the genuine shame of Ross Douthat’s New York Times column

When the New York Times ended (or Bill Kristol ended) the absurd farce of having among their columnists an utterly discredited, partisan neocon whose every assumption and prediction about Iraq had proven brutally and terribly wrong, there was an immediate round of speculation about who might take the laurel of a column in the newspaper of record. A lot of that presumption centered around a David Brooks column that amounted to a series of shout-outs to young, vaguely heterodox conservatives, and a ringing endorsement of Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam’s Grand New Party, their intelligent, sprawling, ambitious, occasionally silly tract on how to reform the Republican party for the new millennium. (Incidentally, the column also contains the assertion that “Sam’s Club conservatism,” Douthat and Salam’s term for their brand of rightwing thought, would someday certainly become the widespread gospel of the GOP. Given David Brooks’s predictive powers, I don’t know if that’s a good thing for the authors.)

Douthat seemed a natural choice, and I, and many others, advocated for him. He had long been an editor at the Atlantic, so he had the kind of big journalistic bona fides the Times liked. His status as a white, married, Catholic male who attended Harvard and various private schools neutered arguments about who the Times hires and why– no sop to political correctness, true, but also not the kind of identity politics stunt that could have inoculated the columnist from criticism in the eyes of the cowardly Times editorial board, as, say, choosing a black female conservative would have done. Douthat also had the considerable advantage, to my lights, of being a genuine social conservative, when the easiest, most reader-fellating move would have been to appoint another columnist with economically conservative but socially “mainstream” views. It would have flattered a certain swath of the Times readership to present them with the less-personal disagreement of economic policy, while avoiding the somewhat nastier, more “offensive” talk of social conservatism. Douthat is significantly to the right of what we might perceive as the Times audience when it comes to abortion, gay marriage, and sex and family issues. This is a not insignificant advantage if, like me, you aren’t interested in reading yet another in the long line of Tom Friedman-style neoliberal national columns that our media seems to enjoy so much.

Trumping all of that, of course, was the fact that Douthat is a gifted and thoughtful writer, always more prone to long, searching essays on deeper questions of community, faith and modern life than the one-off, disposable blog posts that are the norm. Grand New Party, besides a few groaners, is to my mind an essential political text, one I disagree with strongly but one that marks such a leap forward for conservatism in process that I suspect Brooks will be proven right after all. It does little good for an unabashed leftist such as myself to say so, but what I think is key is that the text presents fresh mechanisms for producing unmistakably conservative ends. His blog on the Atlantic, meanwhile, was rarely updated but almost always worth reading. Douthat has the rare and admirable quality, in his writing, of elevating his ideas without distancing himself from their negative consequences. Douthat may not have always arrived at the right conclusions, to my mind, but it was never for lack of considering the alternative or being honest about downside. It was that integrity, and the elegance of mind that accompanied it, that made him required reading, by my lights.

The question I have been faced with over the few months that he’s been working at the Times is to wonder where the hell that Ross Douthat has gone.

There’s no accounting for taste. But I think I am hardly alone in being deeply disappointed in Douthat’s output at the Times so far. He has lost, to my mind, the generosity of spirit that marked his work, and in its place stands a crimped Puritanism that was before an invention in the mind of his critics. His lovely and charming ruminations that led to keen insights have been lost, in the pulse of weekly publication and the absence of nuance that characterizes newspaper columns. In their place stand someone appropriating a style I don’t think he likes. This, I think, may have been inevitable. As he has taken on the uncomfortable suit of “NYT’s pet conservative,” he must at once be himself and yet be the kind of columnist who no one can mistake for a false conservative prophet. It is the heterodox conservative who always has the most to lose in being elevated by liberals like me.

What we’ve gotten, because of this, is poor work, not up to his standards. He has written several columns from the perspective of joyless sex-scold that have hidden the wealth of nuance and philosophical understanding that underpins his considerable discomfort with the American culture of abundant casual sex. His column from last week pulled the neat trick of being at once a piece of advice to liberals and yet utterly dismissive of liberals and the things they cared about. His infamous California/Texas column was, at the end of the day, a tribute only to the enduring power of cherry-picking and half-truths.

Today’s column, for me, takes the cake. And it crystallizes in my mind an evolution of thought I’ve been having on this Nobel prize business. I’ll let Douthat explain. He spends paragraph after paragraph explaining that Barack Obama has nothing to gain, nothing whatsoever, from accepting the Nobel Peace prize. I take him at his word! For example

At the same time, the prize leaves Obama more open to ridicule. It confirms, as a defining narrative of his presidency, the gap between his supporters’ cloud-cuckoo-land expectations and the inevitable disappointments of reality. It dovetails perfectly with the recent “Saturday Night Live” sketch in which he was depicted boasting about a year’s worth of nonaccomplishments. And it revives and ratifies John McCain’s only successful campaign gambit — his portrayal of Obama as “the world’s biggest celebrity,” famous more for being famous than for any concrete political accomplishment.

Well argued! Why, from reading his entire column, you grow to understand that Obama really had nothing to gain, nothing whatsoever, from accepting this award. It’s a total negative for him.

Yet Douthat has also just said,

True, Obama didn’t ask for this. It was obvious, from his halting delivery and slightly shamefaced air last Friday, that he wishes the Nobel committee hadn’t put him in this spot.

But he still wasn’t brave enough to tell it no.

Perhaps, dear reader, you are aware of understandings of courage and cowardice that go beyond the ken of mere mortals such as myself. But I cannot understand how one can claim that courage is lacking by virtue of the fact that one refuses to do what is in his best interest. It shows a lack of bravery to not do the easiest, most self-serving, most politically palatable thing? Really? I have read opinion after opinion, from commenters left, right and center, on this issue, and none of it makes sense. All are claiming that it would be both the most pragmatic, political and self-satisfying thing for Obama to have turned down the award, and yet all are also sure that somehow his accepting it was the easy thing to do. This makes no sense, and it reveals again what a said joke the hive mind of the Internet and the punditocracy is. Do you think that Obama was unaware of the advantage to him and his administration in turning down the award? Do you think his team and handlers weren’t pointing that out to him? Do you think that there weren’t people in the administration stamping and jumping and insisting that, politically, for his all-important approval numbers, turning down the award was genius? If you think they didn’t know that, you are a fool.

No, Obama and his administration was well aware of what would be easy, self-satisfying, and a cheap political victory. And yet he chose to do the other thing. Why? Perhaps because he respects the Nobel institution. Perhaps because he thinks that it’s bad form for the president of the United States to turn down an award, freely given and meant in good-faith. Perhaps it’s because he understood, rightly, that turning the award down would be considered a slap in the face to the international community. Douthat insists that, as others have done,

Well, to start with, the prize isn’t given out by an imaginary “world community.” It’s voted on and handed out by a committee of five obscure Norwegians. So turning it down would have been a slap in the face, yes, to Thorbjorn Jagland, Kaci Kullmann Five, Sissel Marie Ronbeck, Inger-Marie Ytterhorn and Agot Valle. But it wouldn’t have been a slap in the face to the Europeans or the Africans, to Moscow or Beijing, or to any other population or great power that an American president should fret about offending.

This is, if you’ll excuse me, untrammeled bullshit. Do you think that the British press would not have interpreted this as a rejection of the reappraisal of the United States by the international community that has come in the wake of the Obama victory? The European press? It doesn’t matter what the message “really was.” If you don’t think that this is how it would have been interpreted, you’re just not thinking clearly. I still think the Nobel was a distraction, and silly, and shows an incredibly lack of political savvy on the part of the Nobel committee. But for Obama to turn it down would have been precisely the kind of political opportunism we have come to hate in our politics. It would have been a vain, selfish and empty move, a kowtow to polls and pundits, the easiest way out and a way to insist that he was above politics when he would have in fact been practicing politics of the worst kind. I have come to think that I could not be prouder of the president than I am that he chose to do the politically damaging, adult thing over the cheap, self-satisfied grandstanding so many advised of him. (Including me.)

