The criticism leveled against us, and by extension other conservative magazines, by Rod Dreher, who in this context speaks for a broader set of critics, is that by using harsh and inflammatory language to condemn Barack Obama and the liberals in power, we look intemperate in comparison and thereby actually advance their cause. Furthermore, engaging in this kind of rhetoric leaves us unable to identify the weaknesses in our own thoughts.
Are we, in fact, too outspoken in our anti-Obama rhetoric? Now from time to time, on the blog or in a web article, in the heat of the moment we might call some of Obama’s policies socialist, corporatist, or even fascist. Although there is definitely an element of truth to all those accusations, we would probably be better off dialing it down a bit. However, any reader who follows us would know that we said all the same things of Bush, too.
In the case that Rod refers to, though — the head for James Srodes’s piece in the May issue that said “Obama’s National Socialism” — I don’t agree that it was at all inflammatory or base-baiting. The article laid out the case why Obama’s preferred policy mirrored that of Hjelmar Schacht’s, which was I believe the first large-scale use of Keynesian-style stimulus. The head was in small script on the corner of the cover. It needed advertisement on the cover because it was a feature, and I think there are plenty of much more inflammatory ways we could have plugged it. For instance, we could have written “Obama’s Favorite Economist: Hitler, page 22,” or “Obama’s Nazi Economics, 22” I really think that writing “National Socialism” is not a particularly provocative way to introduce such a naturally uncomfortable topic.
Dreher premises his larger point on a statement Bob Tyrrell made in last Saturday’s New York Times article on conservative magazines. Dreher criticized Bob’s statement that “Our major concern is that conservative philosophy permeate the country, and if the Republican Party doesn’t want to go along with it, that’s their business.” In Dreher’s view, this statement reflects an unyielding dedication to Reagan-era conservatism in the face of changing circumstances. He condemns this attitude because
The trick is to work hard to think through our own biases and emotions, and always to keep watch on our own minds, tongues and consciences, so that we speak the truth that is, not the truth that suits us emotionally, or that suits the people who buy what we’re selling.
It is more important to serve God and to save your soul than to see your political party take power.
But Rod just quoted Bob saying, “if the Republican Party doesn’t want to go along with it [a kind of principled conservatism], that’s their business.” Clearly we’re not beholden to a political party.
It might hurt the Republican Party if we were so shrill and doctrinaire as to look like crazed wingnuts. But A) the fate of the Republican Party is not our concern, B) we’re not shrill, and C) we’re not doctrinaire — the June issue’s cover, with the giant subtitle “Time to Be Pro-Mexico” advertising a pro-immigration feature, I think pretty clearly shows we’re not riling up the base (in fact we’ve received a lot of letters from readers outraged by that article).
Definitely there is a line to be walked to maintain our credibility. But calling out the government’s clear excesses, even if no one in the mainstream is willing to, is not out of bounds. If Obama — or any Republican, for that matter — engages in Schacht-style stimulus, Mussolini-style corporatism, or European-style socialism, it’s up to us to call it like we see it.
I guess I should make one more point regarding Dreher’s specific question, “I would be interested to hear what Lawler thinks of the real substance of that post of mine, which was about the way we talk about the other side in American political discourse, and the temptations it poses.”
I think credibility matters. I think it’s a good thing when liberal magazines catch the “conservatives” in Congress in shenanigans or doing things that destroy liberty. But I can’t separate the useful criticisms from the looniness on, for instance, the Huffington Post, so I don’t read it. As long you base your rhetoric only on ironclad fact, as was the case with the Srodes piece, you will maintain your credibility and be useful not only for combating the left’s missteps but also for both sides to read. Is there a danger that there will be outlets on the right that go completely overboard a la Daily Kos during the Bush years? Absolutely. But reasonable people on both sides know better than to get caught up in thinking about them too much, and I’m not sure how much value there is in launching a crusade against them when the press on the left is providing cover for their politicians to do some really dubious things while they’re in power.
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