There are several good posts and articles recently written that provide a peek inside the conservative establishment and how it operates, whether its fundraising, or talk radio, and who it consists of and what they are thinking . Many do not like the establishment and posture themselves against it but establishments, like the poor, you will always have with you and they are inevitable because when the centers of government, finance, media and entertainment are concentrated in one place instead of many, it thus requires one to live at or near them to be of some use. When that many people are at the centers of power, then establishments are born. There’s no way around this. The ascendancy of the right from 1981-2008 was bound to create a conservative establishment with all those people descending upon Washington D.C. since the mid-1970s and onward whether it was to staff think tanks, foundations or Administrations.
However, what we’re dealing with here is an establishment that has split itself in two. In the majority is what I like to call Conservative INC. It has become a money-grubbing scam as the Boston Phoenix article shows and one that is totalitarian in the way it operates and disseminates ideas. This was at the heart of Austin Bramwell’s AmCon article “Good-Bye To All That”:
“By ideology, I mean precisely what Orwell depicted in 1984. I do not mean, of course, that conservatism is totalitarian. Taken as prophecy, 1984 has little merit. Taken as a description of the world we actually live in, however, it is indispensable. 1984 reveals not the horrors of the future but the quotidian realities of ideology in mass democracy. Conservatism exemplifies them all.
First, like Ingsoc, conservatism has a hierarchical structure. Like Orwell’s “Inner Party,” those at the top of the movement have almost perfect freedom to decide what opinions count as official conservatism. The Iraq War furnishes a telling example. In the run-up to the invasion, leading conservatives announced that conservatism now meant spreading global democratic revolution. This forthright radicalism—this embrace of the sanative powers of violence—became quickly accepted as the ineluctable meaning of conservatism in foreign policy. Those who dissented risked ostracism and harsh rebuke. Had conservative leaders instead argued that global democratic revolution would not cure our woes but increase them, the rest of the movement would have accepted this position no less quickly. Millions of conservative epigones believe nothing less than what the movement’s established organs tell them to believe. Rarely does a man recognize, like Winston Smith, his own ideology as such.”
It is this situation that has created a minority of dissenters within said establishment including messrs. Frum, Brooks, Parker, Noonan and Buckley and so forth who are appalled at what Conservative INC. has done or is doing or how it operates. Conservative INC. responds in kind by attacking such dissent as viciously as Big Brother once attacked Goldstein:
“The movement’s leaders may be better informed, but they have no clearer idea of what they actually think. What they need is analysis: the skeptical tradition extending from Machiavelli to Hobbes, Hamilton, and Burnham that seeks to understand the world as it is rather than as we might like it to be. Analysis, however, requires intellect, but the movement’s mainstream, perhaps to avoid embarrassment (some mainstream figures favorably compared Bush not just to Ronald Reagan but to Abraham Lincoln), has increasingly ostracized its brightest minds.”
Whatever you may think of the Establishment dissenters (and we will deal with them later) they are right in decrying these trends and Conservative INC. debasement into a rank, demagogic populism. Indeed, one could argue that the anti-intellectualism that is currently in vogue within Conservative INC., may turn into the kind of anti-education posture one finds in ghettos where “keeping it real,” “street cred” and “authenticity” are more important or is perceived as being more important than brains to the target audience. This is not to denigrate those who are street smart as compared to book smart, but it’s still an open question whether Sarah Palin has even sidewalk-level intelligence. When you abandon the field of education and let its institutions become leftist enclaves, it only feeds the intuition of those who feel listening to talk radio or watching Fox News is the only education they truly need and anything else is simply “elitist.”
It is to the “target audience” that Conservative INC. responds to or better yet “the base”. At least it thinks it is responding to the base or perhaps they are fully cynical enough (as Bill Kristol and the writers of the Weekly Standard seem to be) to believe the base will respond to whatever they tell them to respond to. This is why Ann Coulter, Mark Levin, Laura Inghram, Michael Savage and Dick Morris and company sell best selling books (assuming they actually wrote them) and or have talk shows. This why fundraising appeals are written in the apocalyptic.