Douthat has his strengths and his weaknesses, but he is not at his best when it comes to cultural war. His limp waves towards partisan invective are ineffectual and self-defeating. That doesn’t make me angry. Douthat, as I said, is in a tough position. As he writes for the New York Times, he has both a whole world of readers and an inherently distrustful attitude from conservatives. Any feints he makes in the direction of bipartisanship or towards liberal readings are met with howls from the movement conservatives about how he is a RINO, a New York Times conservative. So his Rush Limbaugh act is just wasted space from a writer who is so bright and capable of so much. I don’t want to speak for him but I get the impression that he is least interested of all in that kind of nose-tweaking, although of course I believe him that he finds the Nobel prize a joke and a waste.

No, what makes me angry is the title of the column, in which Douthat directly analogizes Barack Obama’s Nobel win with Hurricane Katrina. That makes me angry. That makes me livid. Douthat calls the award a “travesty” in his column. That’s funny. To me, a travesty is when an American city is swallowed by the sea and our government and its apparatus of disaster mitigation sit mutely by, in the thrall of a pathetic imbecile and the mad, hideous and immoral ideologues that control him. That is a travesty. The American project sending such a loud and shrill message that we are okay with drowned bodies lying rotting the streets, provided the people those bodies once were were black and poor in life– that is a travesty, and a tragedy. That is  a wholly preventable and totally unprecedented crime against this nation, its people, and their dream of what it could possibly be. And that sort of thing, Mr. Douthat, is not an appropriate analog for a president winning a prize, no matter how little you think of it.

Ah, but I hear the keys of Conor Friedersdorf clattering away now. That wasn’t me, he insists, and it wasn’t Ross! That, after all, is all you ever hear from conservatives these days. It wasn’t I who sent our soldiers into Iraq, it wasn’t I who left children to drown in New Orleans, it wasn’t I who ordered federal prosecutors fired for failing to politicize prosecution, it wasn’t I who sat idly by as the financial sector plunged itself off of an abyss…. The only consistent definition of conservative I now feel confident in is that a conservative is someone who is not responsible for anything that the Bush administration or Republican congress has done. No, no one is responsible for the Bush administration and its many crimes. No one is responsible for the congressmen who cheered their way along. No one is responsible for the systematic failure of the Republican party machine, which placed such a pathetic, unqualified and ignorant man in the greatest seat of power the word has ever known. No, don’t blame any actual conservatives for conservatism massive failings. Such a thing wouldn’t be fair. The fact that we now have outrage and scandal over Nobel peace prizes and NEA conference calls, when in the recent future we had hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis and children shivering chest-deep in putrid water– hey, that’s a facet of the fact that no one is responsible for the GOP. No one is responsible for conservatism, and Freddie, stop being unfair.

This is the true consequence of conservatism’s never-ending series of rendings and divisions: because every conservative these days fancies himself a sect of sanity in a failed ideology; because so many conservatives have taken to patting themselves on the back for their distance from the rabid rump of the conservative base, and doing nothing else but that; because American conservatism has become an army of Andrew Sullivans, parties and cliques of people who proudly declare themselves to be of no party or clique, a never-ending stream of self-styled iconoclasts who take the rich pleasures of being individuals and take none of the hard-fought, difficult and tiring dignity of being responsible for something; because of this, conservatism is lost. The problem is not that conservatives fall too quickly in line. The problem is that conservatism is a line of people insisting that they aren’t a part of the line and as such are not responsible for the actions of the line. Everyone laments the Republican party’s various failures, electoral or otherwise; no one is responsible for the Republican party. Everyone delights in the rank, unfocused and violent anger of the Tea Parties; no one will claim them as their own. What you have, ladies and gentlemen, is an ideology in a decaying orbit, an ideology that prides itself on insisting on personal responsibility as so many, thanks to their well-polished, phony individualisms, refuse to take any responsibility for the whole. Conservatism is drowning because so many say (as Conor Friedersdorf insists when I criticize him) “Hey, it’s the OTHER conservatives who do THAT.”

I hold out hope that Ross will get better at his current gig. He’s too bright and too talented to not get better. The question is, can he survive– can any of them survive– this current paradigm, the easy, convenient abdication of any notion whatsoever of collective responsibility? Ross Douthat, after all, is not responsible for the Bush administration. None of them are. They’re just responsible for continuing to call themselves conservatives while this driverless bus of conservatism pushes America off of a cliff. That’s all. They’re just responsible for cheering and whooping at the failures of people who are desperately trying to hold back the massive force of conservatism’s death throes, all the while insisting that they are responsible for nothing.

It is a sad spectacle that cannot end until conservatives cease saying “I am not one of THOSE conservatives who did THAT” and start saying “I am a conservative and I will make myself responsible for desperately needed change.” No more iconoclasts and no more individualists. Now is the time for a conservatism with the courage to accept responsibility.

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94 thoughts on “the genuine shame of Ross Douthat’s New York Times column

  1. Good try on the Obama front Freddie but it doesn’t work for me. After watching the spectacle of the President schlepping about the HRC dinner and rolling out yet another vacuous speech full of empty promises and patently insincere Obama-brand clichés I’m not very inclined to believe that Obama is in the habit of doing things for principle and to hell with the political consequences. On the intellectual level, of course, it is actually good news that Obama is a ice hearted politician like any of the other snakes we have. Emotionally it’s a little dispiriting. Sullivan’s rapture was infectious on the intellectual level. He is a gifted writer (and in fairness to him, he was away and clear of the conservatives long before it was in style to be disassociated with them).

    On Douthat I agree. His columns so far have been absolute stinkers. Let’s hope he figures out how to square the circle he finds himself in before he forgets how to think/write coherently.

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  2. Well said, Freddie. Imagine the stupidity of saying, “No” to peace, to a nuclear-weapons free world, to a habitable planet. Meme-wise, that’s what turning the award down would proclaim.

    No, better to accept the award, and do the conservative thing: shoulder the responsibility.

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  3. Douthat can’t say that Katrina was the other conservatives fault because this was his response (a few days after Katrina struck New Orleans; when the tragedy was already obvious as well as the inept FEMA response): “Whereas the only lessons of Katrina are that life is dark and death is everywhere, that nature isn’t our friend and that Americans, too, can behave like savages under duress, and that all the blessings of liberalism and democracy and capitalism can’t protect us from the worst. There’s nothing we can do, except give money and pray, and there’s no lesson to be learned – except, perhaps, be careful where and how you build your cities.”

    He later decided to quote Rich Lowry saying that maybe conservatives can exploit Katrina to engage in some horsetrading giving a little bit of urban spending in exchange for some attention to out-of-wedlock births.

    As Katrina approached New Orleans, he posted this: “No Atheists In a Category Five: Whatever you think about the existence or non-existence of God, you might consider offering a prayer for New Orleans tonight and tomorrow. It can’t hurt.”

    Not all that surprising that you need to use the Wayback Machine to find the American Scene archives given this disgusting (and frankly racist) nonsense. Days into it, his biggest concern was looting and hoping that George Bush would touch down in Biloxi (um, why not New Orleans?) and remake his 9/11-rubble speech. He analogized post-Katrina New Orleans to post-invasion Iraq; not in the sense that American preparation for such an event was inadequate, but because we needed to crack down on the looters.

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    • I’d very much like this “the American Scene archives have deliberately been buried because they are incendiary” meme to die. The site has changed designs, hosts (I think), and managers multiple times over the years it’s existed. The current site manager is having significant difficulty accessing the content in question, due to various technical and human errors. There is no plot.

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  4. “…where the hell that Ross Douthat has gone.”

    I’m fast approaching Douthat as I approach Friedman, skip his BS.

    Ah, but Freddie, a must read.

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  5. Also, I have no clue why people are paid to be political pundits who lack the imagination to see that any competent White House press office shouldn’t treat a Nobel Peace Prize as a liability. Did our standards for spin really sink that low over the past 8 years? Does no one realize that it’s very useful as leverage over the next few months, with countries we’re currently engaged with likely influenced by the opportunity to be in that conversation when Obama receives the award?

