Impulse and Ideology

Some guy at MSNBC argues that it makes “little sense” to call Jerad and Amanda Miller, the Las Vegas shooters, “right-wing extremists.”

He said right-wing extremists typically focus their anger on federal authorities, not local law enforcement officers like these.

“They weren’t the ATF, they weren’t the FBI. They couldn’t be seen as the representatives of a repressive government,” Levin told NBC News. “There are some militia group members who believe that the only valid authority is at the county sheriff level. In fact, many right-wing extremists love the police. They feel kinship to local law enforcement.”

So we’re just supposed to ignore the white supremacist literature, the shooters’ attempt to join the crew at the Bundy ranch and the “don’t tread on me” flag.

I wrote in my first post about the Las Vegas shooting that I doubted the shooters were working with the Bundy crew, who have decided only the federal government is evil. But the remarks at MSNBC reflect a basic misunderstanding of the connection between ideology/belief, whether political or religious, and violence.

This is something I spend a lot of time on in My Book, Rethinking Religion: Finding a Place for Religion in a Modern, Tolerant, Progressive, Peaceful and Science-affirming World, because I think understanding this connection and how it functions is critical to dealing not only with our ongoing domestic violence problem but also with understanding religious violence around the world.

My thinking on this issue is very much influenced by Jonathan Haidt’s book, The Righteous Mind. Very simply, Haidt makes a strong argument that our moral choices — including the choice to be violent — and our political and religious beliefs are rooted deeply in the subconscious. We are born pre-wired to interface with the world in particular ways, and this pre-wiring disposes us to leaning left or right, say, or determines whether we are likely to be dogmatists or open-minded. And, of course, the way we perceive, interpret and experience ourselves and the world also is very much influenced by cultural and other conditioning.

As we meander through our lives and bump into myriad phenomena, including religious and political beliefs and moral issues, all of this pre-wiring and conditioning and whatnot clanking around in our psyches churns up emotional responses. These include feelings of comfort and discomfort. We naturally want to affirm those things that make us feel good while denouncing the stuff that frightens or disgusts us. We then call on our rational minds to craft a narrative that justifies our feelings. These narratives are merged into our primary narrative, or personal myth, which is the ongoing story we tell ourselves about who we are and what the events in our lives might mean.

Another factor is what Buddhists call “mental formations,” or our states of mind, which can become habitual. This (in part) refers to the way some people tend to easily become defensive and critical, while others in the same situations are understanding and accepting. This also speaks to our basic orientation toward the world and whether we feel integrated with it or estranged from it.

By the time we are adults this wiring/conditioning “stuff” has become extremely complicated, and I doubt any two human beings who ever lived have identical inner stuff. But it’s important to understand that, ultimately, we are drawn to our beliefs and ideologies because of the stuff, not because it appeals to our rational mind. For this reason, what an ideology or political position represents to an individual on a subconscious or even metaphorical level is more critical than intellectual consistency.

This is what the guy on MSNBC doesn’t get. From their own words and actions, it’s obvious that right-wing anti-government rhetoric and the Bundy ranch drama resonated deeply with Jerad and Amanda Miller and represented something enormously significant to them, even if how they understood the “movement” differed in some particulars from most of the rest of the Bundyites.

More crudely, they wanted to kill police because they wanted to kill police, and in their minds the militia anti-government movement gave them permission, and even made killing police a righteous and praiseworthy act. They weren’t being logical, no. But does anyone seriously think the crew in the desert pretending to be at war with the federal government got there because of logic?

This is why the “he did it because of mental illness” excuse for Elliot Rodger didn’t fly for me. Crazy is a continuum, and we’re all on that continuum. None of us are entirely rational. Everyone feels a violent impulse now and then. But except for those who are demonstrably psychotic, we are capable of choosing to not act on those impulses. And Rodger was not psychotic. His writing was ordered and organized, even if the ideas he expressed were outrageous. This means he was rational enough to choose to not do what he did, as were the Millers. They all knew perfectly well they were breaking laws. Had they lived, it’s enormously unlikely they would have gotten off on an insanity plea.

