Every two or four years for the last several election cycles since I started voting, I have seen conservatives make the team/tribe argument as if “Stick To Your Own Kind” was repeating on an eternal loop in their heads. Helen Rittelmeyer is the most recent:
I could probably state my entire objection in a single sentence—”Conor, you’re my editor and I love you, but don’t take sides with anyone against the Family, ever”—but I’ll say a little more for clarity.
This has never made sense to me. Tribal politics assumes some affinity, whether based on real or fictive kinship, and speaking for myself I find that I have few affinities with the tribe I am usually expected to defend and support. Belonging to a political team presupposes that you are pursuing the same goals, and to the extent that being a movement conservative means having a goal of supporting the GOP more or less regardless of what it does then I don’t share those goals, either. This logic of being a team player has been taken to absurd depths in the last eight years, as anyone who broke with “the Family” has been penalized for violating the political equivalent of the code of omerta. In “the Family,” when someone ends up at odds with the boss he has to go to serve as an example to others. Disloyalty is not good for business, and if you know what’s good for you you’ll keep your mouth shut.
Maybe that’s just the way of things and there would at least be a certain consistency to all this except, of course, partisans and movement regulars are very flexible in their loyalties to specific leaders depending on circumstances. Mr. Bush was once movement conservatives’ champion, but many of them have broken or are breaking with him now. There are things that even party/tribal/team loyalty will not permit (e.g., backing the White House on immigration or the bailout), at which point conservatives rediscover the virtues of independence and opposition. When the need arises, they have no problem not just speaking but also acting against the boss. Conor has spoken against a prominent member of “the Family” (i.e., Palin) and he should apparently be treated as a turncoat, but Jeb Hensarling helped humiliate the GOP leadership and the President and he has been and will continue to be feted as a hero in many movement circles. Even though the House GOP role in killing the bailout the first time probably did more to sink McCain’s chances in this election more than a thousand Conor Friedersdorfs calling for Palin to step aside, because it showed that McCain could not accomplish anything he set out to do in the negotiations, you can take it to the bank that almost all of the people who denounce Conor as some Obamacon stooge think the House GOP rebels are great. In other words, it is not even the objective advantage or disadvantage to the electoral chances of the GOP ticket that is the real criterion here; it is simply whether or not movement conservatives happen to like a certain argument or not.
Loyalty and power rise and fall, as I suppose they have always done, in direct proportion: as Mr. Bush has become weaker, the more willing his former supporters are to turn against him. The disloyal ones are no longer penalized, and it is taken for granted that this new disloyalty is necessary. Indeed, under the new boss, it is positively vital to make clear that you believe that the new boss is nothing like the old boss. The scramble to flee from Bush after years of shameless support shows that the collective good of the team/tribe takes precedence, except when it doesn’t. Turning on the boss and his people if it helps “the Family” in the long term is considered acceptable, but I suppose that is the kind of decision that can only be made at the Don level. It’s not for mere peons, Conor!
If Conor has made any mistake, it is that he attempted to make some rational and consistent analysis of the woes of conservatives and make conclusions accordingly. Doesn’t he know
we’re at war there’s an election going on? Having found that conservatives trusted in Mr. Bush’s competence for less-than-substantive reasons, he foolishly noticed that they were doing the same thing all over again with Palin and considered this very undesirable for conservatives, and then he made the blunder of saying out loud what he and everyone else could see as plain as day.
Austin Bramwell outlined the process of enforcement pretty effectively a couple years ago in TAC:
At the same time, to rise in the movement, one must develop a habitual obliviousness to truth, or what Orwell labeled “doublethinking.” Anyone who expresses too vociferously too many of the following opinions, for example, cannot expect to make a career in the movement: that the Soviet Union was not the threat that anti-communists made it out to be, that the current tax system discriminates in favor of the very wealthy, that the Bush administration was wrong about the Iraq invasion in nearly every respect, that the constitutional design itself prevents judges from deciding cases according to the original meaning of the Constitution, that global warming poses small but unacceptable risks, that everyone in the abortion debate—even the most ardent pro-lifers—inevitably engages in arbitrary line-drawing. Whether these opinions and others are correct or not matters little to the movement conservative, even if he knows next to nothing about the topic at hand. If you do not reject these opinions or at least keep quiet, you are not a movement conservative and will be treated accordingly.
Add to this list the claim that Sarah Palin is not qualified to be President, and the reaction to Conor’s original article fits the pattern.