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    • I think the issue was not whether it would be a liability. They knew it would be a liability on some fronts. I see a potential four: the domestic Left, Right and Independents and The Rest of the World. I imagine the calculation was that by accepting they would piss off the Right, but who cares? They would probably anger a significant portion of the middle, but they chose to risk it. The Left, despite a lot of urging to decline, would of course get on board once the President made his decision. I think the administration thought they could spin things to minimize damage on the home front. That remains to be seen.

      Where I think there was a misunderstanding is when they clearly sought to make The Rest of the World happy by accepting. I think that decision over-estimated by a large degree how much the world really cares about the Nobel. As Douthat said in his column (paraphrasing here) does anyone really think that this will help us one bit on the international stage? Suddenly nations that were opposed to our plans will get on board because our President brings a Nobel to negotiations?

      Conservatives aren’t mad at Obama for being offered the award. We know it was out of his hands. We’re just disappointed he cared more about international opinion than the opinion of his own fellow citizens. And that’s not just the opinion of the Right. I belive a majority of Americans wanted him to say no thanks.

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      • “We’re just disappointed he cared more about international opinion than the opinion of his own fellow citizens.”

        I seriously doubt that the majority opinion in this country is that Obama should decline the award. It’s interesting that conservatives are so concerned with Obama making the right decision here. It sounds exactly like their warnings before every big speech Obama gives that he’s going to look like he’s all talk. Curiously, it never turns out that way.

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        • If Obama had declined the award, Rush and Beck wouldn’t be praising him for his nationalistic stance.

          They’d be condemning him for his unmitigated gall, and his deep disrespect for the international community.

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  6. Just as a point of reference I think it would be beneficial for liberals to draw a line in the sand and explain to us when we can start holding this administration responsible for things. I think we can all agree that the Left does not believe that the President has reached that point of accountability on any of his campaign promises (Guantanamo, global warming, jobs, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell). So isn’t it fair to ask, not just for the potential conservative critics, but also on behalf of the loyal liberal voters, when is it okay to hold this President accountable?

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    • Personally Mike I don’t think there’s a line so much as a sliding scale. The more time goes by the more flak he can and should take. He’s got 9 months under the belt now. That’s not much time in politics but it is enough time to get an idea of his priorities so the grousing has definitly begun.

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      • Sure, but liberals were taking down Bush from day one. Seriously, until 9/11 “united” the country, Bush was the subject of scorn and ridicule – a show on Comedy Central for goodness sake, lampooning him from the outset of his presidency. Presidents are fair game instantly – always have been and always will be.

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        • My point was to highlight the hypocrisy of asking liberals when they will start holding this administration responsible for the things they do, when conservatives (as Freddie righteously points out) never held the previous administration responsible. I’m not arguing that liberals held their tongues.

          You’re arguing against words that you’re putting in my mouth, not against the words I’m using.

          Further, liberals were not “taking down Bush” with the same level of crazy that conservatives are now attacking Obama, and liberals are holding the administration responsible.

          Mike at the Big Stick – read Glenn Greenwald to start with. He’s been after the administration from day 1 on Guantanamo and Bagram. There’s a lot of liberals who are taking on the administration.

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          • Here’s a thought–both parties, Democrat and Republican, thrive often making promises to their respective bases, and then ignore said bases when in power–other than the occasional cheap gesture. When the GOP was in power and controlled both houses of Congress, where was the federal legislation to sweep aside local gun control laws? Where was the federal attempt to outlaw abortion, or at least impose strict(er) restrictions on it, beyond banning partial-birth? I know both of these would have dubious Consitutional muster–but that didn’t stop the GOP power structure from those issues it really cared about (imperialism abroad, and massive corporate giveaways here at home). To actually give the GOP base what it wanted would have been, of course, to invite a Democratic return to power far sooner than it actually occurred.

            It ought to tell you something that the agenda of social conservatism was probably advanced further under Clinton (who oversaw the passage of DOMA, the Communications Decency Act, and DADT–the latter against his will) then under W.

            Likewise, the current Democratic majority depends on numerous congresspersons for whom a vote to repeal DADT or DMA would be political suicide. While Democrats have majorities in both houses of Congress–progressives do not, as this summer’s debate on health care reform has shown.

            And yes–Douthat has been a disappointment at the Times. If its because he’s afraid what readers will think of him if he doesn’t demonstrate consistent conservative bona-fides, whatever those may be, shame on him.

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        • Hawks and Fiscons were too.

          I remember the Hawks screaming about weakness in the face of China when our fighter landed when it did.

          I remember screaming about the Steel Tariffs.

          9/11 made everything blurry for a while.

          (I pretty much think that Bush would have been a one-termer had it not been for 9/11.)

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    • “I think we can all agree that the Left does not believe that the President has reached that point of accountability on any of his campaign promises (Guantanamo, global warming, jobs, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell).”

      No, I don’t think we can “all agree.”

      Much of the Left is vociferous in demanding that Obama be held accountable for his campaign promises. Joe Carter made the same mistake here a few day ago, creating a so called cult of personality around Obama. He clearly was mistaken, just as you.

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      • So then where are the protests about Guantanamo or Bagram? Those are easy fixes he has still not delievered on. The only person I have seen who has really been tough on the President is Jon Stewart and forgive me if I’d like to see a bit more.

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        • “Those are easy fixes he has still not delievered on.” Ahem, pardon? Bush kicked the can on those issues right to 01/20/09. Obama was almost immediately stuck with a huge number of legal challenges that were in the death throes of inevitably failing government appeals (which his Justice Department is conveniently attacked for recognizing that they’re doomed for failure). You have an easy solution for dispensing with terrorists that we can’t try because our evidence is procured by torture? Recall that releasing the Uighur detainees at Guantanamo to the United States was impossible and drew stiff opposition from reflexively anti-Muslim racists like Andy McCarthy – http://corner.nationalreview.com/post/?q=NjdjMjg0YTQ3OGU2YTlhM2YxYzAxNmExOTFmYmJlMTY=

          Releasing Uighurs was an easy decision. How do we deal with the people who we actually think are guilty of crimes against Americans but can’t do a thing about it because of Bush’s incompetence?

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        • Carter’s silliness did not evoke a lot of comment here, but I believe it was greginak that asked Carter what left leaning media he read. I would ask you the same. If you really think Stewart is the only lefty holding Obama accountable you need to get out a bit more.

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          • And I will say the same for liberals. I read all sorts of conservatives every day that are self-critical of the Right yet to hear liberals talk Glen Beck is the only voice we listen to.

            Perhaps there is some tough criticism coming from the Left for the current administration. The problem is that it always seems to be heavily nuanced and throws a “..but,” and the end. There always seem to be excuses for his inaction, as Zach convienantly delivers above. It’s always, “Here’s another promise that Obama made that he hasn’t fulfilled…and here’s why it’s not really his fault.”

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            • “Perhaps there is some tough criticism coming from the Left….”

              Well that is a healthy move away from your we can “all agree” stance above.

              There is a lot of left leaning bitching without the “buts” and “give him time” excuse, epically on the gay issues. And I say shame on Barny Frank for making excuses for Obama’s inaction.

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            • I wasn’t excusing Obama, and he didn’t promise to close Guantanamo within 8 months. You said it’s an easy thing to do; this is idiotic given the numerous hurdles to doing so — many of which were evident at the time (legal hurdles) and many of which have become more evident over the past few months (inane obstruction by Congress). Saying a promise will be difficult to fulfill isn’t excusing someone for not doing it.

              And if you haven’t noticed, many Guantanamo detainees have been released since Obama’s promise.

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        • If Guantanamo and Bagram are “easy fixes” perhaps you could tell me who all those redfaced conservatives are and what they were shouting about? Did I dream of enraged mobs howling about the terrorists being “released” into their states? As for the torture issue in general, how many times have the Cheneys and company polluted our screens to explain that only torture saved America? (And Saddam had WMD, and Republicans are good for the economy, and George Bush saw employment rise, and the recession only began with Obama etc etc….)