But what Rodger and the Millers had in common was that they had seduced themselves into believing that their impulses were righteous and justified. And this is where public rhetoric and hate-group subcultures really do get people killed. Within the misnamed “men’s rights” subculture, talk of violating and killing women meets with social approval. Women as a class are perceived as evil and dangerous; violence against women is therefore justified, even heroic. Likewise, the right-wing anti-government rhetoric permeating American society can make killing government officials seem justified, even if some are a little hazy about the distinction between state and federal government officials.

I don’t think extremist right-wingers are inherently more prone to violence than extremist left-wingers. But at this moment in American history, the “extremist” Left is the fringe of the fringe, and it is absent from mass media. I’m not even sure it has much in the way of an internet presence. The applicable political spectrum here goes from a liberal/progressive Left that is well within the mainstream of American political traditions to a Right that stretches deeply into the tin-foil-hat section of the Twilight Zone.

And while you can find individuals on the Left expressing violent impulses, on the Right it’s not just individuals; it’s major media personalities and politicians serving in high-level state and federal offices. It’s coming from positions of authority, in other words.

This is why public rhetoric has consequences (see, for example, Paul Waldman, “How much does right-wing rhetoric contribute to right-wing terrorism?“). We’ve been having this conversation since Columbine, and the hate-speakers on the Right simply refuse to acknowledge any responsibility for the ongoing right-wing domestic violence. I have no solution to this impasse. I fear it will have to get worse before it can get better.

But this is why splitting hairs over whether the Millers were truly “right-wing extremists” because they killed local cops instead of federal BLM agents is stupid.

I’m seeing the same misunderstanding among western “Buddhalogists” in academia. There is a faction of western religious studies professors who are combing through Buddhist doctrines to find the “cause” of the Buddhist violence against Muslims in Burma, and some other places. And they are “finding” it by misinterpreting scriptures and even projecting meaning into scriptures that just plain isn’t there; I walked through an example of this in My Book.

The plain fact is that the violence violates everything the Buddha taught. The impulse is not coming from Buddhist teachings, but from racism and jingoism, and it’s being fueled by political expedience. “Buddhism” is not just a religion to the majority in Burma; it’s part of their ethnic and national identity. And a faction of monks has been cranking out rhetoric that justifies violence as “defending Buddhism.” So in spite of what it teaches, Buddhism has become a symbolic permission slip for violence in Burma.

And weirdly, in America, “patriotism” has become a symbolic permission slip for sedition. Looking for logical reasons for this is a fool’s errand.

Leeches of the GOP

Aw, heck, let’s gloat some more. It’s a nice change of pace for us.

Somewhere last week I heard a couple of journalists covering the campaigns say that in the days before the election the Romney people were jubilantly confident while the Obama people were hopeful but nervous. Of course, you could also say “deluded” and “realistic,” respectively.

Anyway — by now you’ve probably seen the video clip of Ann Coulter saying “If Mitt Romney cannot win in this economy, then the tipping point has been reached. We have more takers than makers and it’s over. There is no hope.” I infer that Coulter considers herself to be one of the “makers.” But what exactly does she make?

The fact is, Coulter is a professional leech. She is one of several “personalities” who make a good living by leeching off the climate of hate and divisiveness that is the lifeblood of “movement conservatism” and the Republican Party. Every year or so she re-writes the same polemical book and gets it republished under a new title — some variation on Be Afraid: How Liberals Hate God and America and Want to Eat Your Babies. I don’t know who actually reads this stuff, but somebody buys it. Then she does a speaking tour and rakes in fees. Her weekly toxic waste dump of a “column” is still being syndicated. And people still go to her for her “insights” into the direction of conservatism.

But Coulter’s main function within the GOP it to keep pumping the hate so that she can continue to make a living as a leech.

A few days ago Rick Perlstein published an article at The Baffler called “The Long Con: Mail-order conservatism.” Although a bit rambling and unfocused, the article provides a fascinating view of how a culture of leeching has attached itself to “movement conservatism” and the Republican Party. All manner of people are making themselves rich by fanning the flames of alarm and then sucking money out of the rubes who believe them. It’s so blatant that conservative “media” such as Newsmax and Current Events are being subsidized by sucker schemes for Making Big Money Without Actually Having to Do Anything to Earn It.

