FRONT PAGE CONTRIBUTOR
To Our Friends at (The) National Review
From the diaries . . .
So with New Hampshire behind us (and with any luck, never again in front of us), and with my tendency to be overloaded with life to the point at which I catch up on things I meant to write two to fifty-two weeks after they are timely, I wanted to say something about the controversy which was and is best described as “National Romney Online.”
For those of you who don’t keep up on conservative tendencies to engage in circular firing squads, a summary is in order; for those of you who couldn’t give a rat’s anus, best just to skip this diary altogether.
In short, National Review — which backed Mitt Romney in 2008 after months and years of not-so-coyly talking him up — and which has not, in fairness, endorsed anyone as a publication yet, is perceived to be carrying water for the Mittster this time around. The battle was joined when Ramesh Ponnuru — arguably the brightest of National Review’s lights, and the editor with the greatest credibility among mainstream conservatives — endorsed Romney, albeit not without qualifications; the battle escalated when the publication as a whole went full-metal William Foster on Newt Gingrich for a thousand and one sins against conservatism and electability. In passing, the magazine took shots at Ron Paul (who hasn’t?), Michelle Bachmann, and Rick Perry; then took time to praise Jon Huntsman, Mitt Romney, and Rick Santorum, whose only apparent problem was a lack of executive experience. The didactic tone at the end of the piece seemed almost calculated to irritate any reader not yet enraged by the closing of the piece.
The backlash was intense. It was so severe that Jim Geraghty, whose Morning Jolt newsletter is one of three to which I voluntarily subscribe, has remained defensive since. Jonah Goldberg, of whom we all thought only the death of a near relative could bring him low, sent out a G-File (the second to which I subscribe) that basically sounded like a particular Megadeth song.
Before I go any farther, I’d like to explain why I’m writing this. I was not one of the founders of RedState, and my position was nebulous from early on. I am not now affiliated with RedState. I still love the site and its denizens, but like almost all of the original staff — Josh Trevino, Ben Domenech, and roughly 783 out of the 785 initial Editors who came on board in July 2004 — my only link to the site is a past about which most current readers could not give two running leaps. (Or a rat’s anus.)
But I was there in the sandbox basically on day one, and after the first 680 or so editors quit, there was this great feeling of solidarity as we tried to become relevant in the 2004 elections. As I’ve noted before, we weren’t flush with resources — the Founders handled the whole thing out of their own pockets — and so we really appreciated any helping hand we got.
Jim Geraghty’s was one of those helping hands. To this day, I hold a warm spot in my heart for him just on the strength of sitting on some email threads with us, plotting, talking, conniving. I’ll always remember a phone call I had with the Swede after one of those email exchanges, talking about how amazing it was that we were actually being treated seriously by Jim Geraghty of all people. (We also discussed other things, like pie. Erick likes pie.)
And then there’s Ramesh. I think I spoke for the entire Contributor staff, or pretty darned close, when I said nice things about Ramesh when I resigned, and by the Kraken’s third head, I was sincere. It was my hope to write as well, as cogently, and as honestly as Ramesh when I grew up, a goal I hold to this day. I got one of the first run of his Party of Death, and read it cover to cover, enjoying every word, appreciating the serious, deliberate, intelligent, measured tone. (I don’t do serious, deliberate, intelligent, measured tone.)
And Jonah? I’m basically doing a poor imitation of Jonah Goldberg as I write this. Without any disrespect to its current leadership, I believed and believe that his departure as editor of NRO is one of the greatest losses the publication as a whole has ever experienced.
So, as I try to explain to people at National Review who will never read this, I want them to understand as they don’t read this that I’m saying what I’m saying out of gratitude, admiration, and affection. I’m being sincere because I think a gulf has opened, and I don’t think they understand it. I say this as a friend not a single one of you has ever met.
You have lost your way.
The editorial that sparked all of this is metonymic of the greater problem. Newt Gingrich has his share (my share, and about forty other people’s shares) of problems, in terms of record, temperament, executive experience, self-regard, this list could go on for forty more lines. The vast majority of those offended by the editorial were not passionately leaping to Newt Gingrich’s defense; they were leaping to attack what National Review has become.
Consider that in one fell swoop the publication managed to dismiss the longest-serving governor in the nation, with a record of conservative governance unmatched by any governor current or recent past, linking him unsubtly to a crank known for conspiracy theories and Ron Paul; praise Mitt Romney, who while apparently a model conservative (the sort who helps get abortion funding in state-run mandatory health insurance) has failed to seal the deal with conservatives for some unknowable reason; praise Jon Huntsman, whose entire campaign was a John Weaver special from tip to tail (this is not a compliment); and praise Rick Santorum, one of the greatest (if dimmest) champions the pro-life movement has had, and who was so conservative he went to war for massive increases in federal spending almost every day, and whose greatest knock is not his loss to an anodyne nobody by a margin that made even the rest of 2006 look like a joke, but rather a lack of executive experience.