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          • So conservatives were complaining…why should the President care? These are the federal maximum security prisons:

            United States Penitentiary, Allenwood — Montgomery, Pennsylvania
            United States Penitentiary, Atlanta — Atlanta, Georgia
            United States Penitentiary, Atwater — Atwater, California
            United States Penitentiary, Beaumont — Beaumont, Texas
            United States Penitentiary, Big Sandy — Inez, Kentucky
            United States Penitentiary, Canaan — Canaan, Pennsylvania
            United States Penitentiary, Florence — Florence, Colorado
            United States Penitentiary, Hazelton — Hazelton, West Virginia
            United States Penitentiary, Leavenworth — Leavenworth, Kansas
            United States Penitentiary, Lee — Jonesville, Virginia
            United States Penitentiary, Lewisburg — Lewisburg, Pennsylvania
            United States Penitentiary, Lompoc — Lompoc, California
            United States Penitentiary, Marion — Marion, Illinois
            United States Penitentiary, McCreary — McCreary County, Kentucky
            United States Penitentiary, Pollock — Pollock, Louisiana
            United States Penitentiary, Tucson — Tucson, Arizona
            United States Penitentiary, Victorville — Victorville, California
            United States Penitentiary, Terre Haute — Terre Haute, Indiana

            Find a state with a Democratic governor and at least one symapthetic Democratic senator and send the prisoners there. This isn’t rocket

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    • Uh, Mike, you must not know any Liberals (or liberals.) People I know are pissed off with Barack Obama. He didn’t even use a single-payer health care system as a negotiating piece – he took it off the table before he started. He was so bold as to propose health care reform that will start…in 2013. He has no plan for the interim. He went after a stimulus that was too small, and got one that was even smaller.

      He has let people like Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe and Ben Nelson and Max Baucus decide how the country gets run, despite the fact that they represent the worst in small-state electoral cruelty. And he has, as Freddie so eloquently writes, offered up no financial regulation that doesn’t amount to fellating Wall Street.

      Oh, and to achieve *all* this, he said that every other piece of legislation had to wait until 2010.

      I always thought he was an empty suit, but I briefly lost my cynicism and voted for him. I’m sad to see I was right about him in the first place, and I take responsibility for my vote. I’d love to vote for someone else in 2012, but I don’t imagine there will be a better candidate on the ballot. I still hold out some hope that he can achieve something of consequence during his first term, but I’m not convinced it’ll happen.

      So if you voted for Bush twice, take some friggin’ responsibility and admit you supported him. He was the worst president ever and he nearly destroyed the country. Don’t pretend he wasn’t “real conservatism.”

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  7. The approval/support of Douthat for the NYT job, followed by the “morning after” realization that he’s just another bad writer reminds me of the view of Bush in 2000 (he’s a good guy!…….Oh shit, he’s a crazy motherf***er!). Or the view of the Iraq war in 2002-3 (we NEED to do this because of 9/11, and they’ll greet us as liberators when we do!…….Oh shit, THAT was a huge mistake!).

    People catch up to reality eventually, but it often looks pathetic to me when they do. Sorry, Freddie. But, kudos for the bravery to admit that you think his writing is (or was?) stellar.

    I thought Douthat was a bland fool and a terrible writer years ago. I still think he is a bland fool and a terrible writer. But, he’s in the good company of bland fools and terrible writers at the NYT now.

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  8. Fantastic post, Freddie. Top-bloody-notch. And I couldn’t agree more on basically all counts, th0ugh I remain agnostic on Obama’s decision to keep the award. Actually, on that front, I remain largely apathetic.

    Regarding this:

    Ah, but I hear the keys of Conor Friedersdorf clattering away now. That wasn’t me, he insists, and it wasn’t Ross! That, after all, is all you ever hear from conservatives these days. It wasn’t I who sent our soldiers into Iraq, it wasn’t I who left children to drown in New Orleans, it wasn’t I who ordered federal prosecutors fired for failing to politicize prosecution, it wasn’t I who sat idly by as the financial sector plunged itself off of an abyss…. The only consistent definition of conservative I now feel confident in is that a conservative is someone who is not responsible for anything that the Bush administration or Republican congress has done. No, no one is responsible for the Bush administration and its many crimes. No one is responsible for the congressmen who cheered their way along. No one is responsible for the systematic failure of the Republican party machine, which placed such a pathetic, unqualified and ignorant man in the greatest seat of power the word has ever known. No, don’t blame any actual conservatives for conservatism massive failings. Such a thing wouldn’t be fair. The fact that we now have outrage and scandal over Nobel peace prizes and NEA conference calls, when in the recent future we had hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis and children shivering chest-deep in putrid water– hey, that’s a facet of the fact that no one is responsible for the GOP. No one is responsible for conservatism, and Freddie, stop being unfair.

    Very, very well said (and what follows it). You phrase exactly my discomfort both with some of my own writing and with much of the so-called dissident movement within conservatism, which seems little more than a reflection of their lockstep brethren. Ideas are ignored in favor of pointing out how hideous the tone of the “others” is, how disengenous they are, how at fault they are, and very little in the way of some real concrete tangible solutions are put forth. Where are the conservative wonks? Beyond a few economists, there really are none. Where are the conservatives who want to work toward not just a more gentlemanly tone, but an actual strategy for governing? And part of that is, indeed, delving through past mistakes.

    I wonder, too, if part of the problem Douthat faces is one of a changing medium. Where the blog allows you wiggle room, explanation, humanity, etc. the Column demands something a little less personal, something short and to the point. I wonder how we would all fair without that extra space, and with the far larger auditorium. Nevertheless, there is something missing – something I don’t suppose needs to be missing – from Douthat’s columns.

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    • E.D. – Maybe I misunderstood your positions before and of course there’s nothing wrong with evolving politically but I could have sworn when I first began visiting the League you could be characterized as right-of-center. I’ve been amazed lately at the speed at which you seem to be heading Leftward. Is this anti-Beck backlash or a more permanent reallignment? Or did I misunderstand all together? I guess I’m always more than a bit surprised when intelligent and plugged-in bloggers wonder aloud where the well-reasoned conservatives are when there are plenty out there. Or is it just because they don’t have a loud enough voice?

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      • Mike – my position is generally that I think liberals have far too much faith in big government and conservatives have far too little faith in the ability (and necessity) of government to work toward feasible solutions to our many problems. I am not trying to be a moderate, but I do think this position leads me to the left on some issues and the right on others.

        For instance, I do believe in the goal of universal health care. I do believe that with less cynical politics this could be achieved with a nice blend of government and free markets. If Republicans would show a real interest in reform, perhaps we could have a system more like the Netherlands, with real competition and some government reinsurance that leads to an efficient, fairly cost-effective system for insuring everyone.

        Also, my primary distrust in the state is in its ability to prop up special interests, monopolies, to be captured, and to unintentionally do more harm than good. To me this means that if you work toward limited involvement, or government solutions that are decentralized, or prop up the demand side over the supply side (etc. etc.) you can still involve government in the solution, while doing more to empower individuals and communities.

        In other words, I think that conservatives are right to a point, and that’s the point I’m trying to settle on.

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        • Fair enough – I can understand the ideological soul-searching that brilliant folks like ourselves ; ) engage in on a regular basis. What I guess I have a greater problem with is the seeming bewilderment that peope have over the current state of the GOP. Of course they are still a mess. They got their asses handed to them in two straight elections and lost complete control of Washington. They’ve always had a problem with the disproportional power of the Far Right and even those that were willing to give moderate John McCain a chance now feel vindicated for doubting him in the first place. So yeah, it’s a mess over there. But just as liberals caution us to give the President more time to make changes, doesn’t conservatives deserve the same amount of patience?

          In one of your other posts you rightly pointed out that the Left was extremely critical of Bush from the moment he was sworn in and they only flirted with being nice when 9/11 left them no choice. Disgust with the Left’s immaturity peaked in 2004 when they got their clocks cleaned in the election. But they regrouped, put together a winning strategy and made one hell of a comeback just 4 years later.