So you’ve got individuals like Richard Viguerie and groups like the NRA that mostly specialize in fundraising by scaring people. Usually they’re sucking money out of ordinary folks, but we see now that Karl Rove managed to suck money out of the very wealthy, which makes him master of the game, I suppose.

Perlstein describes the standard come-on:

There is the bizarre linguistic operation that turns “liberal” (or, in Coulterese, “pink”) into a merely opportunistic synonym for “stuff you don’t like.” There’s the sloganeering alchemy that conflates political and economic magical thinking (“freedom”!). There’s shorthand invocation of Reagan hagiography. And then, presto: The suggestible readers on the receiving end of Coulter’s come-on are meant to realize that they are holding the abracadabra solution to every human dilemma (vote out the Democrats–oh, and also, subscribe to Mark Skousen’s newsletter for investors, while you’re at it). …

… Miracle cures, get-rich-quick schemes, murderous liberals, the mystic magic mirage of a world without taxes, those weapons of mass destruction that Saddam Hussein had hidden somewhere in the Syrian desert–only connect.

The Republican Party isn’t just being challenged by changing voter demographics. As long as people with inordinate influence in what’s called “conservatism” are milking it like a cash cow, they’re not going to let it adapt to changing voter demographics.

GOP: A Cult Looking for a Personality

Billmon (yes! Billmon!) writes,

There simply is no getting around the fact that the mentality of the modern grassroots conservative movement is in almost all particulars the spitting image of a 20th century totalitarian political party–an “epistemically closed” loop of self-reference and self-delusion. In other words: a cult.

The upshot is that one of America’s two main political parties has managed to turn itself into the proverbial insane asylum run by the inmates. And, unless the doctors want a quick trip to the electroshock table, they damned well better tell the patients that they, too, can see the same pink elephants (wink) tapdancing on the walls:

I’ve been more or less saying movement conservatism is a cult of crazy since I started this blog more than ten years ago. However, I have only recently appreciated how much the Bush regime was able to control Teh Crazy even as they fed it and grew it. Back when the Bush cult of personality was at its peak, Dubya, Turd Blossom et al. were able make the GOP appear to be a normal political party, at least enough so that the media establishment politely looked the other way when Teh Crazy was showing, the way you do when your elderly uncle forgets to zip his fly.

A lot of the media are still doing that, of course, but not all of them. Not any more.

Dubya can’t, or won’t, play the role of Respected Elder Statesman, a role that Big Bill fills so very well. And nobody has taken his place as the Big Giant Head of the cult. Yes, many of them gave their love to Sarah Palin four years ago, but Palin needed a Karl Rove to channel and manage her to keep her cult of personality going. She lacks the smarts and discipline to do it herself (so did Dubya, but he did have a Karl Rove).

(Looking back, it’s a bit surprising Karl didn’t have somebody groomed and ready to step into the role of Trilby to his Svengali when Dubya stepped down. Maybe he didn’t fully appreciate the importance of the cult of personality to manage the masses, either. We may have Dick Cheney to thank for that, though. If Dubya had had a veep with any charisma at all, that person likely would be POTUS now.)

Anyway, now nobody is in charge, and there’s nobody telling Teh Crazy when to zip its fly and behave correctly in public. And the question is, can the toothpaste be persuaded to crawl back into the tube?

Jonathan Bernstein writes that some on the Right may be stoking Teh crazy for personal gain —

Many of us argue that there’s something really wrong with the current GOP. It’s not that it’s conservative; it’s that, well, to be blunt, it’s nuts. Or, to put it more gently, it’s that there are strong incentives for being dysfunctional, such as the profit motive for those who stand to make a lot of money from the party being out of office (when talk show ratings go up and wacky conspiracy theory books about Democratic presidents sell like hotcakes).

In other words, he’s saying feeding Teh Crazy has become an end in itself, instead of just a means of gaining and hanging on to political power. So Teh crazy continues to grow, but no one Big Giant Head is controlling it. And this is not sustainable. No compounded thing remains in stasis for long; it either grows or it decays.

The result is a party more hospitable to, say, Sarah Palin than to Richard Lugar. And a party which takes presidential candidates such as Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain at least somewhat seriously. That is, it’s a party which frequently ignores reality and rejects the normal compromises of the U.S. political system. And every candidate the GOP nominates either shares in the crazy or is hostage to it — which is what we’ve seen from Mitt Romney throughout the campaign.

