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 people—an industry subsidized by the nation’s largest corporations and its richest families, and the government too. We are all familiar with the flagship organizations—Cato, Heritage, AEI—but the industry extends far beyond these, encompassing numerous magazines and literally hundreds of lobbying firms. There is even a daily newspaper—the Washington Times—published strictly for the movement’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 he’s in D.C. now, thinking big thoughts from an endowed chair, or churning out more of the brilliant usual for one of the movement’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 “Memogate.” 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, “We can now go to students at Harvard and say, ‘There is now a secure retirement plan for Republican operatives.’”

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.

17 thoughts on “Devolved

  1. That really is the question, what the hell has happened to the Republican/Conservative movement? I, like many Americans I would suspect, am leery of a big government approach and don’t hope for a European type of socialism (an no, I don’t think Obama is going there). But the Repubs can make absolutely no even remotely sane arguments to vote for them. None. I believe they have wedded themselves so strongly to the cut taxes/anti-abortion planks that they really can’t get to something else. I believe the anti-abortion plank may be their Whig/slavery. They are so diametrically opposed to the majority of Americans on this, and they will not compromise on it, that they could cease to exist. Perhaps another more sane, reasonable, conservative party will take its place. My big question is, how do they get people to vote for them who would be much better off with Democratic policies? Why would some poor slob working at Wal-Mart vote for a Republican?

  2. Buckyblue has already mentioned a number of things I would’ve said. And maha’s remark about the clear difference between the older Right pundits and the current generation, is right on the money. The older generation usually was rational and could think, and sometimes those guys actually were right about things (broken clock theory, perhaps; but they also had a better sense of what it means to be an American). In the devolutionary chain maha mentions, I see Ronald Reagan eradicating the “smart” gene, Newt Gingrich the “moral” gene, and Grover Norquist the “honest” one. Bad breeding, indeed; the current result being Dubya, Kristol, Goldberg. And did you see Al Gore’s testimony on the Hill, was it yesterday? It turns out there’s nothing in the whole wide world dumber than a Republican member of the House. (And that’s factoring in the many dumb Democrats!)

    The absurdity of this award has me wondering, who the frack are Lynde and Harry Bradley? Someone elsewhere in the left blogosphere said they’re heirs of the Milton Bradley toy company. (I was going to make a Ouija joke, but I seem to remember that’s Parker Brothers? Maybe the Bradley Foundation could have used a Ouija.)

  3. Listening to the likes of O’Reilly and Beck, and their politician counterparts, what we’re really hearing are the rants of cheapskates and chauvinists.

    As far as Kristol etal, they are crowned by reason of their birth as belonging to that class of ‘intellectually and morally superior men who, by reason of their superior insight and superior wisdom must rule’ (the rest of us.) (Leo Strauss)

  4. “One suspects the next generation of movement conservatives will find it challenging to eat with a fork”


    You give them too much credit. It was good to see Alterman’s chronological list of Kristols false prophecy. That’s what really pisses me off, these yucks (mostly on FAUX, that Beck asshole has become the King) just spew bullshit everyday and never called on it, well except for the “worst person in the world”.

  5. A little research on the Bradley Foundation:

    Its website:

    The Bradley brother made their money in manufacturing a better electric controller for electric systems, i.e. think power cables.

    The Foundation is conservative.

  6. Glen Beck remains the biggest mystery of conservatism…I just draw a big blank trying to understand the attraction. It’s painful. A maroon to the tenth power!

  7. I think that the emergence of Sarah Palin and Joe-the-Plumber as leaders of the conservative movement says it all.

    I wonder who the next generation of Republican leaders will be? Helen-the-WalMart-greeter, Jeff-the-drug-dealer, or Tom-with-only-18-chromosomes?

  8. 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.

