not everyone who says he’s your friend is your friend

So here’s my dilemma.

Real partisanship, I mean real, nasty, cut-off-the-country’s-nose-to-spite-the-other-side’s-face partisanship, can be fun, as the average college Republican can tell you. But among it’s many, many downsides is the fact that you can’t ever incorporate or learn from the opinions of people on the other side. What’s more, in an atmosphere of strict partisanship, bipartisan support is something to be feared and derided. To the true partisan, after all, pragmatism and righteousness are defined entirely by the distance from the other sides opinion. Someone on the other side agreeing with you isn’t a function of you having a sensible position that makes sense absent of ideology; it’s a sign that you are a bad teammate, that you have been corrupted, that you are secretly on the other side. Like most rhetorical idiocies, hyper-partisanship succeeds mostly in excluding people who would be natural allies to ones cause.

You can see then why I’m loathe to weigh in on this little situation between John Schwenkler and Robert Stacy McCain. John’s a friend, but more importantly, he’s right, and McCain is wrong– not wrong in terms of partisan positioning or ideological content, but simply and entirely wrong about politics, procedure and the best way forward for American conservatism. But, you see, I’m a lefty, your typical latte swirling liberal, and to the people who follow McCain’s line when it comes to partisanship and ideological battle, the fact that I think John is right must mean that McCain is on to something. In the land of the ideological warrior content and argument are really just empty vessels for the important task of sorting out who is on which side.

McCain says “Go ahead, look down your nose at the hicks in the sticks, tuned into Rush Limbaugh, Michael Reagan and Laura Ingraham. For all their faults and failings, those hicks are better people than you are”. Yes, because, lord knows, no one is more down-to-earth than a  blogger who advertises himself as an “Award-winning columnist, reporter, editor, author, bon vivant and raconteur”. Look, friend, I’ve tutored middle school students in test prep, but to think that John is saying what you assert he’s saying takes reading comprehension skills so bad it makes even me jump. That, or a dog whistle so precisely attuned to your suicidal brand of Bushite dead-enderism that you can’t possibly miss it through the sound of the bat-shit talk radio I’m assuming you listen to. See, perhaps this isn’t clear, but not everyone who self-identifies as a conservative signed the contract where you guys decided that supporting Sarah Palin is the one and only qualification of appropriating the term. Elevating the support of (faux-populist, millionaire, private-plane owning, celebrity) politicians like Palin above principle or policy is, I promise you, a symptom of the contagion that is quickly speeding your party to its political demise.

Daniel Larison has done his usual withering work here. Larison, il miglior fabbro*, is the best prose stylist among any of the bloggers I’ve read and has a discriminating mind. An argument between Larison and McCain would be like a fight between Rush Limbaugh and a sandwich, so I hope for his sake McCain realizes it isn’t in his best interest to try to “get on the fightin’ side of” Larison. Larison is exactly correct when he says

Nor is McCain’s implicit claim that “the public” embraced Palin correct. If “the public” is never wrong (a strange claim for a conservative), Palin must be as bad as her critics claim, since most of the public does not care for her or at the very least does not embrace her. Is Palin “arguably the best hope for preventing the four years of Obama from becoming eight years of Obama”? Obviously not.

Not only is this true, it is indeed obviously true. It’s obviously true because we counted the votes, and your guy lost, and badly. Ah, but, McCain says, ” The GOP nominated a presidential candidate who got only 47% of the primary vote, and yet this fanatical obsession with blaming the ‘Wasilla hillbillies’ — a rejection of the grassroots Republican voters who adored Sarah Palin — still consumes the elite mind.” Setting aside the fact that no one, and certainly not John Schwenkler, ever derided “Wasilla hillbillies”, this is the nice thing, for Palin partisans, about the fact that there were two people on the ticket. Every failure can be attributed to John McCain, every success (if you can find one) to Palin. Never mind that McCain ran as vanilla and mainstream Republican a campaign as you are likely to see, or that he enthusiastically took part in the rallies that did so much to stoke culture war. (They were, sadly for the GOP, unable to circumvent demographics, basic human psychology, or math.)  No, McCain, a decorated war hero who has served his country for his entire life, was somehow a drag on an inarticulate, woefully inexperienced and politically tone-deaf governor of a state with less than a million people.

