Dear Mr. Brooks,
Arrogance is Not Persuasive
Let me speak more directly to the most troubling aspect of reform conservatism – the apparent disdain for traditional conservatives. Contrary to the implication drawn from David Brooks’ noxious homily, Darkness at Dusk, in the November 11, 2008 New York Times, traditional conservatives are not entrenched relics, hell bent on marching like lemmings to the political cliff – nor are we all in lock step with a prospective Sarah Palin candidacy. There are numbers of prominent individuals who count themselves among traditional conservatives, whose governing philosophy could hardly be called stoic; and, then, there are others, who may elect to shed the title ‘traditional conservative,’ but whose aggressive agenda of tax reform, pro-growth policies, limited government, and private sector solutions to broader societal concerns clearly finds its roots in the tested principals of traditional conservatism.
The fact that Mr. Brooks and other reformers repeatedly bring up Governor Palin – he called her a ‘fatal cancer’ on the Republican Party – and her alleged lack of experience, knowledge, etc., to target traditional conservatives, says far more about their brand of elitism, than it does her competency. To his credit, Ponneru cautions against such attacks, as self-defeating and impractical when trying to persuade others to their cause. Brooks apparently doesn’t agree – his ominous warning to traditional conservatives that they “cannot continue to insult the sensibilities of the educated class and the entire East and West coasts” reeks of an elitist whining to be heard, while insulting the very people he hopes to convert.
Frankly, we have a right to expect more from the ‘educated class.’ Merely occupying seats to the political right of Anna Quindlen and Frank Rich at the New York Times, without more, isn’t enough. If reform conservatives think that they will persuade this mid-40s, dual-degreed, educated conservative and others like me to sign on to their program, then they have more work to do. As a start, may I suggest a dash of humility?
Reform conservatives, like Brooks, seemingly engage in an endless stream of intellectual pontification, while their own reform ‘program’ is fatally short on specifics. Unfortunately for them, condescension does not a political philosophy make. Brooks claims that “[m]ost professional conservatives are lifelong Washingtonians who live comfortably as organization heads, lobbyists and publicists.” The glaring hypocrisy of such a statement coming from one of the media’s sheltered elites cannot be understated. More than that, however, Brooks’ supposition is sheer nonsense.
Conservatism is alive and well in the heartland – even amongst us professionals, who operate both within and without the conservative hierarchy. Then, of course, there are those darned, moose-huntin’, gun-totin’ ‘goober conservatives’ out here in the hinterland, embodied by Sarah Palin and her kinfolk – most recently lampooned by the likes of reform conservative, Peggy Noonan, and Kathleen Parker. As for Ms. Parker’s criticism – it’s not worth much more discussion. More troubling was Ms. Noonan’s criticism of Ms. Palin’s intellect, which called to mind her admittedly regrettable comparison of Ronald Reagan’s mind to ‘barren terrain.” We’ll see if Ms. Noonan is as quick to express regret for her personal commentary on Ms. Palin? I am not holding my breath.
Ironically, the ‘goober conservative’ class has far more respect for the reformist elites, who reflect little other than contempt for them. Contrary to the implication of Mr. Brooks’ pitiful call for respect of the ‘educated class,’ ‘goober conservatives’ do acknowledge that so-called elites, as Romesh Ponneru suggests, “have a significant role in developing a sensible politics.” But, Ponneru then overplays his hand, seemingly carving out a special niche for elites, arguing that “developing policies and strategies is necessarily an elite pursuit.” In its most generous construction, the implication is that not only is developing policy and strategy a necessary elite pursuit, but it is a uniquely elite pursuit. Horse hockey.
My father, a successful businessman, used to bemoan that the lawyers with whom he routinely dealt – little did he know at the time, I would become one – were ‘deal breakers.’ Politics is not altogether different – not only aren’t elitist individuals uniquely qualified to pass muster on policy and strategy, often times their highly nuanced positions lose the very audience they seek to persuade. Sure, in any given circumstance, elitist intellectuals might win the battle over policy, but such efforts often prove equally adept at losing the war.
For more on the battle between Reform and Traditional Conservatives, see Reform Conservatism is Ultimately Neither.