    With all due respect, I beg to offer a third explanation:

    Bill Kristol does not really hold the positions he consistently advocates in his public personna. It’s all bullshit in the strict Harry Frankfurt definition — pro-forma untruths that are known at the time of telling to be untrue, both by the teller and by the audience. Kristol is an entertainer, pretending to be much more stupid than he is, because that’s his bread and butter: mouthing the Straight Movement Conservative Position no matter how ludicrous it makes him look to other educated persons. He’s playing to the rubes, and was (in the beginning at least) laughing all the way to the bank.

    But as L. Ron Hubbard famously discovered, once you start down the road of living a lie, it’s difficult to prevent the madness you espouse from seeping back into your personality. Kristol’s prevarications have become his Body Thetans, clinging to him, shaping his worldview, distorting his perceptions, until he can no longer distinguish the boundaries between the performer and the performance.

    I pity him.

  9. “Kristol is an entertainer”

    I respectfully have to disagree with that. The right uses the same excuse for Rush, Hannity, Beck, all those fucks, but the fact is they really seem to be the primary source of wingnut power. They influence, shape and follow republican policy more effectively than the elected wingnuts. They are not entertainers; they are the center of the conservative movement.

  10. Conservativism depends on deception to succeed (from Philip Agre’s What is Conservativism and What is Wrong With It?). What you call devolution is simply a moneyed conservative aristocracy grooming and funding anyone who can carry the ball forward for them, at this present time. The fact that Obama didn’t win by a landslide, and that Obama and the Democrats still have to carefully dance around the Republicans in Congress, and that the mainstream media pushes conservative opinions that aren’t ridiculed outright, and which actually shape the debate in this country says it all. I’m sure the funders of today’s conservatives could care less about your opinion of how their side has “devolved”. What matters is how effectively these clowns – Kristol, Beck, O’Really, Goldberg, etc – can serve their cause.

  11. I purchased Wrecking Crew some time ago and promptly discovered John D McDonald and went on a fiction binge so it’s gathering dust. Now I’ve been motivated to start. …did read What’s the Matter with Kansas thugh…

    Someone once said “Know your enemy” (Lao Tzu?) and everything we witness elevation of some lamentably stupid wingnut pundit many wonder about their constituency, even supposing that it must be more widespread than it really is.

    The support of Kristol with such an award, financing of tea parties and conservative think tanks always seems to have some billionaire at its source…someone with all this money and no reasonable place for it to go except to influence the system to maintain or increase the flow through their profit spigot. This influence ensures no healthcare, threatens social security, and continues to decimate the middle class towards extinction.

    So there’s an entire industry that supports these people and it has almost unlimited funds. It has the ability to blow itself up like a puffer fish and look big…ostensibly legion when it is only amply financed with a surgical precision given the controlling interests in almost all our media.

    Maybe we will someday be bolstered by the strength of our own numbers. I hope so.

    Thanks for the Frank quote.

  12. Kristol, Beck, Limbaugh et al. are propagandists. I don’t watch enough MSNBC to know if it’s propaganda on the left but my natural affinity for the left is in part because they (we) seem to be much more intellectually honest. Lord forbid if you deviate from the republican talking points, because then you are a traitor. I think that not one House Republican voted for the bail out is all you need to know how conformity is enforced. Those House members no longer represent their districts, but the interests of the party. That’s fascist in my book.

  13. Alongside the trend toward anti-intellectualism in the conservative movement has been the trend away for what I think of as “true” conservatism toward the modern radical movement that bears the name. The modern movement is much more authoritarian. Whereas I recall Buckley and Goldwater having a strong streak of individual independence, the modern movement wants to fall in line. Being a good follower of authoritarian rule means letting your own intellectual abilities atrophy – you’ll be told what to think, and you don’t want your own pesky reasoning abilities to get in the way of believing it.

  14. Hey Swami, if you REALLY want to get a chucklle or two, watch Glen Beck with the sound off; the dude is a total spaz!

    I joined the “Church” of George Carlin several years ago, his many youtube epistles ‘splains it all…………..

  15. – And don’t forget that each Friday morning on NPR, we have to suffer from the round table of “journalists” on the Diane Ream show where wing-nuts like Tony Blankley from the (moonie) Washington Times dominate the dialog.

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