In an essay published January 25 at FrumForum, John Guardiano calls me a whining, conformist young “hipster con” who misunderstands the conservative movement and lacks the courage of my convictions, linking to material that backs up none of his characterizations.
The piece stops short of insulting my mother. But it does build to the assertion that Michael Brendan Dougherty, Ross Douthat and I are fortunate to live at a time in history when the Internet gives everyone a platform, so we have “no excuses for not speaking out” and “a moral, intellectual obligation” to make our voices heard. “So stop whining and do something!” Mr. Guardiano writes, without citing any instance of me whining, or any indication that all three of us are prolific writers and bloggers. “Build a website and join the fray. Demand a seat at the political, intellectual, and policy table. Marshall your arguments and organize like-minded writers and thinkers. Pick a fight and come out swinging.”
Reader, I am human. Upon reading all that, I initially thought about a Bobby Knight quote I once heard. “When my time on earth has passed,” the great basketball coach said, “I hope they bury me upside down so that all my critics can kiss my ass.”
Can you blame me for finding his argument galling?
Here I am a full time freelance writer who made my name in political journalism as founding features editor at a start-up conservative magazine. Did I not build a Web site? Did a manifesto not precede it? I now do part of my blogging at The American Scene, another Web site filled with young right-of-center writers. Does my output there seem like it belongs to someone hesitant to join the fray? How about my Daily Beast columns? Or my second blog at True/Slant? Or the sundry other freelance pieces I write often enough to keep me housed among coastal liberals, eating arugula and making good on NPR pledges? I’ve even written at FrumForum (about my efforts to poll GOP County Chairmen all over America). Failure to “pick a fight and come out swinging” isn’t among my countless faults.
Of course, I am a relatively obscure writer, and Mr. Brendan Dougherty, a talented, outspoken writer for The American Conservative, is only somewhat better known, whereas Mr. Douthat is a devoutly Catholic, socially conservative, staunchly anti-abortion New York Times columnist. The author of an Atlantic piece arguing that pornography may be adultery, he co-founded The American Scene, literally wrote the book on the way forward for the Republican Party, and pens film columns for National Review in his spare time. So bizarre as I found Mr. Guardiano’s attacks on Mr. Dougherty and I, we weren’t even treated the least charitably! Was it the NY Times piece on overturning Roe vs. Wade or the one titled “Cheney For President” that led to the argument that Mr. Douthat is afraid of disagreeing with the liberal elite?
Defending against attacks like this is tedious and awful, especially when you’re their object. Recall what it is like to write a college essay or get asked in a job interview, “What’s your best quality?” Readers who are neither corporate lawyers nor I-bankers surely understand how uncomfortable it can be when a task demands a lengthy, favorable assessment of yourself. But I’ve grown terribly tired of attacks on so-called dissident conservatives that utterly misunderstand or misrepresent the subject at hand as much as they mislead about our output. I’m inspired by the vim and vigor of Mr. Dougherty’s excellent piece in The Awl, and my one-time professor Katie Roiphe always counseled that I shouldn’t shy away from polemical writing when the occasion demands it. So brace yourself, Mr. Guardiano, for a rebuttal that picks a fight, forgives your negligent ignorance only because it seems earnestly argued, and ruthlessly cleaves the corrupt wings of movement conservatism with the coldest, bluntest shears at hand.
Think you know what motivates “dissident conservatives?”
In an upcoming post, you’ll have the story of how one young political independent with conservative and libertarian philosophical beliefs came to Washington DC, familiarized himself with the conservative movement, and left utterly, rightly disillusioned with it. It’ll correct Mr. Guardiano’s ill-informed presumptions about what motivates people like me to write — asserted with stunning confidence given that he has never interviewed me, and attributes to me beliefs that I’ve never written and don’t hold — and more importantly, it’ll definitively set the record straight for everyone on the right who harbors mistaken assumptions about anyone who dares to criticize folks who are “on our own side,” as it is sometimes put.