If you want to know how the American Right came to its current pitiful state, consider: Bill Kristol will be awarded a $250,000 Bradley Prize from the the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.
Yeah, that Bill Kristol.
Eric Alterman and Joan Walsh are both appropriately snarky. They both compile sampler lists of the many times Kristol has been wrong. And not just wrong; stupefyingly, jaw-droppingly, what planet does this guy live on? wrong. I don’t need to repeat all that here. Let’s just say that if stupid were an art form, Kristol would be the Mona Lisa.
In any other context but the American Right, Kristol would be buried in obscurity. Since he’s a white man with a college education one assumes he would rise to a middle management position somewhere, in spite of his obvious handicaps. However, in a true meritocracy he’d be put to work doing something that involved simple, repetitive motions but no sharp objects.
Yes, Kristol graduated Harvard magna cum laude in three years and has a Ph.D., his biography says. But, folks, stupid is as stupid thinks. Either Kristol was dropped on his head post-Ph.D. or Kristol’s professors were paid off. There are no other explanations.
But then there’s Jonah Goldberg, both badly educated and intellectually incoherent. His silly cognitive misfirings are published in the Los Angeles Times and by Doubleday. And if Michele Bachmann belonged to any other party but the GOP, party leaders would keep her locked in the attic and out of public view. I could go on, but I’m sure you get the drift.
I want to call your attention to a section of Thomas Franks’s book The Wrecking Crew published in the August 2008 Harper’s.
For some in winger Washington this is an idealistic business, but what gives it power and longevity is that it is a profitable business. I mean this not as polemic but as a statement of fact. Washington swarms with conservative ideologues not because conservatives particularly like the place but because there is an entire industry here that supports these peopleâ€”an industry subsidized by the nationâ€™s largest corporations and its richest families, and the government too. We are all familiar with the flagship organizationsâ€”Cato, Heritage, AEIâ€”but the industry extends far beyond these, encompassing numerous magazines and literally hundreds of lobbying firms. There is even a daily newspaperâ€”the Washington Timesâ€”published strictly for the movementâ€™s benefit, a propaganda sheet whose distortions are so obvious and so alien that it puts one in mind of those official party organs one encounters when traveling in authoritarian countries.
There are political strategists, pollsters, campaign managers, trainers of youth, image consultants, makers of TV commercials, revolutionaries-for-hire, and, of course, direct-mail specialists who still launch their million-letter raids on the mailboxes of the heartland. Remember the guy who wrote all those sputtering diatribes for your college newspaper? Chances are heâ€™s in D.C. now, thinking big thoughts from an endowed chair, or churning out more of the brilliant usual for one of the movementâ€™s many blogs. The campus wingnut whose fulminations on the Red Menace so amused my friends and me at the University of Virginia, for example, resurfaced here as a columnist for the Washington Times before transitioning inevitably into consultancy. A friend of mine who went to Georgetown recently recalled for me the capers of his campus wingnut, whom he had completely forgotten until the guy made headlines as the lead culprit in a minor 2004 scandal called â€œMemogate.â€ Later he worked for the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, teaching democratic civics to Iraqi politicians.
There is so much money in conservatism these days that Karl Rove rightly boasts, â€œWe can now go to students at Harvard and say, â€˜There is now a secure retirement plan for Republican operatives.â€™â€
Consider the conservative movement since the early 1950s — Russell Kirk to William F. Buckley to Barry Goldwater to Ronald Reagan to Newt Gringrich/Grover Norquist to William Kristol/Jonah Goldberg. Whether you agreed with them or not, Kirk and Buckley at least fit the definition of intellectual. Since the 1950s, however, there has been a steady regression of cognitive ability on the Right; a march from reason. And now the entire conservative movement is collapsing into a puddle of utter imbecility.
I am no social darwinist, but I can’t help but think that one of the reasons for this biological devolution is that the money supporting the Right has buffered its specimens from the “survival of the fittest” rule. A “movement conservative” has no need for intelligence or accomplishment, only connections.
We come to it at last: George W. Bush. Removed from his cocoon of privilege he might have clawed his way up to an assistant mangership at the Crawford Wal-Mart, but only because of his ability to bully the employees. He not only never performed the job of President of the United States; I remain unconvinced he understood what his job was. Like Kristol and Goldberg, we’d have never heard of him but for his pedigree.
Of course, not everyone in conservatism was given a hand up by mommy or daddy. Rep. Bachmann appears to have had humble roots, as did Sarah Palin and many others. For that matter, let’s think about Tom DeLay, John Boehner, and that entire generation of Republican politicians. These examples show us that to be successful in the GOP these days requires stubborn ignorance combined with unscrupulous ruthlessness.
In other words, you’ve got to be dumb enough (or, at least, intellectually lazy enough) to mix with the “legacy” conservatives (or want to, for that matter). But it also helps to have the kind of feral hunger for success that aristocrats rarely muster.
In the case of conservative “journalists,” it strikes me that the older generation — e.g., Bob Novak, Pat Buchanan — had enough brains to be genuinely shrewd. They could be infuriatingly disingenuous most of the time, but when these two were in their prime you knew they knew exactly what they were doing. Current right-wing media stars like Bill O’Reilly or Glenn Beck are, alas, merely pathological.
Writing about Kristol and the state of journalism, Joan Walsh points out that when Kristol’s Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation award was announced, “a Pulitzer Prize-winner in Mesa, Ariz., had already been laid off from his job,” and “a newspaper journalist who was recently shot in the line of duty lost his job a few days ago as well.” Yet Kristol bombs spectacularly at the New York Times and gets a $250,000 award.
One suspects the next generation of movement conservatives will find it challenging to eat with a fork.