I don’t usually respond to personal criticism. I write to reach a public audience about public issues. I don’t wish to be drawn into side disputes.
But I’m going to make an exception today and reply to this long post by John Hawkins over at Right Wing News.
Hawkins runs the conservative blogads hive. When FrumForum applied for entry, Hawkins refused. He gives an explanation here of his reasons.
Take a look, I’ll wait right here.
. . .
OK, you back?
Observe a few things:
1) Observe that Hawkins does not say, “We denied FrumForum admission to the conservative hive because they are not conservatives.” He did not say that because it would be too obviously ludicrous to do so. His complaint rather is that we are conservatives who do too much self-criticism.
[T]he mainstream media loves “conservatives” and “Republicans” who will trash whomever the Left hates most. So, if you’re willing to talk about how Sarah Palin is a hick, Glenn Beck is a crank, Rush Limbaugh is bad for the country, and the Tea Party is bad for democracy, the mainstream media will reward you – and because conservatives pride themselves on being open minded, they’ll all too often give you a pass for your atrocious behavior — especially since the MSM doesn’t insist you play their game all the time. As long as you’re willing to say what they want about the people they hate the most, they’ll reward you with a cover story at Newsweek and then in your off time, you can churn out a few articles to point gullible conservatives towards while you’re trying to guilt them into taking you seriously by crying “epistemic closure!”
Hawkins does not argue that these statements are false – that e.g. Glenn Beck is not a crank. His point is that regardless of truth, these criticisms should not occur. Or anyway, that no conservative should engage in them. Our job is to fall into line and not notice that Beck is in fact a crank or that Palin is not well-informed or that the Tea Party has saddled the Republicans with awful and probably doomed candidates like Sharron Angle and Rand Paul.
Hawkins’ attitude here reminds me of an ancient definition of a political party: “It doesn’t matter what damn lie we tell, so long as we all tell the same damn lie.”
2) Observe next Hawkins’ suggestion as to WHY we do the things we do. It’s not to be considered that we might be trying to solve important problems, even possibly in a wrongheaded way. No – we are total cynics motivated by greed for liberal $.
This point recurs again and again in his blogpost.
“Guys like Frum want to have it both ways. Being a “Republican / conservative” who tells liberals what they want to hear about the Right is a career niche — and it can pay big dividends.”
“This is what David Frum does for a living — and don’t think he doesn’t know it.”
“Everybody has to make a living. But, I’m not interested in helping people like Frum play this little game where they try to cripple conservatives publicly while coming around on the back end to milk us for money. If Frum wants to be a dancing monkey for the Left, let them come up with the money to pay for the tune.”
Now this is really amazing. We live in a world in which conservative radio hosts actually tape commercials for everything from gold coins to adjustable mattresses. Rush Limbaugh frankly acknowledged to an admiring Zev Chafets: “First and foremost I’m a businessman. My first goal is to attract the largest possible audience so I can charge confiscatory ad rates. I happen to have great entertainment skills, but that enables me to sell airtime.” Sarah Palin deserted her elected office before her term to cash in her economic opportunities. And yet it is I who am supposed to be prostituting my principles for money?
The truth, of course, is just the opposite. A lucre-seeking cynic would do much better to conform to conservative groupthink than to challenge it.
3) Hawkins asks with some apparent indignation:
That begs a question: why is David Frum getting a column at CNN? How is it that Time has a guy like this writing for them? What’s the purpose of putting a guy like Frum on TV as opposed to all the genuine conservatives who dwarf his traffic and can obviously draw a bigger crowd?”
It’s a fascinatingly revealing question.
Hawkins seems to be suggesting that we go on TV not as individuals, to express our own ideas as best we can, to offer the most useful information we can discover. No – people should appear as representatives of pre-existing tribes: conservatives, liberals, blacks, whatever, to engage in a ritual of synchronized repetition of pre-existing phrases. You are a conservative? You must say THIS – and never that. You must approve THIS – and never admit to doubts about that.
Hawkins asks: “What’s the point of putting Frum on TV?” Take him seriously though and you have to wonder: What’s the point of putting ANYONE on TV when the job could be so easily automated?
* * *
This exchange originated as a sidebar to a discussion of Dave Weigel and JournoList. I expressed disapproval of the whole JournoList enterprise. It looked to me like a device for creating and enforcing groupthink. I complained that it created an undisclosed editorial relationship, in which writers would be monitored and constrained by co-ideologues.
Since my post, a number of participants in JournoList have insisted that no such thing happened. Here for example is Jon Chait, here’s Michael Tomasky, and here on the FrumForum site is Rich Yeselson. On the other hand, here is blogger Scott Winship who participated in the listserve and contends that the list did indeed consolidate conventional liberal views. That seems to me a much more plausible description of how groups like JournoList actually function. On the other hand, I was not there.
But here’s something I can say: Whether Chait, Tomasky and the others are right about JournoList – or whether Winship is right that it did have more effect than participants now acknowledge – they all agree that it would be a bad thing to negotiate behind-the-scenes a liberal orthodoxy that could not be debated in public. There’s a lot wrong with today’s liberalism, but that agreement at least represents a sign of health. It’s a health that many of us are working to restore to the conservative world: not FrumForum alone, but many others as well. I have no doubt at all that we will prevail.