          I guess what I am trying to say is that obviously the Freddies of the world are always going to see the Right as bumbling idiots and advancing the notion that the GOP has crossed the point-of-no-return helps his cause. I’m just surprised when those who are more ‘indepently’ inclined buy into the same myth when history completely contradicts it.

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          • “Of course they are still a mess. They got their asses handed to them in two straight elections and lost complete control of Washington.”

            They are not a mess because they got their asses handed to them in two straight elections.

            They got their asses handed to them in two straight elections because they were such a mess. It wasn’t until 2005 that the Democrats sat down and deliberately engaged in the policy of not being a bigger mess. It was a lot easier than Kerry made it look.

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      • Conservativism is more, I reckon, than “Not A Democratism”.

        It was exceptionally possible to complain about Bush from the Right. Indeed, one could be more Hawkish than Bush and complain about his Hawkishness, one could be more Socially Conservative than Bush and complain about how little he accomplished, one could be more Fiscally Conservative than Bush and, like, still be a pinko.

        Too many people saw the democrats scream about Bush and said “well, Bush is driving the right people crazy” and were willing to sign away Constitutional Rights and, indeed, their own friggin’ souls because Bush drove the right people crazy.

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        • I thought that the defining characteristic of post-Reagan conservatism (and Beltway Wisdom) was that you were doing the right thing when you were pissing off the “dirty f***ing hippies”.

          Are you trying to tell me that this isn’t the defining characteristic of conservatism?

          [/snark]

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          • I don’t know.

            H. Ross Perot resulted in, for a weekend or two, the whole “Contract With America” was the defining characteristic of post-Reagan conservatism.

            There are still a handful of nutterbutters who still have that imagery pop up when they think “conservativism”.

            With that behind us, as Mike said, there are a handful of libertarians (paleolibertarians?) who hate the hippies as only this group of third party types can hate another group of third party types.

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  9. I really don’t understand your rage. Over and over, you pound the same drum with increasing expressions of anger: “conservatives are utterly discredited by the Bush presidency, and they have lost the right to say X. The fact that they keep saying X after 8 years of Bush makes me furious!”

    Is this simply a partisan project? It does not seem to serve any purpose other than to try to silence people with whom you disagree; moreover, it does not seem logical or fair. Do you really see the world as composed of “teams”? In your view, must Conor Friedersdorf or Ross Douthat take responsibility for every one of George Bush’s actions because they are members of the same team? Do you know whether Conor even voted for him?

    More generally, why should anyone take responsibility for the actions of elected officials with which they disagreed? Voters didn’t make those decisions. Like Conor and Ross, many conservatives complained angrily to everyone who would listen and revised their opinions of the people for whom I had voted (without necessarily changing their ideological positions — if you really think that Iraq and Katrina are NECESSARY fruits of conservatism, it explains a lot more about you than it does about conservatism). They also took action; many conservatives voted for Barack Obama as a repudiation of the past 8 years, while others revised their own political programs to take into account the Bush years (see, e.g., Grand New Party). Sure, lots of conservatives toed the party line. Those that did, and did so publicly, are justifiably questioned if they now take a different position on the same issues.

    And yet: people who did not toe the party line have not lost the right to speak. Conservatism has not been eternally discredited, just as liberalism has not been eternally discredited by the many policy failures of liberals. That’s not the way it works. Conservatives are not personally responsible for the actions of George Bush any more than you are personally responsible for the actions of liberals. I don’t expect you to apologize just because a bunch of liberal politicians screwed up America’s inner cities for 30 years.

    As for Conor at least, it is obvious that he rejects any worldview that demands that he identify himself as a member of a team, to the exclusion of all others. He is actually becoming something of a bore trying to establish that position. But it is easy to understand why he is making the effort when people tell him he is required to shut his mouth simply because at some various points in his short life, he has identified himself as a conservative.

    I would be deeply surprised if you were willing to extend your position to its logical conclusion: namely, that YOU, Freddie, must take responsibility for any action that Barack Obama may take as the President, no matter what it is. But maybe you should state now whether that is the case so everyone knows where you are coming from. As for me, I hope to find a political conversation in which people actually engage each other without trying to delegitimize their interlocutors.

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    • Oh, horseshit.

      Nobody has ever distanced themselves from the president they voted for. Johnson was wrongly seen as a disaster by hippies in ’68, but no today Democrat would feel shame for voting for him in ’64. Jimmy Carter was not a successful President, but Democrats would never deny that they voted for him. Clinton got himself frigging impeached and didn’t exactly govern on the left, but nobody says “hey, that wasn’t me.”

      Republicans see Ronald Reagan as some great success story, so we have to sit through perpetual homages to him. No one says “Oh, that whole arms-for-hostage thing? Those right-wing death squads in Central America? [I could go on here.] Oh, that wasn’t the conservatism I voted for.” Same goes for Eisenhower. And now that we have enough separation from what look like minor scandals these days, conservatives don’t seem to be disavowing Nixon. Nobody says GHWB’s policies (which were pretty successful compared to his son’s) were not their kind of conservatism. You can read intellectually dishonest tomes today that are conservative homages to Herbert Fucking Hoover.

      And yet, with GW Bush, for the first time since perhaps Warren Harding, we are expected to believe that the people who voted for him and his wars and his congressmen…bear no responsibility for what happened next? That the very people who were cheerleading all along the way and smearing every pseudo-opponent with the scarlet letter ‘U’ for unpatriotic, were merely innocent bystanders who can wash their hands of an administration they supported just because it was the largest unmitigated disaster in American history?

      If you supported the process, you can’t bail just because you don’t like the outcome. See: Carter, Jimmy.

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    • Except that Douthat did toe the line on Katrina, as I noted above. And on Iraq, on the eve of war: “It’s a strange moment: American diplomacy over the last six months has been an abject failure, yet we are so powerful, so unmatchable militarily that when it comes to fighting a war, our lack of allies barely matters.” He did predict the consequences of failure given the cold shoulder we gave to diplomacy, but he backed Bush when it counted in declaring that winning the war would be easy. Oh, and “But I’m whining too much, aren’t I? After all, think how the poor Iraqis who actually have to fight us feel! Wait — did I say fight? I meant, ‘surrender en masse after a few shots are fired.'” He was quicker than most to recognize post-invasion errors, but he was right in line with the “we’ll be greeted as liberators” crowd when it mattered.

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      • Those are fair criticisms of Douthat. Whenever they are relevant to a current issue he is opining on, he is fair game to be hit with them. They are also perfectly reasonable to take into account when making an overall assessment of his judgment. BUT, just because Ross Douthat initially supported the invasion into Iraq does not mean that everyone who calls himself a conservative no longer has any credibility. This is ridiculous, and it would be equally ridiculous to apply the same standard to the majority of democratic members of congress and a large segment of the liberal punditry who made the same mistake.

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    • You are, in fact, just repeating the hollow, empty complaints that I am complaining about above: conservatives don’t ever have to apologize for the abject failure of conservatism as a governing philosophy. If you can’t do more than simply parrot exactly the bankrupt arguments I just shredded, then you’re beyond my capacity to educate.

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      • The only consistent definition of conservative I now feel confident in is that a conservative is someone who is not responsible for anything that the Bush administration or Republican congress has done. No, no one is responsible for the Bush administration and its many crimes. No one is responsible for the congressmen who cheered their way along. No one is responsible for the systematic failure of the Republican party machine, which placed such a pathetic, unqualified and ignorant man in the greatest seat of power the word has ever known.

        I guess the above paragraph is where you think you “shredded.” According to you, every person who calls himself a conservative must take personal responsibility for this supposed parade of horribles that you believe directly flows from his twisted beliefs, renounce said beliefs, and rend his garments in expiation before your righteous anger is satisfied and you will again deign to consider his ideas for the content.