The key to that quote is where McCain mentions those “grassroots Republican voters who adore Sarah Palin.” What he fails to comprehend is the fact that those people already voted for John McCain and Palin, and there’s not nearly enough of them. McCain has a conviction that I find completely common among mainstream Republica commentators and yet utterly groundless: the faith that, no matter what, there will always be more “grassroots Republican voters” than the opposition. We just had a campaign that disproved that theory rather convincingly, wouldn’t you say? The recent polling for self-identified Republicans has been miserable, miserable news for the GOP. Demographics do not bode well for the Republican party. The non-white voters who the Republicans continue to seem totally indifferent to are becoming an ever larger part of the electorate. There has been and will be no sudden influx of rural values voters. And as conservative warriors like McCain seem insulted by even the idea of trying to work to include college-educated voters into the coalition of the right, there’s no reason to think there will be relief from that quarter either.

This is what people like John Schwenkler and David Kuo and everyone else at Culture11 have been trying to point out: that, despite the mystifying and groundless adamance otherwise, the Republican party and American conservatism cannot remain a mass party by appealing purely to the shrinking segment of the population that is so taken with Sarah Palin. This is math, and it’s not complicated. No one is talking about betraying conservatism or any such thing. In fact, it seems to me an indisputable fact of conservatism’s intellectual history that the right shuns the kind of cult of personality that is the one and only thing that Palin has going for her. And no one, I mean no one, is attacking the grassroots. No one is being an elitist. Show me where John Schwenkler is deriding rural people, please. John is actually doing those voters the favor of trying to prevent their relegation to utter political insignificance. Imagine that?

It’s my turn to be purely partisan: please, please, please, Republican party, conservatives; please continue to ignore non-white voters. Please continue to act as though a college diploma is something to be ashamed of. Please continue to engage in politically suicidal grandstanding, like saying that northern Virginia isn’t the “real Virginia” when most of the people live in northern Virginia. Please continue to treat demographics as though they are some dirty lie that is best avoided. Please continue to define your purpose and your people to include an ever-narrower slice of the American electorate, pruning the number of the pure to such a small amount of people that you can’t even win state elections. And, please, nominate Sarah Palin in 2012.

(* fruity quote included just to annoy Robert Stacy McCain)

Update: Helen Rittelmeyer, I’m sorry to say, chimes in with a “Hear, hear” for McCain in his comments. This, I take it, is a function of Helen’s lamentable opinion that it’s more important to stick up for your side than to value intelligence, principle, democracy, morals or logic. I’m afraid that the McCains of the world are the inconvenient hole in Helen’s philosophy of loyalty; some people, and their opinions, do not deserve your loyalty, no matter how much they tell you they are on your side. That Robert Stacy McCain is a tedious nothing will come as no surprise to those of us with a Web browser and the ability to read. Stranger still, Helen likes precisely the kind of faggy thinkers and writers– you know, those guys who care about, like, good arguments, and stuff– who McCain would consider a part of the damnable pretentious elite. But Helen’s philosophy, I think, doesn’t permit her to give anyone who is ostensibly on her side the heave hoe. Her position on party and loyalty threatens to leave her like the person who, out of loyalty, refuses to take the keys from her drunk friend, right before he drives her off of a cliff.

Update II: John suggests in comments that Helen is not endorsing McCain, but rather a different commenter, so my apologies if that’s the case. To those who are not aware, I find Helen a brilliant and interesting writer.

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24 thoughts on “not everyone who says he’s your friend is your friend

  1. Thanks, Freddie. You’re right, of course.

    But … I don’t THINK that Helen’s “Hear, hear” was meant for RSMcC – I assumed she was seconding the commenter before her, who wrote:

    … there are plenty of us ‘hicks in the sticks’ who looked at Palin and saw a complete inversion of Biblical Womanhood and that is the reason we couldn’t support her (or the other McCain).

    There are many conservatives that feel equally repulsed by the influence of ivy league scribblers and feminism. And don’t like to see their movement diminished by either.

    Maybe I’m wrong, but that seems much more in tune with Helen’s thinking than the post itself. Or maybe not.

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  2. Pingback: The Echo Chamber Rules (II) « Upturned Earth || John Schwenkler

  3. Sometimes a little outrage in one’s writing is appropriate. This is one of those times. Well said. I’d say that this whole back and forth exemplifies everything we’ve been talking about in our series on Partisanship.

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  4. I think back to Helen’s tribalism post, which is how I first read her.
    I think I said something like this.
    In the bad old days of the EEA (environment of evolutionary adaptation) tribes formed from consanginous kinship bonds. Super-tribes like religions formed as a means of spreading membership and fitness benefit to a wider memetic (instead of just genetic) tribe.
    Government is an attempt to form a Meta-tribe of geolocation, insuring that more populous super-tribes do not oppress teh less populous.
    Conservatives are having a very hard time seeing beyond the boundaries of their tribe.
    Liberals….especially with Obama…seem to see the possibility that we are really one tribe…..the tribe of homosapiens sapiens.
    Which tribe will get more membership and more reps do you think?