Given the current state of things, the base is quite naturally feeling mad, upset, besieged, disillusioned, bewildered and betrayed. This is why the Tea Parties take place. This is why the “Birther” movement has taken off among them (as opposed to say the “Truther” movement which was condemned by the Conservative INC. as being radical and conspiracy theory. Who knows, maybe the base might start looking to the 9-11 Truth movement and perhaps Rush Limbaugh will start calling for an investigation of Building 7. So long as it gets ratings….). It’s not surprising that some persons will latch on to anything that expresses these emotions when their own so-called “leaders” have either been beaten, disgraced, made to look incompetent or are completely clueless. If they have no answers, others will be glad to provide them. Conservative INC. (of which Fox News is a big part of). isn’t going to mind if Glenn Beck passes out literature from W. Cleon Skousen, much to Frum’s dismay, because Beck’s hot in the ratings and draws viewers and can pretty much do whatever he wants and anyone who objects is an “elitist” who has let the base down and betrayed it to the Left and is no longer entitled to their attention or wallets for that matter. It’s all about entertainment:
“Fourth, conservatism is entertaining. Understanding the world, though rewarding, provides nothing like the pleasures of a “Two Minute Hate,” a focused, ritualized denunciation of enemies. To induce its own Two Minute Hates, conservatism, like Ingsoc in 1984, manufactures bogeymen such as “judicial activists,” “so-called realists,” or “moral relativists” that become symbolic representations of detested outsiders. Meanwhile, like the Inner Party in 1984, conservative leaders tolerate the more vulgar, angry purveyors of ideology—think talk-show hosts or authors of bestselling political books. The most vicious attacks, meanwhile, are reserved for turncoats, like Goldstein in 1984. (Of course, as many paleoconservatives could attest, the hatred is usually mutual.) Rooting for conservative ideology is as engrossing to its partisans as rooting for the local football team is to its fans.”
The dissenters can dissent all they want but they’re none too popular right now. Nor are they very pure either. As Larison pointed out, Brooks was one of the biggest cheerleaders for Bush II during his term and Frum even wrote a book about his experience as a cheerleader. Parker too. They have neither recanted their support nor have explained where they have gone wrong, particularly on the war in Iraq, or other such abominations given down to us by Bush II. Frum has never apologized for his smears of war opponents even thought they turned out to be right and himself wrong and no amount bitching about Donald Rumsfeld can absolve any war supporter because many of the people around Rumsfeld in the DOD were members of the same establishment and close allies and friends. One is tempted to say to them “You lead us down the road to defeat!” ala Ev Dirksen, No doubt many in the base have probably said this.
Which is too bad because such people, given their establishment credentials and connections, were in a position to give the alt-right some needed attention because (and like it or not) we agree on the problem with Conservative INC., just not the solution. The establishment dissenters, as we may call them, believe that you basically need a brand new base to appeal to. I and I’m sure others would argue that you need to expand the “base” rather than recreate it and you need new ideas and new issues that can capture popular support amongst intellectuals and non-intellectuals alike along with serious introspection as to what went wrong from the top down. If this happened, then maybe the base would rally their energy to things like “End the Fed” instead of preparing to be led down the dreary path of Obama bashing, the same lost way as Clinton bashing in the 1990s which ended up with Clinton winning two terms, Hillary Clinton as a U.S. Senator and Secretary of State and her allies holding key positions in the Obama White House, David Brock becoming a leftist and Christopher Ruddy becoming a FOB. Given the establishment’s hierarchical nature, such change would flow from the “inner party” to its media outlets and then down to the “base” which would in turn change the way Conservative INC. sold its wares to them.
However, this would require a lot of people owning up to and being responsible for their mistakes, for others to quit referring to Ron Paul and his supporters as “wicked idiots” and for others to stop peddling “no” as public policy or rehash ideas relevant 30 years ago. Don’t hold your breath right now:
“Worse, no reckoning will be made: they hope in vain who expect conservatives to take responsibility for the actual consequences of their actions. Conservatives have no use for the ethic of responsibility; they seek only to “see to it that the flame of pure intention is not quelched.”
And keep money coming in apparently.