Jeffrey Hart’s article on William F. Buckley in the 3/24 issue is a fine piece, and I recommend it to any who haven’t read it yet. It has received a fair amount of attention, mostly because of the anecdotes Mr. Hart includes, but it has also received some recent criticism along other lines: it is “gloomy” about the movement’s prospects and “meanspirited.” This latter charge, which seems to hinge on referring to Limbaugh as a blowhard (a more or less accurate description), doesn’t stand up when you look at the article as a whole. On the whole, Mr. Hart describes and recounts; this is not a polemic. Though I cannot know about what was in Mr. Hart’s mind when he wrote those words, I would guess that he called Limbaugh a “radio blowhard” because that is what he thought of him and other purveyors of what is called popular conservatism, and I expect that this is a result of Mr. Hart’s more general opposition to populism.
Mr. Freire objects:
Why conservatives heap onto other conservatives in such a way, I don’t understand.
As the rest of Mr. Hart’s article makes clear, conservatives “heap onto other conservatives” this way because they have strong disagreements and have been heaping scorn on each other for over fifty years. There are ways to make strong criticisms without resorting to ad hominem attacks, and this is desirable, but Mr. Hart is not exactly criticising a Limbaugh argument in the anecdote, and he is describing him with the word he thinks is fitting. Calling people names is unnecessary, unless the names are the proper ones to use. Why might Mr. Hart take a dim view of someone like Limbaugh? The article gives us a hint when he writes:
…I learned a great deal from Burnham, most importantly to resist ideology, reflexive partisanship, wishful thinking, emotion. Fact and analysis.
Limbaugh has spent much of his career indulging in one or more of these with regularity, and this has become particularly noticeable during the last eight or ten years.
As for the charge of gloominess, there may be something to it, but the conclusion that the movement is probably finished seems to me to have strong arguments behind it. No doubt there are smart, young conservatives who will continue to represent the best of intellectual conservatism, but after their complicity in the disasters of the Bush Era the movement institutions probably do not have much of a future over the long term. The political conservative movement, having bound itself to an unnecessary war, has suffered such a loss of credibility that it probably is finished. Maybe the better question to ask is whether a movement that enabled and defended such disasters should survive. As I said when I spoke at CPAC, in its current form I doubt that it will, and I tend to think that it probably shouldn’t.