        Consider me unimpressed with both your argument and your ad hominem attack. Even granting your hyperbolic characterizations of the GOP and the Bush presidency, you have failed to demonstrate why the conservative bloggers who so irritate you should submit to your flogging and take such responsibility. To address your point directly, here are a few people who should take personal responsibility for the consequences of any of the items in your list, in order of proximity (and perhaps degree of responsibility) to the people who were directly responsible: George Bush, the members of his administration, congressman who initiated or supported any failures (both Democrat and Republican), party members of either party who organized and got them elected, pundits who argued for failed policies, and various people who tried to convince their friends that these were good ideas (regardless of partisan affiliation), and finally (most tenuously), those who thought these were good ideas but kept it to themselves or did nothing to oppose them.

        So the question is, do you think that we need to add people to the list of the responsible? Do we need to add “conservatives” who opposed any of the above, simply because they are on the same “team?” What about liberals who supported any of the above (there were many)? Did your “shredding” address this question — a corollary of the question I asked at the end of my previous post — at all?

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      • To cut through my tendency toward the verbose: who is arguing that the people responsible aren’t responsible? Doesn’t pretty much everyone (including most conservatives) hold the Bush administration and Republican politicians responsible? That seems pretty reasonable to me. It’s hardly true that any argues NO ONE is responsible.

        What seems much more unreasonable is your quest to discredit an entire ideology and then your propensity to get *really pissed* when people argue that you seem to have skipped a few steps. Your blogging opponents simply ask, “why should I personally be held responsible?” I don’t think you have come close to answering that question.

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  10. Fantastic post. The only pseudo-defense of Ross is that the weekly pundit column is where smart people go to die and become irrelevant hackish morons. Sadly Ross is now infected with that bug. I think the entire media of the pundit column is the most out of date, arrogant, self-preening, waste of time. I don’t really read any of them anymore (left, right, centrist, whatever).

    But that format really hurts Ross who as you say is built for the country-road post, that winds around, dips in and out of various positions, is more open-minded. Instead of plugging him into the already existing framework, they should have created a separate forum for him. Something to allow his more imaginative side out. As it is now he is quickly becoming a Balloon Juice mocked meme.

    I know Freddie might not go for this, but old media is just well creaky and old. [Journalism I like, the formatting not so much]. Even like Ezra Klein’s blogging at the Washington Post, it just feels off, even though I know he’s good.

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    • With his blog at The Atlantic at least Douthat was able to lighten the mood with the occasional pop-culture reference to music, movies, etc. That sorts of blurred the lines of us vs. them. As a columnist it’s very hard to do that, especially since he is paid to be the resident voice for the Right.

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      • So Ross must clearly be a weak talentless individual. He has the opportunity to write anything. If it’s good, he’ll be lauded on a national scale. And he decides to write these hypocritical reality-free columns because he feels compelled to be the defender of policies he doesn’t actually believe in? Not bad for a guy who said Harvard academics were “too easy.”

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  11. Somewhat OT, I read a brilliant post yesterday about the psychology of conservatives.

    http://existentialistcowboy.blogspot.com/2009/10/psychologists-conclude-gop-is-nuts.html

    It was shortly thereafter, as I recall, that Stanford University released its study indicating that conservatives, the GOP in particular, have more and more terrifying nightmares and night terrors than do normal folk. Nightmares are believed to be the manifestation in dreams of one’s fears and irrational anxieties. [Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams]

    John Dean’s Conservatives Without Consciences, inspired by some very serious research, asserts that the conservative mind-set is characterized by the recurring qualities of ‘the unbridled viciousness toward those daring to disagree with them’ as well as by big business favoritism that has cost taxpayers billions. Dean’s book is inspired by other studies identifying an ‘authoritarian, conservative mindset’, specifically Robert D. Hare’s now-standard text on psychopaths, Without Conscience of 1993.

    As I have charged, this ‘type’ is challenged to make valid inferences from premises. Observations by professional psychologists and psychiatrists repeatedly confirm my allegations that ‘psychopathic’ Republicans work backward from conclusions. A mentality that reverses logic cannot be expected to ever get anything right. This mentality may be expected to deny science, evolution, or pragmatic approaches of any type. This mentality may be expected to support wars of aggression against Iraq and elsewhere and for all the wrong reasons. This group has embraced or has inherited from authoritarian parents an ideology into which it will ‘shoe horn’ the evidence of science, experiment or statistics. Anything not conforming is discounted. It is not surprising, therefore, that every GOP politcial program has failed; that’s everything from ‘trickle down’ theory to wasteful military spending which has made the US less safe, more vulnerable in fact to terrorist attack or foreign aggression.

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      • It seems that you didn’t read the article and are only commenting on the first paragraph in the blockquote.

        This part makes some very similar points to Freddie’s:

        This group will never admit its failures; it will rationalize even worse atrocities if it is believed they will cover up past mistakes. It is a moral and psychological black hole. The American Psychiatric Association’s ‘Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders’ description of antisocial and narcissistic personality disorders, for example, provides a diagnostic context for behaviors that Dean describes as characteristic of “social dominants” and “double highs.” Anti-socials, for instance, “show little remorse for the consequences of their acts…. They may be indifferent to, or provide a superficial rationalization for, having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from someone (e.g., ‘life’s unfair,’ ‘losers deserve to lose,’ or ‘he had it coming anyway’)… They may believe that everyone is out to ‘help number one’ and that one should stop at nothing to avoid being pushed around.” Conservative defenses of George W. Bush were most often of these types.

        Conservatives were often encouraged to believe and overtly told that Iraq was somehow involved in the events of 911. If a survey were conducted now, I suspect that about half the GOP ‘base’ still believes Iraq had something to do with 911. Some will still repeat the WMD lie despite the facts that proved Bush a liar.

        The rationalization “for, having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from someone (e.g., ‘life’s unfair,’ ‘losers deserve to lose,’ or ‘he had it coming anyway’)” sounds exactly like the conservo-glibertarian cries of “Personal Responsibility!” (which seem very prevalent around these parts).

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        • Conservatives come in all shapes, sizes and colors. I even know a Catholic one and a Baptist one. We come at our conservatism from all different places. I have more heated arguments with my fellow conservatives over the nuances in our beliefs than I do with even the most lefty of libs. So any attempt to psyco-analyze conservatives as a group strikes me as one of the more ridiculous moments of folly in the history of psychological medicine.

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          • Regarding psychoanalyzing a diverse group (like conservatives) being “one of the more ridiculous moments of folly in the history of psychological medicine”, I give you these moments of psychoanalyzing diverse groups:

            1. The entire world: “I think that decision over-estimated by a large degree how much the world really cares about the Nobel.”.
            2. The Left: “The Left, despite a lot of urging to decline, would of course get on board once the President made his decision.”.
            3. Conservatives: “Conservatives aren’t mad at Obama for being offered the award. We know it was out of his hands. We’re just disappointed he cared more about international opinion than the opinion of his own fellow citizens. And that’s not just the opinion of the Right.”.
            4. The Majority of Americans: ” I belive [sic] a majority of Americans wanted him to say no thanks.”.

            I could go on, but will stop here.

            The hypocrisy never ends when you’re talking to a conservative…

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              • I not only request but also require all those around me, who care even an iota, to call me on my hypocrisy as soon as they see it. Even Mike at the Big Stick.

                Otherwise, aren’t we just sweeping all of this under the rug, which won’t help anyone to learn and grow? It takes a village to raise a child (or a human). One is incapable of growing unless one learns from one’s mistakes, and if others don’t point out our mistakes then we are not always aware of them. This is what we call “friends” – those who will tell us the difficult truths about ourselves.

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              • He seems a little too arrogant to recognize this, especially if he’s just linking to “brilliant” posts questioning the mental state of those who disagree with him.

                From our private conversations, you know my feelings on this sort of stuff so I’m bowing out of this one. Have fun. :)

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        • The rationalization “for, having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from someone (e.g., ‘life’s unfair,’ ‘losers deserve to lose,’ or ‘he had it coming anyway’)” sounds exactly like the conservo-glibertarian cries of “Personal Responsibility!” (which seem very prevalent around these parts).

          Care to elaborate, Dr. Freud?

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          • Yeah, this always irritates me as well.

