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Acknowledging Reality

During his address to the Turkish parliament, President Obama said:

I know there have been difficulties these last few years. I know that the trust that binds us has been strained, and I know that strain is shared in many places where the Muslim faith is practiced. Let me say this as clearly as I can: the United States is not at war with Islam.

Naturally, this acknowledgment of what some of us call reality proves to Matt Lewis [1] that Obama is “apologizing” to Turks and Muslims the world over, and more than this he is supposedly “breaking the tradition of not criticizing your own country abroad.” If anyone can locate anywhere in this statement where Obama has actually criticized the United States, he should consult a doctor, because it means he can see things that do not exist. Unless Lewis would like to argue that relations with Turkey and the Islamic world as a whole have not been strained, which would be a rather unique interpretation of the last decade, he should target some other part of the speech to criticize. Unless Lewis thinks that we are at war with Islam and would actually like to stand behind this claim, perhaps he should just not speak about these matters.

This is all par for the course for Lewis, a TownHall blogger for whom there is no lame cliche or movement conservative trope that he will not happily repeat. As a good example of this, take his unusually unimaginative attack on Ross Douthat in this bloggingheads segment [2]. Ross, you see, is “what conservatism is if you live in New York City,” the sort favored by those who attend New York cocktail parties (!), and “not part of the conservative movement.” Worst of all, he is someone whom liberals do not automatically dismiss as an idiot. Lewis’ entire criticism is an exercise in the sort of mindless pseudo-sociological analysis that now passes for a lot of intra-conservative argument, according to which anyone whose writings are of interest to people outside the confines of the movement is inherently suspect and untrustworthy. No doubt in years to come Ross will be accused by such towering giants as Lewis of “criticizing his own movement” in so-called “foreign territory” when he acknowledges other realities that movement conservatives find unpleasant, and it will make just as much sense then as his useless attack on the President’s speech in Ankara has made today.

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4 Comments To "Acknowledging Reality"

#1 Comment By RedPhillips On April 7, 2009 @ 3:21 pm

Clearly many movement conservatives lack thoughtfulness in getting past movement orthodoxy, which is in several respects not really conservative. So often movement conservatives criticize folks like Douthat and Dreher for straying from orthodoxy when they are actually articulating something closer to authentic conservatism properly understood.

That said, there is a lot of truth to this part of Lewis’ formulation. ““What conservatism is if you live in New York City,” the sort favored by those who attend New York cocktail parties.” Many right thinking conservatives have been saying this for years. In fact, this has been a criticism of the New York and DC centric “conservatism” of NR, for example, leveled by many of us paleos out here in flyover country. Douthat is not the same as the new breed of self-consciously moderate conservative bashers like Frum, Brooks, Parker and Miss McCain, but this dynamic certainly exists.

“according to which anyone whose writings are of interest to people outside the confines of the movement is inherently suspect and untrustworthy.”

Again there is much truth to this if those “outside the confines” are from the center or left. I don’t think this is just simple minded cultishness. Suspicion is warranted and this accurately captures an important dynamic. A problem with movement types is that they have never been able to tolerate (or frankly understand) criticisms from their right.

#2 Comment By Daniel Larison On April 7, 2009 @ 6:04 pm

Certainly there are moderate Republican types who make their name on attacking conservatives, but what I found so annoying about this criticism of Ross is that it echoes every criticism anyone made about, say, Sarah Palin no matter where the critics fell on the spectrum. To criticize is to reveal one’s own “objective” liberalism, or so many Palinites would have had us believe. This ceases to be meaningful analysis and becomes a thoughtless reflex. Exercising this reflex may be appropriate in some cases, but it is the response in every case.

I tend to doubt that Roman Catholic pro-lifers are the NY cocktail party set’s idea of a good time. It’s not just that this kind of attack on Ross is wrong, but that it’s not even an argument. It doesn’t say, “X diverges from conservative policy views in the following ways, which is why I find him unreliable or do not regard him as being very conservative,” but instead says, “People on the other team have some basic respect for X as a serious figure whose ideas they don’t dismiss out of hand, therefore he must be a traitor.”

#3 Comment By cbh8377 On April 8, 2009 @ 7:23 am

“People on the other team have some basic respect for X as a serious figure whose ideas they don’t dismiss out of hand, therefore he must be a traitor.”

I think that this kind of approach is great for whipping the movement conservatives up into a froth against someone. But it’s bad for our national discourse. People such who earn respect from the other team such as Ross, Reihan, and you, Daniel, have an opportunity to engage and persuade that those who choose to live in the conservative establishment media cocoon lack. And of course, the establishment figures, Bill Kristol and his ilk, are far more likely to get the big media opportunities; their appearances are losses for conservative ideas because they have no credibility with the other side and no ability to make their cases to anyone who isn’t already a believer.

#4 Comment By Mark Moore On April 8, 2009 @ 5:24 pm

anyone whose writings are of interest to people outside the confines of the movement is inherently suspect and untrustworthy.

You must be regarded as one of these treasonous suspects, says this liberal reader. The whole inside/outside, member/nonmember dynamic is quite fascinating. I was raised in a fundamentalist church where this was a big concern. Who belongs? Who doesn’t? Who gets into our heaven? Who doesn’t? Kind of picture St. Peter sitting by the gates and scratching his head at all the little gates being raised along heaven’s walls by groups great and small–no one enters heaven but by our little gate.

As a liberal, I’ve always been liberal about who might or should be considered liberal. Figured political stuff is about conversation, and power, and compromise, so does it really matter where people start from? Lately, though, I’ve been a bit more cynical about the whole thing. Looks like there’s really just one establishment party to me. I’m beginning to think the hippies may have been right on that point.

At any rate, I sure appreciate your thoughts. We can use all the nuancing we can get. Thanks for sharing them on the internet.