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Talking To The Wall (II)

Nothing could better demonstrate the truth of this assessment of the state of internal conservative debate (or lack thereof) than the tiresomeMarkLevinfracas. This will be my first and last post on the subject. In the original post, I said:

There is relatively limited engagement between the two because dissident conservatives have increasingly come to the conclusion that their mainstream counterparts have little or nothing of interest to say and that the mainstream conservatives have no interest in learning from any of their errors, and because the mainstream conservatives have concluded that the dissidents are crypto-leftists (or something else undesirable) who want to destroy America precisely because of most of the critiques Will mentions. To the extent that they refer to anything we say, it is usually to repeat this sort of trash as if it were a serious argument. The latter tends to reinforce the dissidents’ assumption that they are correct that the mainstream has nothing of interest to say, which is otherwise confirmed on a daily basis by a quick browse of the mainstream outlets and re-confirmed by their near-absolute deafness to any significant criticism from the right. Put another way, it is very difficult to talk to people who live inside a multi-layered cocoon and never want to come out.

The thing to take away from this Levin business is that his defenders would have found some way to rally around him no matter what he said. For Dan Riehl, this is done by invoking the high quality standards of Howard Stern, which probably ought to give Riehl pause, but I suppose whatever is at hand will do. After all, one reason why Riehl and others are defending Levin is not to say that they approve of telling women that their husbands should kill themselves (though apparently they do approve–it’s “hilarious,” you see), but to make clear that they are on the side of the popular and relatively powerful figures on the right and to show their devotion to the cause, which is demonstrated all the more by the embarrassing lengths to which they will go in concocting defenses for prominent members of the movement. In a perverse way, the obnoxious nature of Levin’s comment is a gold mine of sorts for those who wish to demonstrate how reflexively tribal they can be. It is one thing to go to the wall defending a controversial but legitimate view on policy, and quite another to give no quarter in defense of loudmouthed ranting. By the sad standards of the movement, a willingness to defending the latter is the true measure of loyalty.

P.S. One last point needs to be made. In a response to Conor, Levin says, “My purpose was not to win over converts or represent the Republican Party.” This is the dodge that these radio hosts use when they are in a bind: “I’m just an entertainer running my own show–I don’t work for the Republican Party!” Of course, should someone turn around and say, “Yes, you are an entertainer, and your views on the future of the party should carry as much weight as those of any celebrity,” this will be considered a grievous insult and an attempt to diminish the role of these venerable “teachers” on the right. These are people who want and wield influence, and who assume de facto leadership roles and take actions that have political consequences, but who take no commensurate responsibility for those consequences.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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