Bernstein thinks the only thing that might save the Republican Party from self-annihilation would be a leader who could have their loyalty and who would then work to marginalize Teh Crazy. His example is the way President Eisenhower, working partly behind the scenes, marginalized Joe McCarthy. But now the GOP has been infested with countless Joe McCarthys, and I don’t see anyone of the stature of Eisenhower who could both gain their trust and call a halt to it. And McCarthy wasn’t being funded by a 1950s equivalent of Sheldon Adelson and supported by a vast network of think tanks and dedicated media outlets; he was pretty much a one-man show.

Further — if we go back to the McCarthy example, we see that McCarthy was supported by the Republican establishment until he became a political liability, and then they dumped him rather abruptly. And that was the end of his public career. At least part of the current Republican establishment seems to understand their party is out of control, and I bet they would like to tone it down if they could, but Teh Crazy isn’t listening to them any more.

The 20th century totalitarian political parties were eventually defeated, but it took war to do it. Watching Soviet soldiers loot one’s house can help one wake up to the reality that maybe the war isn’t going well, and maybe some political leaders had one snookered.

However, I am inclined to think that Teh Crazy will fade slowly rather than go down in a blaze of inglory. The question is, will the GOP itself survive? Can this party be saved? Or will it break up and go the way of the Whigs? The original Republican party was made up mostly of ex-Whigs plus a contingent of anti-slavery Democrats, I believe, so you could argue that the original GOP was something like the Reformed Whigs. I could see a coalition of moderate Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats challenging the crazy-infested GOP someday. I think that’s at least as likely to happen, eventually — not right away, but in four to six years, maybe — as the GOP coming back to its senses.

And have we reached peak wingnut yet? I didn’t think so back in 2008, when the peak wingnut theory was first kicked around, but now I think wingnuttism is pretty close to maxing out, short of armed and violent insurrection.

GOP Struggles with Math

Yesterday Politico trotted out a polling analysis that says Romney is winning among middle-class families. They don’t define what they mean by “middle class,” but I notice the analysis makes a careful distinction between middle-class voters and middle-class families. Apparently Romney is losing with middle-class voters but winning with middle-class families; like the kids and dog count, I suppose. Or maybe they define “families” as “related white people who live together in the South somewhere.” The whole thing strikes me as an exercise in reassuring themselves they aren’t really losing.

Righties even have adopted what they are calling “unskewed” polling outcomes that show Romney winning handily. On the other hand, Sam Wang of Princeton Election Consortium is giving President Obama a 90 percent win probability. Nate Silver continues to give the President a comfortable lead in probable electoral votes.

Meanwhile, a small army of conservative number-crunchers are striving mightily to figure out a way to make Mitt Romney’s tax-and-deficit promises mathematically possible. So far, they haven’t been able to do it. See also “Checking Rove’s Math.”

Josh Marshall writes about why the GOP can’t, or won’t, adapt.

As recently as a couple weeks ago, the top generals in the Romney camp were stuck on the idea that Obama cannot win with unemployment this high. Can’t. And if evidence suggests otherwise, just give it time.

I’m reminded of this column which Byron York wrote on September 10th …

Mitt Romney and his top aides are running an essentially faith-based campaign. Whatever the polls say at the moment, whatever the pundits say, whatever some nervous Republicans say, Team Romney simply does not believe President Obama can win re-election in today’s terrible economy. The president may appear to be defying gravity now, but he can’t keep it up through Nov. 6.

Whether Romney could have done anything else if his team thought Plan A might not pan out I don’t know. But I think York was on to something here. Maybe not quite arrogance but a deep faith in an unproven hypothesis — enabled by a contemptuous disrespect for their opponent which blinded them to some of his assets as a candidate.

Perhaps they are blinded by his “blah”-ness.

Seriously, I’ve been saying for years that one symptom of whatever cognitive dysfunction is common to righties is a desperate need to believe that everyone but a small fringe of crazy liberals sees the world the way they do. You see something similar in white supremacists, who devoutly believe all other white people are white supremacists also but that a majority won’t admit it because it’s not “PC.” A rightie can no more admit that wingnuttery is not embraced by almost all Americans than the Pope could convert to Sikhism. That’s why, when they lose elections, the only possible (to them) reason must be voter fraud, or else voters were deceived by the Lamestream Media. So, it’s not surprising they simply cannot accept what is happening now in the campaigns.