            It seems to just beg for an essay psychoanalyzing the “other” side and explain how “not necessarily you, but people like you, are this way because they have the following traits, which lead to the following resentments, which lead to the following essays, which sounds like it could have been lifted from one of your screeds about how evil people who have actually accomplished things without having to game the system must be.”

            It reads like an invitation to a fight more than anything else.

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            • Good point. I think what these sort of dialogues indicate is how most of us are prety much morons because we always fall into these same, predictable discussions. Ultimately it goes back to a point I discussed with Scott sometime back was that it’s a flaw in our system that we label people rather than positions. I self-identify as a conservative so liberals make all sorts of assumptions about me. I’m sure some would be surprised to know I am violently opposed to things like Creationism and I’m completely okay with killing DADT. Likewise we conservatives make all sorts of assumptions about liberals that are equally ignorant. How nice it would be if we just labeled our positions. I could say, “I’m conservative on abortion,” and you would pretty much know where I stand on that issue but maybe, just maybe you wouldn’t assume I am an across-the-board evil disciple of Rush Limbaugh because I might be downright liberal on things like farm subsidies.

              We can always dream…

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              • “I’m conservative on abortion”

                I don’t even know what this would mean. “I believe in a right to privacy”? “I believe that The State should have the right to investigate charges of conspiracy to commit abortion”?

                I mean, I am pretty socially conservative when it comes to, ahem, congress. I don’t believe that people ought to have sex outside of a life partnership situation. “With no ring on your hand, stay in second-base land!” is a catchphrase that the Ad Council could refine, I’m sure.

                This is why I support gay marriage. I support gay marriage because I think that sex outside of a life partnership situation will inevitably lead to somebody sitting on the side of the bed and crying. It always does. I know, I know, you’re thinking about that one person and how you guys broke it off and everybody was mature and cool and how it was totally good. You know what? That other person sobbed on the side of their bed when they finally had an hour to themselves.

                I am “conservative when it comes to gay marriage”.

                But you know what? That doesn’t mean what it probably looks like it means.

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            • Yeah, this always irritates me as well.

              The truth hurts. And, your first inclination is to attack. Sounds just like the standard conservative response to facts that they don’t like.

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              • I am going to psychoanalyze you right here.

                It seems to me that you know that the initial response of people to that type of essay of yours is to, as you say, attack. You aren’t surprised at all when you see an attack in response to this essay of yours.

                As a matter of fact, this is why you use this particular essay. It elicits an attack as a response almost universally whenever you use it.

                This allows you to say “I am being attacked!” in response to your essay. Indeed, you look forward to this.

                What does this say about your character?

                Well, it doesn’t say very good things, I’m sad to say.

                I’m honestly quite disappointed in you… and your hypocrisy in attacking others and then claiming, when they respond in kind, to be “attacked” rather than “counter-attacked”.

                Very, very disappointed.

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                • Interesting analysis. I can see how you might be drawn to those conclusions, but, unfortunately, I’m not nearly that manipulative.

                  I actually linked to it because, after reading Freddie’s post, I was reminded of this part:

                  This group will never admit its failures; it will rationalize even worse atrocities if it is believed they will cover up past mistakes. It is a moral and psychological black hole. The American Psychiatric Association’s ‘Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders’ description of antisocial and narcissistic personality disorders, for example, provides a diagnostic context for behaviors that Dean describes as characteristic of “social dominants” and “double highs.” Anti-socials, for instance, “show little remorse for the consequences of their acts…. They may be indifferent to, or provide a superficial rationalization for, having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from someone (e.g., ‘life’s unfair,’ ‘losers deserve to lose,’ or ‘he had it coming anyway’)… They may believe that everyone is out to ‘help number one’ and that one should stop at nothing to avoid being pushed around.” Conservative defenses of George W. Bush were most often of these types.

                  Conservatives were often encouraged to believe and overtly told that Iraq was somehow involved in the events of 911. If a survey were conducted now, I suspect that about half the GOP ‘base’ still believes Iraq had something to do with 911. Some will still repeat the WMD lie despite the facts that proved Bush a liar.

                  That seems (to me) to define the “base” of the Republican party over the past 8 years, and is a good analysis of how the Bush/Cheney administration thought about things. Are you, Jaybird, part of that “base”? I don’t know. But, from reading your comments, I would say no. So, this article really isn’t about you, yet you are obviously very upset by it. That’s interesting (to me, anyway). Maybe you need to apply your “religious discussion” philosophy to this?

                  And, it’s not MY article, it’s just an article that I read yesterday from a link I found. Alas, I don’t have the time (or ability) for a blog of my own. I can barely write coherent comments, let alone a whole article.

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                  • “The truth hurts. And, your first inclination is to attack. Sounds just like the standard conservative response to facts that they don’t like.”

                    Uh-huh.

                    Anyway, my irritation is no surprise to me. I feel similar things when I see people post slurs and then claim that the angry response they get is indicative of some psychological state of the other person.

                    Psychoanalysis of the other person is deliberately changing the subject and talking about something that will, 99.44% of the time, get them to react in an emotional state. If done right, you can play the other person like a fiddle.

                    Then point out how, baby, I wasn’t talking about chicks like you when I was complaining about chicks being all emotional. (I was surprised when you got all emotional though!)

                    As I said, way back above, it strikes me more as an invitation to a fight.

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                    • “Psychoanalysis of the other person is deliberately changing the subject and talking about something that will, 99.44% of the time, get them to react in an emotional state….it strikes me more as an invitation to a fight.”

                      Uh-huh.

                      Anyway, you must really hate this (Freddie’s) article, since it is psychoanalyzing conservatives and their motivations, and is, therefore, an invitation to a fight. And, E.D. even praises the part that is psychoanalyzing conservatives and their motivations, so you must really hate that, too, since it is just an invitation to a fight.

                      Can we get some consistency around here?

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                    • Let me begin by saying that I have never seen the big deal about Ross Douthat. I’ve heard that he used to be the bomb diggity and now he sucks, but I’ve never experienced the whole “bomb diggity” thing when it comes to him. The two main thoughts associated with him in my head are 1) the prawn == adultery series he did and 2) the essay where he wrote about making out with a particular chick who was more interested in him than he with her and he went to great lengths to describe her (everything short of her name) and I remember thinking “what a (crude term for external male body part)”.

                      So Ross doesn’t exactly inspire me to write essays. On top of that, I’ve been trying to lay off of Freddie. He means well, I’m pretty sure of it. I’m more interested in getting him to automatically assume the same of others at this point. Ross wouldn’t be the avenue that I’d use to do that (see 1) and 2) ).

                      But, additionally, there are tons of ways to psychoanalyze.

                      1) to psychoanalyze an individual and assume good faith on their part
                      2) to psychoanalyze an individual and assume bad faith on their part
                      3) to psychoanalyze a group and assume good faith on the part of their memebers
                      4) to psychoanalyze a group and assume bad faith on the part of their members

                      And let’s make that grid a cube and add the switch “in an effort to understand stuff better” and “in an effort to explain to others why you don’t have to take them seriously” and we get to the #8 of psychoanalyzing a group and assuming bad faith on the part of their members in an effort to explain to others why you don’t have to take them seriously and we, finally!, see what exactly is in the essay you quoted that rubs me the wrong way.

                      Would you like to continue to wonder how anyone might take issue with what you’ve posted without screaming at E.D. or Freddie or are we good?

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                    • I assume by your response that you haven’t read Mr. Dean’s book, or Mr. Altemeyer’s book that he references, otherwise you would not immediately leap to the #8 conclusion.

                      Mr. Dean’s book is good, but not as good as Mr. Altemeyer’s. I highly recommend Mr. Altemeyer’s book. Much of what he writes about in 1996 predicts what has happened over the past 8 years to this country (and especially to conservatism). With a preponderance of scientific data and research to back it all up, but none of it conducted, as you say, with the premise of “psychoanalyzing a group and assuming bad faith on the part of their members in an effort to explain to others why you don’t have to take them seriously”.

                      But, as I said earlier, your first inclination is to attack. This is the standard response by conservatives faced with real facts that they don’t like (and is touched on in the book).