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  5. I liked this very much, Freddie.

    Her position on party and loyalty threatens to leave her like the person who, out of loyalty, refuses to take the keys from her drunk friend, right before he drives her off of a cliff.

    Keep on bringin’ the sass please.

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  6. Nope, Freddie, Robert Stacy McCain came by my respect honestly. He’s the kind of smart you get by being a real reader who reads a lot, which, to someone who just spent four years at an Ivy League school, is refreshing.

    A few of the reasons why he’s on my RSS feed can be found here, here, and the update here. I appreciate his quote here especially: “I shudder to think what idiocy I might have wrought if I’d been catapulted into the midst of Washington policy disputes in my 20s.” Would that everyone regarded my age bracket with such charity!

    Heck, RSM says nice things about Poulos. How anti-intellectual can he be?

    I already regret stepping into a fight where I have such affection for all the actors, but, Freddie, if you’re worried that our rational democratic discourse will be polluted by a hot-blooded, brawling, gonzo spirit, just remember: that’s what they said about the Irish.

    P.S. “How could Helen be opposed to ‘ivy league scribblers and feminism'” was a joke, right?

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  7. I already regret stepping into a fight where I have such affection for all the actors, but, Freddie, if you’re worried that our rational democratic discourse will be polluted by a hot-blooded, brawling, gonzo spirit, just remember: that’s what they said about the Irish.

    When in Rome, I do as the Romulans do.

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  8. A couple points.

    1. What’re the right wing dolts going to do once Mr. Ordinary USA is a bilingual, second generation Hispanic-American living in some urban ethnic enclave? That is, when Joe the Plumber is overtaken by Jose the Gardener (not to traffic in stereotypes or anything…)?

    2. “For all their faults and failings, those hicks are better people than you are — and that’s why you hate them so much. ”

    Ah, no conservonut blog post is complete without the inevitable resort to 10 cent psychology.

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  9. What’re the right wing dolts going to do once Mr. Ordinary USA is a bilingual, second generation Hispanic-American living in some urban ethnic enclave? That is, when Joe the Plumber is overtaken by Jose the Gardener?

    Huckabee and Palin both fell victim to the fallacy that hicks can only ever appeal to other hicks. I’m an Ivy League punk, yet I reject neither of them out of hand.

    (Which is not to say that I’m a thorough fan of either.)

    The New England blue-blood demographic is shrinking, too, yet the Bush family won three presidential elections.

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  10. “Huckabee and Palin both fell victim to the fallacy that hicks can only ever appeal to other hicks. I’m an Ivy League punk, yet I reject neither of them out of hand. ”

    I don’t think anyone argues that spending four years sleeping in the Ivy, or even having a great intellect, are silver bullets for anything. Husserl was a pretty smart lad.

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  11. I’m as left as they come but I would never call Huckabee a hick. But calling Palin a hick is to give hicks a bad name.

    I would love the hear a couple of points you can give in favor of Palin.

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  12. Rawr, Helen you should reject them out of hand.
    The Noble Yeoman is not capable of leading in teh Age of Complexity.
    They simply don’t have the substrate.
    The sooner all parties involved can cowboy up and admit that the sooner we can move on.
    ;)

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  13. Helen you are blinkeredblinded onto the past.
    Everything evolves.
    Do you think a Bush will ever win again?
    Jeb sure doesn’t.

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  14. Pingback: Conventional Folly » Low-level snark

  15. “What’re the right wing dolts going to do once Mr. Ordinary USA is a bilingual, second generation Hispanic-American living in some urban ethnic enclave? That is, when Joe the Plumber is overtaken by Jose the Gardener (not to traffic in stereotypes or anything…)?”

    We’ve already got Tito the Builder. I’m sure you’d label me a right-wing dolt, and I for one think Tito is great.

    Why do you ask?

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  16. Freddie well he’s a fabbro, yet your politicall obverse, non?

    The canticle was a hold of flowers
    A temporary hold. A little many guessed
    Yours the supplest of towers
    Yours the sapping hold on jest.

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  17. Pingback: away from Joe=towards success? | The League of Ordinary Gentlemen

  18. Congratulations, Freddie, on writing one of the most shallow blog posts I’ve read in a long while. It’s quite an achievement.

    Have you ever read anything that doesn’t simply reinforce your existing views? You should try it some day.

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