The Empty Shell of Movement Conservatism

George Will writes a floundering column about what a shame it is that Romney is the most “electable” GOP candidate running for office. “Has conservatism come so far, surmounting so many obstacles, to settle, at a moment of economic crisis, for this?” Will wails.

Alexander Burns clarifies at Politico,

Even as Republicans come around to the idea that Romney may be their strongest opponent for President Obama, many are still convinced that a Romney presidency would represent a historic missed opportunity for the right.

At a moment in history when the Democratic incumbent in the White House ought to be extremely vulnerable, not to mention a Republican majority in both houses of Congress easily within reach, the Republican presidential field looks like a collection of rejects from the Island of Misfit Toys. And the one candidate who might possibly win the general election is, in some ways, the biggest “misfit” of all — someone movement conservatism considers to be an outsider.

How did this happen? How is it that such a dominant movement does not have a “deep bench,” so to speak, of respectable candidates that the establishment could market to the masses?

Part of the answer, IMO, is that “movement conservatism” has long been an empty shell of a movement. Beneath the facade of long-discredited ideas and deceptive talking points are nothing but resentment, bigotry, greed, and a deep sense of privileged entitlement.

Plus, the several factions within it don’t seem interested in going in the same direction. The neocons these days seem well outnumbered by isolationist social conservatives, for example, although the neocons still have a pretty big media megaphone.

On top of that, years of “politicking” with nothing but lies and dog whistles have left Republicans with a base that is utterly out of touch with majority public opinion, not to mention reality. Any candidate who might clean up well enough to have a shot at the general election couldn’t possible pass muster with the base.

I’m not saying that movement conservatism is about to dissolve away into the political ether. The Vast Right Wing Conspiracy still has the money and the media. And between gerrymandering and voter suppression laws, they are as much as glued into federal and state legislatures. I expect them to continue to hold power way out of proportion to their actual support among voters for many years to come.

No, I’m just explaining to George Will how movement conservatism came to this.

The Ryan Albatross

Steven Taylor, one of the few self-identified “conservative” bloggers I actually respect — well, OK, the only one I respect — asks of the Ryan budget planWTF does the GOP intend to do with it? Are they actually thinking of trying to pass it? Are they crazy?

Remember: we know that some attendees of Tea Party rallies have brandished signs demanding that the government keep its hands off Medicare.* Further, many Republicans ran for office in 2010 by campaigning on the notion that the PPACA was damaging to Medicare (for example: Coates Ad: Obama Forcing Seniors into “Government Run Healthcare” and Blunt Ad Complains of Cutting Medicare…to Support “Government-Run Health Care”).

Remember also (and more importantly): the public overwhelmingly opposes Medicare cuts: “76% of respondents oppose cutting Medicare (30% find it “unacceptable” and 46% find it “totally unacceptable”)” (see link for details on the given poll—which replicates a consistent result in poll after poll on this topic).

So again: will the GOP actually go to the mattresses for this plan?

Let me give you my utterly unsupported guess as to what’s going on with Ryan and his budget — Ryan’s plan actually has been rattling around for several months, under the title “Roadmap for America’s Future.” And it got mentioned a lot in GOP talking points, although until recently you had to wade into the fine print on your own initiative to understand what the plan actually provides.

My impression all along has been that the GOP kept bringing it up not because they were all in love with Ryan’s ideas — although destroying Medicare is always a plus for them — but because it was the closest thing the GOP had to a concrete deficit-reduction proposal. So, for most of them, it was a prop. It was a stack of paper they could wave around and claim to be a plan that would solve everyone’s problems while they carped ceaselessly on whatever it was President Obama was doing.

Ryan himself — possibly not the sharpest pencil in the box — may not have understood it was the appearance of a plan, not the plan itself, that had value to the GOP. So a couple of weeks ago, from his position as chair of the House Budget Committee, he submitted the thing as a serious proposal.