                      I read Dean’s book, and there were many parts that were very loose (and sometimes devolve into ad hominem attacks that “he/she isn’t a real conservative”). But, because he based it on the work of Mr. Altemeyer, I tracked down his book and read it. Quite illuminating, and it explains a lot about why Mr. Dean wrote his book.

                      BTW, there are more ways to analyze than your 8 little boxes. But, I think you already knew that.

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                    • My first inclination is to respond in kind.

                      You seem to take great umbrage that people would, heaven forfend!, treat you the way you treat others.

                      What’s the word for that?

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                    • I don’t take any umbrage about how anyone treats me on the Intertubes – I expect a lot of irrational emotion and religiously-dogmatic defense of ideologies (and a lot of bad writing). My apologies if I’ve hurt your beautiful mind with these honest comments.

                      And, I think the word you’re looking for is “Conservatism”.

                      [/metasnark]

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                    • “religiously-dogmatic defense of ideologies”?

                      Dude, you are quoting a paper that explains that the people you happen to disagree with politically are that way because they have psychological shortcomings.

                      Why should I not come to the conclusion that this is the same thing as someone reading the Fountainhead and saying “yeah! all those other people *DO* suck!!!”?

                      Why should I take your attitude that I must not have read it if I came to that conclusion (or worse, that I must be one of the people talked about) as anything but, yes, the same thing as that high school student saying “well, you just disagree with the Fountainhead because you suck too! All you people suck!”?

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          • I question your desire for a real dialog or elaboration, so I will only spend a small amount of time responding.

            Mark Thompson wrote an interesting (to me, anyway) post on his own criticisms of his philosophy (libertarianism) – with bonus points for the Monty Python references. Here is the post:

            http://www.ordinary-gentlemen.com/2009/08/well-what-are-you-doing-creeping-around-a-cow-shed-at-two-oclock-in-the-morning-that-doesnt-sound-very-wise-to-me/

            In the post, he addresses similar themes:

            “I dunno, must be a king…. He hasn’t got shit all over him.” For all of our anti-government rhetoric and attempts to either blame poverty on government intervention or blame it on lack of personal responsibility or talent, libertarians do a poor job recognizing the inconsistency of their position to the extent we do not actually advocate anarchy. Where libertarians blame poverty on government intervention, they they ignore that this logically means that as long as government exists (and again, this critique does not apply to anarchists), there will be people who benefit economically from the State and people who suffer because of it. The only way to rectify this situation is going to be to take from those who benefit from the existence of the State and give to those who suffer from it. Where libertarians (usually Randians) blame poverty purely on lack of individual responsibility or talent and credit individual responsibility and talent for success, they are ignoring the role of the State in defining the skill sets and activities that will make a person economically successful and are thus justifying the results of those actions. The State (and by implication, the successful) thus may have a duty to in some significant way compensate those whose skills the State has deemed unworthy.

            I await a more substantive response than your first grenade over the wall.

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    • I think your skeptical alarm bells should be going off. I hope I never trust summaries of research that explain away people I disagree with through the use of un-desirable traits.

      I give the article a 10 for inflammatory rhetoric and a 0 for usefulness in a discussion.

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  12. Pingback: Links of the Day - 10/12/2009 | Heretical Ideas Blog

  13. Good on conservative avoidance. On the issue of turning down the Nobel, I have to say that you’re a bit late to the party on seeing that that would be the pretentious, grandstanding thing to do.

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  14. Interesting that you use the term “travesty.” It’s defined thus:

    1. a literary or artistic burlesque of a serious work or subject, characterized by grotesque or ludicrous incongruity of style, treatment, or subject matter.
    2. a literary or artistic composition so inferior in quality as to be merely a grotesque imitation of its model.
    3. any grotesque or debased likeness or imitation: a travesty of justice.

    So given the Bush administration’s record, what was being disguised? By whom? There are PLENTY of conservatives who critiqued Bush as a RINO. And were slammed for using the term. “No!” the critics said. “He’s a conservative, you are a conservative. You have to live with him as the standard bearer.”

    Now, years later, those same critics are saying, “So why didn’t you criticize him at the time?”

    Look. Plenty of people did. Kristol, I seem to recall, did WAY more to keep him from getting elected than Gore did. But both failed. And here we are.

    So my question is, which of Obama’s initiatives is Freddie willing to hitch his wagon to? Do “liberals” and “progressives” need to feel shame for his hesitation on DADT? Coe to think if it, DADT is a relic from the Clinton era. So… should the left feel more shame than the right about its track record on gay rights? And what about Katrina? Sure, the city got destroyed. But I seem to recall a slew of American cities emerging from decades of liberal and progressive rule as bombed out hulks of themselves. Your fault? Do you need to apologize for that? I don’t see why you would.

    Again, I am not sure what you see as being “disguised” here. Are you insinuating that it’s actually a part of the conservative agenda to drown children, and that this preference was cleverly cloaked and later became the modus operandi of FEMA under George Bush? Or is it that you see Compassionate Conservatism as a cleverly cloaked version of a nefarious agenda?

    Well, um… a whole bunch of conservatives have been saying that for the past 10 years. And they have jumped ship in enough numbers that Democrats have won several electoral landslides in a row. So now that these conservatives, such as Ross, are trying to right the ship, you are doing an admirable job of shooting holes in the hull. Not sure how that helps.

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  15. Criticism is so much easier when you have the luxury of attributing to people opinions and attitudes they don’t actually hold.

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  16. Pingback: Ross Douthat is ruined by the Times. As … « Talk Islam

  17. E.D. Kain

    “Sure, but liberals were taking down Bush from day one. Seriously, until 9/11 “united” the country, Bush was the subject of scorn and ridicule – a show on Comedy Central for goodness sake, lampooning him from the outset of his presidency. Presidents are fair game instantly – always have been and always will be.”

    I’d like to be unfair, and point out that people were very justified in opposing Bush – he got in due to (a) his brother purging the Florida voting rolls, and (b) a SCOTUS GOP block deciding to h*ll with their prior positions, they’d install him anyway, in a decision so bad that they explicitly barred it from being considered a precedent. And his previous record was of somebody whose only skill was picking the right uterus to be born from.

    And liberals were so against him that he was easily able to pass a budget with huge tax cuts for the rich in 2001.

    As for Comedey Central, if that’s your most extreme example of opposition, you should really go read up on democracy and open debate and suchlike.

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  18. Freddie: “I hold out hope that Ross will get better at his current gig. He’s too bright and too talented to not get better. ”

    Two things – first, the world is full of bright people who *get it wrong*. Being smart is no guarantee of succes. As for talent, Douthat disproves that regularly at the NYT.

    Second, I think that you’re assuming that getting it wrong is a failure, rather than an irrelevancy or a goal. For example, if one thinks of Friedman and Brooks as propagandists for a ruling elite (with individual quirks, in a system which is not Borg-like), then what they write makes quite good sense.

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  19. Might the problem be not that conservatism is dead or discredited, simply that it has not been part of the mainstream Republican conversation for something like 20 years? In other words, there are lots of Republican sects out there, but relatively few conservatives. I suspect that if you put this idea to people who want the idea of conservatism to have some richer content and greater historical depth than waving the flag and hating the enemy du jour, (i.e. Tanenhaus, Sullivan, Larison) you’d find that they agree on this point.

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  20. BTW, the best reply to Douthat’s pontifications on the Nobel prize is from Daniel Davies (http://d-squareddigest.blogspot.com/2009/10/its-like-raaaaaaiiiiieeeeeeeain-on-your.html):

    “Ross Douthat of the New York Times writes on the subject of Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize. I cannot help noticing that when the New York Times came and offered him a column, he did not turn it down saying “no, I clearly do not deserve this honour, others are far more qualified for it that me”.”

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  21. Pingback: Watcher of Weasels » Reputation Matters – Obama and Israel: Betrayal in the Broken Places

  22. Pingback: Watcher of Weasels » A Visitor From Another Planet Wonders About Weasels

  23. Pingback: The Young And The Dissident: Meditations On The Reformers From Some Ordinary Gentlemen « Around The Sphere

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