My first impulse was to leave this post by Tunku Varadarajan unanswered.
My usual rule in replying to personal criticism is to answer all factual misstatements (“Frum kicked a kitten”) and ignore all personal characterizations (“Frum is a filthy kitten-hater”).
I’m going to make an exception in this case, because in the course of abusing me, Tunku reveals something fascinating and important about the malformations of contemporary conservatism.
“A [polite company conservative] is a conservative who yearns for the goodwill of the liberal elite in the media and in the Beltway—who wishes, always, to have their ear, to be at their dinner parties, to be comforted by a sense that liberal interlocutors believe that they are not like other conservatives, with their intolerance and boorishness, their shrillness and their talk radio. The PCC, in fact, distinguishes himself from other conservatives not so much ideologically—though there is an element of that—as aesthetically.”
Ah! Those Beltway dinner parties, those Georgetown cocktail parties, those delicious evenings whispering sweet nothings into the ears of David Broder and Chris Matthews! How delicious, how enticing, how … utterly non-existent.
Tunku here repeats a favorite – maybe the central – myth of modern conservatism, the animating theme of the Sarah Palin campaign, the grand unifying story line of Fox News: fear of the seductive power of the “cultural elites.” One moment, you are a virtuous young conservative who dutifully believes and repeats what he hears on the Glenn Beck program. Then: the dreadful moment of temptation! Adam Nagourney has invited you to a barbeque in his backyard! It’s too dazzling, too irresistible. In a twinkling, the certitudes of a lifetime collapse.
When I read these childish fantasies in the comments section at Free Republic, I shrug. The commenter is repeating things he absorbed from some Allen Drury novel at summer camp 30 years ago. How can he be expected to know better? But Tunku of course does know better. Tunku is inveighing against a world that ceased to exist a generation ago, if it ever existed at all. It’s as if a preacher were to climb to the pulpit to preach against Jazz music and bathtub gin and flappers and flivvers. You’d think, “Has this man spent the past half century in cryogenic suspension?”
Like me, Tunku worked on the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal. He knows intimately the actual pressures brought to bear on ambitious young conservatives – and the truly glittering temptations laid before them. Answer me this, Tunku. Which frightened you more when you worked there: the fear of offending the membership committee of the Greenwich Lawn Bowling Club? Or the fear of transgressing the complex internal ideological system of the Journal’s editorial page? Which incentivized more: the yearning for an invitation to Felix Rohatyn’s house? Or the hope of an endorsement of one’s most recent book by Rush Limbaugh?
And here in the capital – where the media elite spend their leisure hours worrying over the next round of lay-offs and buy-outs – what are the opportunities that beckon most lucratively? Is Tunku so unworldly that he imagines that the big lobbying firms pay 6-figure salaries to people who DISSENT from their party leadership?
Tunku declares his preference for “passionate extremism … the more of it the better.” Tunku is the former editor of the opinion section of Forbes.com. Can he truly be unaware that his preference is shared by almost every other opinion editor, TV booker, and talk radio syndicate in the nation?
The very most baffling thing about remarks like Tunku’s is the inferiority complex to which they appeal. Behind the accusation is an assumption: an assumption that, given the choice, the opportunist would prefer the company of liberals, as such, to conservatives, as such. I do not share that assumption. Frankly, I doubt that Tunku (a graduate of Oxford) shares it either. It’s just theater.
Still, the accusation is lodged, so let me answer it directly. I’ve spoken up for my conservative principles in many places beside this website. I happened to be in London during the great anti-Iraq war protests of February 2003. I was standing in Trafalgar Square when somebody recognized me. Pretty soon i was surrounded by a crowd of a couple of hundred people, challenging me to defend the imminent war. I stood on the lip of the fountain and answered their questions, face to face, for the next hour. In October 2005, President Bush nominated his friend Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court. Radio host Laura Ingraham and I were the first two conservatives to challenge that nomination. (We were accused of elitism then too.) In October 2008 I was invited onto the Rachel Maddow show to discuss my criticisms of Sarah Palin – only Maddow prefaced the interview with a snide personal attack upon Paul Wolfowitz – so I launched into Maddow instead.
When it comes time to stand up, I know how to stand up. I’m standing up now.