Given Ryan’s timing, he might have thought that popular support in Washington for his ideas would cause Congress to drop other budget bills in progress and adopt his budget instead. And given the pundit-world swoon that followed, one suspects that the Puppet Masters were behind the release of the budget and had put out a general order to the puppets to start swooning.

One thing to keep in mind about the Puppet Masters is that most of them became rich and powerful because they inherited more money than God. And while they may possess a large degree of shrewdness, it’s a myopic kind of shrewdness. I suspect their “smarts” have serious limits. They may have imagined they could use their influence to get some version of the Ryan budget passed into law. And it may have just dawned on them over the past couple of days that they made a huge miscalculation. This would account for the over-the-top hysteria in right-wing media — if Daddy ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.

President Obama’s decision to stay behind the scenes until Ryan threw his pitch may turn out to be one of the smartest moves he ever made. If the Dems play this right — please — the Ryan budget could become the Mother of All Wedge Issues and an albatross to hang around the neck of every Republican running in 2012.

See also: Paul Krugman, “Who’s Serious Now?

Update: What makes anyone think the President didn’t know full well the microphone was on? This is exactly the kind of thing the President needs to be saying to everyone, loudly and often.

Update: Ryan and his fellow travelers think the President was being mean to them in his speech last week.

They expected a peace offering, a gesture of goodwill aimed at smoothing a path toward compromise. But soon after taking their seats at George Washington University on Wednesday, they found themselves under fire for plotting “a fundamentally different America” from the one most Americans know and love.

“What came to my mind was: Why did he invite us?” Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.) said in an interview Thursday. “It’s just a wasted opportunity.”

The situation was all the more perplexing because Obama has to work with these guys: Camp is chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, responsible for trade, taxes and urgent legislation to raise the legal limit on government borrowing. Rep. Jeb Hensarling (Tex.) chairs the House Republican Conference. And Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is House Budget Committee chairman and the author of the spending blueprint Obama lacerated as “deeply pessimistic” during his 44-minute address.

Unbelievable. I’m starting to think Ryan really is a clueless wonder. See also Matt Yglesias.

Newt Wants to Be Your President


Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich twice called on the United States to attack North Korea and Iran Thursday because the United States has only attacked “one out of three” of so-called “Axis of Evil” members by invading Iraq. He also claimed that Muslims are trying to install Sharia law on America and said that the “War on Terror” should have been a war on “radical Islamists” instead.

Speaking at an American Enterprise Institute event yesterday, Gingrich compared not following through on President George W. Bush’s “Axis of Evil” agenda with not fully engaging the Axis power in World War II.

“If Franklin Roosevelt had done that in ’41, either the Japanese or the Germans would have won,” Gingrich said, adding that Americans should “over-match the problem.”

Newt, who allegedly has a degree in history, doesn’t notice that FDR did not “fully engage the Axis power” in World War II until after Pearl Harbor and after Germany had declared war on the U.S. Before that, Germany had already bombed Britain and invaded Poland, Denmark, Norway, France, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. The destroyer U.S.S. Ruben James had been sunk by a U-boat attack weeks before Pearl Harbor. But the U.S. officially was neutral until the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The United States under Franklin Roosevelt did not enter the war until the war was brought to us.

So no, Newt, history does not tell us that Roosevelt would have attacked Iran and North Korea just because it was on his to-do list.

Also, Newt continues to spout inane and hateful drool about the so-called “Ground Zero mosque,” the Islamic center that would not actually be a mosque and would not even be visible from “Ground Zero.”

According to Nate Silver, Newt’s biggest obstacle to the Republican nomination in 2012 is Sarah Palin. This is because the two of them appeal to the same demographic slice of the conservative base, but that slice likes Palin better than Gingrich. So maybe he thinks that to have a shot at the White House he has to out-Palin Palin. Otherwise, if that’s what he really thinks, someone should adjust his meds.

Conservative Intellectualism: An Oxymoron

At the Washngton Post, Steven Hayward asks, “Is Conservatism Brain-Dead?” He complains that the unwashed masses of conservative populists have taken over The Movement and sent conservative intellectuals into retreat.

The conservative political movement, for all its infighting, has always drawn deeply from the conservative intellectual movement, and this mix of populism and elitism troubled neither side.

