Of course, it goes without saying that any liberal who tries to reverse-engineer this formula will soon find himself ostracized from polite society. Fame and fortune await the Weekly Standard staffer who denounces fellow conservatives as mean-spirited bigots; poverty and obscurity is the fate of the Nation columnist who loses faith in feminism or gay rights.

No, only GOP quislings and conservative turncoats can enhance their social status by plunging knives into the backs of their alleged ideological allies and partisan friends. Somewhere out there at this very moment is the Kathleen Parker of tomorrow, the future David Gergen biding his time while waiting for the opportune moment to strike. ~ R.S. McCain

Is he kidding? Being sarcastic? Or do the fame and fortune of ex-leftists like David Horowitz and the media attention and political influence that come with being a Democratic “centrist” like Joseph Lieberman somehow not factor into this equation? Even granting – it seems unlikely, but let’s grant it anyway – that the Post and the Times and the CNNs and Newsweeks of the world would decide not to run with the story, the storm of publicity that would be unleashed by the likes of the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Times, FOX News, and – of course – NR and the Weekly Standard if a Nation writer went pro-life or outed herself in support of the GWOT would surely rival anything generated by the heresies of a Kathleen Parker. Obviously the sorry state of the GOP makes the business of being a Republican “turncoat” especially attractive right now, but have we already forgotten the sad tale of Jerry Taylor?

In general, and as is of course typical of McCain’s writing on topics like this one, this sort of self-pitying nonsense obscures what is really a somewhat important part of his argument, namely that the consequences of being (really or merely apparently) reformist or independent-minded are often a bit less like martyrdom than some would like to think. Depending on which circles one runs in, the pressure to make one’s opinions “respectable” can be quite real, and there can be a consequent temptation to focus on the heretical opinions at the expense of the disreputable ones, to put oneself forward in a way that says, See, I’m not one of THOSE [conservatives/Christians/Republicans], to use the image of independence as a shield to deflect the sorts of criticisms that usually come along with having unpopular opinions.

But even allowing for this nugget of truth, what’s simply baffling about McCain’s argument is his unwillingness to acknowledge the extent to which social pressures can play exactly the opposite roles in shaping one’s political identity. The thrills of apostasy can often seem attractive, but political coalitions have got baskets full of ways to enforce partisan orthodoxy; hence I’ll gladly match every Parker that McCain can produce by turning up a Taylor, and then I’ll raise it from there with a handful of GOP Hill staffers and writers at NR or the Standard who’ve obediently swallowed their doubts about the policies that constitute orthodoxy in the present-day GOP. Soi distant freethinking can be a nice way to get ahead in this world, but willing groupthink is generally an even easier one.