, 6:54pm

Wow, you still exist! I was beginning to wonder.

Dez 26, 2019, 1:47pm

Yikes! Arctic-Stranger lives!
Most of us probably do, although we've drifted off into other areas of the web.
These discussion forums seem to have a natural life-span ... no doubt someone has done their PhD on this.
Anyway, may all of you -- whoever is left and reads this -- have a Happy Christmas.

Fev 15, 2020, 2:19am

I'm a part of the original tech generation (the millennials) and, as such, I'm too old to understand the point of "TikTok", yet young enough to have never developed an interest in traditional media formats (cable television & print media).

The only news I get is from YouTube and most often from political commentators who got their starts on YouTube and have never dabbled in traditional media. Right-leaning people from my generation (and younger) may not be familiar with the work of Limbaugh, but we're very familiar with Steven Crowder, Gavin McInnes, Tommy Robinson, Milo Yianopolis, etc. Political YouTube creators are our form of "pundits".

The problem many younger conservatives have with traditional media outlets is that they've had reputations for dishonesty for as long as we've been alive. Since Trump, fake news has gotten so out of control, it's almost funny, but before Trump, fake news was still prevalent, it was just less in-your-face obvious. But thanks to the internet, people aren't forced to settle for getting their "news" from one of only a handful of available options. This has been disastrous for the mainstream media, but it's been instrumental in reviving concepts such as truth and transparency.

Editado: Fev 15, 2020, 7:00pm

I'm sure that you are all beginning to deliberate on the substance of your Democrat National Convention this summer. And, boy will it be important for you to have a really big show. After all, how to outshine a President who has done so much and triumphed over investigations and even impeachment. Now instead of getting all gloomy, look at this as an opportunity - the kind of opportunity one has after an earthquake has destroyed your town - an opportunity to wow the nation like a phoenix rising from the ashes.
Anyway, I have a suggestion for a theme with a song to go along . How about CAMELOT? Most people are too young to remember the movie so this will be like something new. You've got to be a little careful reaching back into Democrat Party history for anything: the Mexican War, slavery, the Civil War, and even the New Deal and Great Society don't have the ring that they used to have. But what about Camelot - JFK, the beginning of a new decade filled with such hope for change, etc.
I looked at the lyrics for the lead song to the movie Camelot and its perfect - it even has climate change and how Americans can combat it if they just would elect Democrats to the White House and both houses of Congress so there will not be any of that messy separation of powers/checks and balances stuff. You could open each night with the entire audience singing the lyrics that would be large on the screen. Heck, I bet by the end of the week people would be singing it at home and humming it at the water cooler. So, here we go...the lyrics and some commentary just so that folks (deplorables) don't miss the meaning:

"It's true! It's true! The crown has made it clear
The climate must be perfect all the year"
(This ought to be the Democrat platform - a perfect climate all year long. Who could be against that?)

"A law was made a distant moon ago here
July and August cannot be too hot
And there's a legal limit to the snow here
In Camelot!"
(To change the climate, all one has to do is pass a law - its just that easy if you can just get rid of Republicans and evil corporations. This contains some general parameters - the regulatory agencies can fill in the details.)

"The winter is forbidden till December
And exits March the second on the dot
By order, summer lingers through September
In Camelot!"
(More general parameters to be filled in. If laws do not work, just hand down executive orders that even the climate must obey.)

"Camelot! Camelot!
I know it sounds a bit bizarre
But in Camelot, Camelot
That's how conditions are."
(At least that is how conditions WILL be or else! It only sounds bizarre to those climate change-deniers who will be cast out of the kingdom into everlasting darkness!)

"The rain may never fall till after sundown
By eight, the morning fog must disappear
In short, there's simply not
A more congenial spot
For happily-ever-aftering than here
In Camelot…"
(And how congenial it will be! Of course, sacrifices will have to be made. What good is liberty and freedom if you can't have the climate you want?)
So there you have it. With enough government power backed up by the sheer will of the People, we can whip climate change - we can do anything we want. We can build a tower to Heaven. Just imagine the possibilities! Oh, and end the week with the John Lennon song, Imagine because it identifies all the obstacles that stand in the way: religion, private property, nationalism, etc.
Now, one word of caution. If you show parts of the movie, DO NOT show the ending. You may remember that its human nature in the form of adultery that tragically brings the utopia Camelot to an end: Gwynevere and Lancelot ruined it all. But reassure everyone that if the Democrat Party can change the climate, they sure as heck can change human nature.
Note: If the Millennials don't know the tune, I have linked it below. Now let's go out and slay some capitalist dragons!

Note: perhaps this ought to be renamed "Gov-a-lot"

Fev 17, 2020, 11:07pm

That was excellent!

Mar 10, 2020, 12:52am

More like this, please. There will be no lack of material.