Today, however, the conservative movement has been thrown off balance, with the populists dominating and the intellectuals retreating and struggling to come up with new ideas. The leading conservative figures of our time are now drawn from mass media, from talk radio and cable news. We’ve traded in Buckley for Beck, Kristol for Coulter, and conservatism has been reduced to sound bites.

Conservative populism may be a Frankenstein’s monster that is destroying the conservative movement. But if so, it’s a Frenkenstein’s monster Mr. Hayward helped to stitch together. Just over a year ago, he made a blatantly populist argument in favor of Sarah Palin’s qualifications to be President:

The establishment is affronted by the idea that an ordinary hockey mom–a mere citizen–might be just as capable of running the country as a long-time member of the Council on Foreign Relations. This closed-shop attitude is exactly what both Jefferson and Adams set themselves against; they wanted a republic where talent and public spirit would find easy access to the establishment.

In spite of his hand-wringing, Hayward continues to set a low bar for conservative intellectualism. Going back to today’s op ed:

The bestseller list used to be crowded with the likes of Friedman’s “Free to Choose,” George Gilder’s “Wealth and Poverty,” Paul Johnson’s “Modern Times,” Allan Bloom’s “The Closing of the American Mind,” Charles Murray’s “Losing Ground” and “The Bell Curve,” and Francis Fukuyama’s “The End of History and the Last Man.” There are still conservative intellectuals attempting to produce important work, but some publishers have been cutting back on serious conservative titles because they don’t sell.

Of course, Charles Murray’s books have been denounced as frauds by real scholars, and Bob Herbert called Bell Curve “a scabrous piece of racial pornography masquerading as serious scholarship.” Fukuyama’s “end of history” argument amounted to marshmallow fluff utopianism with big words and footnotes. Etc. But Hayward’s op ed gets even better —

About the only recent successful title that harkens back to the older intellectual style is Jonah Goldberg’s “Liberal Fascism,” which argues that modern liberalism has much more in common with European fascism than conservatism has ever had. But because it deployed the incendiary f-word, the book was perceived as a mood-of-the-moment populist work, even though I predict that it will have a long shelf life as a serious work.

I’ll pause here to let you wipe up the coffee you just spewed all over your monitor. But don’t take another sip just yet —

Rush Limbaugh adheres to Winston Churchill’s adage that you should grin when you fight, and in any case his keen sense of satire makes him deserving of comparison to Will Rogers, who, by the way, was a critic of progressivism.

For the record, Rogers was an unabashed New Deal Democrat, which makes him a critic of progressivism in the same way that Jesus was a critic of religion.

Hayward also is a big admirer of Glenn Beck.

Okay, so Beck may lack Buckley’s urbanity, and his show will never be confused with “Firing Line.” But he’s on to something with his interest in serious analysis of liberalism’s patrimony. … Beck, for one, is revealing that despite the demands of filling hours of airtime every day, it is possible to engage in some real thought. He just might be helping restore the equilibrium between the elite and populist sides of conservatism.

BTW, Steven F. Hayward is the F.K. Weyerhaeuser fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and the author of “The Age of Reagan: The Conservative Counterrevolution, 1980-1989.” He is known mostly for being a climate change denier. He has a Ph.D. in American studies from Claremont Graduate School and has been funded by the Movement via a series of fellowships in right-wing think tanks.

At Slate, Jacob Weisberg writes that the late Irving Kristol really did have a brain, unlike his painfully slow son, William. Back in the 1960s 1970s, Kristol’s thinking actually had some connection to reality and “empirical social science,” Weisberg says.

How did this prudent outlook devolve into the spectacle of ostensibly intelligent people cheering on Sarah Palin? Through the 1980s, the neoconservatives became more focused on political power and less interested in policy. They developed their own corrupting welfare state, doling out sinecures and patronage subsidized by the Olin, Scaife, and Bradley foundations. Alliances with the religious right skewed their perspective on a range of topics. They went a little crazy hating on liberals.

Over time, the two best qualities of the early neocons–their skepticism about government’s ability to transform societies and their rigorous empiricism–fell by the wayside. In later years, you might say Kristol and the neoconservatives got mugged by ideology. Actually, they were the muggers. “It becomes clear that, in our time, a non-ideological politics cannot survive the relentless onslaught of ideological politics,” Kristol wrote in 1980. “For better or for worse, ideology is now the vital element of organized political action.”