You praised, in other words, a man whom only Kathryn Jean Lopez and Justin Hart could describe as carrying any sort of conservative record, a man who has spent his entire campaign shooting at conservatives, and a man who did more than anyone other than George W. Bush and Tom DeLay to stain the Republican image of fiscal austerity. In the very same piece, you treated a man with actual, real, conservative accomplishments over the course of a decade of governance as a tongue-tied embarrassment.
(Full disclosure: I like and support Rick Perry, but I believe and believed he shouldn’t run this time, so close to George W. Bush. At any rate, I’m pretty sure Obama wins on the strength of incumbency, so I feel like we’re having this battle for principle’s sake.)
To many of us out here, that seemed like the same sort of tone-deaf water-carrying for milquetoast Republicans we’ve seen for over a decade now. To many of us, National Review’s fighting spirit — against Republicans, that is — took crippling hits under the Bush Administration, to the point where we’d expect to see Roy Blunt on the cover as the Greatest Conservative of this Decade (Runner Up: Mitch McConnell; Second Runner Up: Charles Grassley) if Mitt doesn’t already have that award sewn up, too. At a time when the activist portion of your readership is hell-bent on stopping a fiscal nightmare and destroying Obamacare, your response is to praise a man known for a gigantic government program (incidentally, the model for Obamacare), a governor with a legitimate record of fiscal sanity who thought the stimulus wasn’t big enough, and a senator whose fiscal accomplishments all echo Medicare Part D.
That Ramesh’s mark was all over the editorial — writing styles are like fingerprints — stung even more, because it suggested a closer confluence of the pro-Romney forces of National Review and the nominally independent ones. It also felt like Ramesh was being deployed as a weapon against National Review’s readership.
Not only that, but your collective response to the Bain issue — which, remember, is going to get just the teensiest airing from Obama’s merry crew in the general election — has been like the sound of a thousand scalded cats screaming in pain and fear, but without the silence that comes after. Instead of understanding that a significant portion of the conservative movement is currently unemployed, has long had a streak of populism, and is vaguely certain that the words “hedge fund” mean “Wall Street” (and “Wall Street” means “bailouts”), so that Bain Capital is now symbolic of everything that has plagued the country for the last five years, you accuse everyday conservatives of being like Huey Freaking Long.
You are defending a rich guy, who was born into money and made even more, who is running as a job creator who cannot identify a single job other than his own that he created in a field that is known for chopping up companies to extract equity, running on the strength of that inherited and earned money, as if he is the same sort of exemplar of the free market as a mom-and-pop meat market. You are doing this in the middle of the worst economic environment of the last several decades. You are staking your collective credibility on a man who governed to the left of every Republican governor before him, for a single term, before he bailed to run for the Presidency, and who left his state’s Republican apparatus in ruins, but not before he created the monstrosity that became the model for the abomination that is Obamacare. You have done all of this while pretending not to endorse the man.
I am desperately afraid that this makes sense to you.
You have alienated yourself from your readership and your movement to the point where many of us read Ramesh Ponnuru’s work — Ramesh Ponnuru’s work! — to learn what the Republicans in Congressional leadership are thinking and saying among themselves at any given time. You have missed the flavor and tone of the Tea Parties and their impact on the wider conservative movement. You seem to believe that a continued (and admirable) devotion to the pro-life cause, not even always in words alone, is sufficient to excuse a politician for his manifold sins. You have forgotten that one of the founding creeds of the modern conservative movement is A Choice, Not An Echo. You have mistaken the art of the possible for resignation to the good-enough. You are, as I write this, conflating pro-market with pro-business.
You are supposed to be a beacon of what is best in us, not a reminder that some days, you just can’t win.
In the end, I suspect I’ve wasted two billable hours (give or take) writing this when I should be feeding my family, because I also think you’ve given up on understanding your customers. I canceled my own damn subscription something like five years ago because you insisted on publishing that perverted, paleocon, racist John Derbyshire against all sense and reason, but I still read NRO religiously until not very long ago at all. It’s sad to see the online site — that I read while a student in law school, surrounded by lefties during the Clinton Administration — descend so far, and the magazine go even farther. Given the complete absence of any change in your direction, I have to imagine you’ve seen no fall in your advertising revenues; as good believers in the free market, I have to believe you think you’re doing it right.
It’s a shame, and we’re all poorer for it. We’ll miss you, and hope you come back to us some day.