I have serious doubts about the alleged intellectual rigor of conservative intellectuals of yore. I haven’t read much of Irving Kristol, but for the conservative writers I have read it’s always been about the ideology. But, yes, they were a couple of shades brighter back in the day. William Buckley, for example, was a master at dressing up dishonest arguments with highfalutin’ rhetoric. Hayward, on the other hand, seems too dim to understand the difference between honest and dishonest argument. At this rate of devolution, the next generation of conservative intellectuals will need help dressing themselves.

You’ll Get a Kick Out of This, Maybe

Via Tbogg — Paul Campos quoting Harry Hopkins:

“I remember back in the late 1990s, when Ira Katznelson, an eminent political scientist at Columbia, came to deliver a guest lecture. Prof. Katznelson described a lunch he had with Irving Kristol during the first Bush administration.

“The talk turned to William Kristol, then Dan Quayle’s chief of staff, and how he got his start in politics. Irving recalled how he talked to his friend Harvey Mansfield at Harvard, who secured William a place there as both an undergrad and graduate student; how he talked to Pat Moynihan, then Nixon’s domestic policy adviser, and got William an internship at the White House; how he talked to friends at the RNC [Republican National Committee] and secured a job for William after he got his Harvard Ph.D.; and how he arranged with still more friends for William to teach at Penn and the Kennedy School of Government.

“With that, Prof. Katznelson recalled, he then asked Irving what he thought of affirmative action. ‘I oppose it,’ Irving replied. ‘It subverts meritocracy.’ ”

Maybe Some Want to See the Two-Headed Monkey

Peter Wallsten writes for the Los Angeles Times, “Some fear GOP is being carried to the extreme“:

Some are pressuring the Republican National Committee and other mainstream GOP groups to cut ties with, which reports some of the allegations. Its articles are cited by websites and pundits on the right. More than any other group, critics say, WorldNetDaily sets the conservative fringe agenda.

And this:

In one symbolic development, organizers of next year’s Conservative Political Action Conference — the country’s biggest annual meeting of activists on the right — said last week that they had rejected a request to schedule a panel on whether Obama was a native-born U.S. citizen.

“It would fill a room,” said event director Lisa De Pasquale. “But so would a two-headed monkey. There really are so many more important issues, and it’s only a three-day conference.”

On the other hand, other “Somes” do not fear being painted as the party of whackjobs.

Michael Goldfarb, a spokesman for John McCain’s GOP presidential candidacy last year, likened the conservative fringe to liberal activists during the Bush years. The antiwar group Code Pink drew headlines, for example, when a protester with fake blood on her hands accosted then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice — but Democrats still won elections later.

“Do we look crackpot? Yes,” Goldfarb said. “But that’s how the left looked to me in 2004, and in 2006 they took back Congress. Then they started marginalizing the lunatics.”

However, there are some differences in the way the Dems related to progressive activists during most of the Bush years and the way the GOP is relating to its, um, activists. Democratic politicians always stayed at more than arms’ length –more like football-field length — of Code Pink and other of the more flamboyant elements of the anti-Bush leftie pushback. Indeed, Code Pink targeted Nancy Pelosi for a time, you might remember. The Republican Party, however, is both cultivating and catering to the crazies.

Some are predicting the GOP could gain House seats next year:

Insiders’ criticisms have been dismissed by some conservative leaders, who argue that the party needs an energized base — even if it’s extreme — to gain in future elections. Some analysts think that conservatives’ summer revolt against Obama’s healthcare agenda helped erode public approval of Democratic leadership enough that the GOP could pick up as many as 30 House seats next year.

The 30 House seats may be rightie wishful thinking, but I suspect that once there is a bill, the sky does not fall and jack-booted storm troopers do not appear in the streets, all but the hard-core whackjob fringe will calm down about it all. In particular, once people figure out that the reforms will put an end to the “pre-existing condition” scam, the mushy middle will look upon reform more favorably.

However, the message to Dems in Congress needs to be — don’t let the GOP drag this out. Getting a health care reform bill passed asap is more important to you, politically, than continuing to dawdle in the hopes of getting one or two Republican votes.