There Are Smart Conservatives and There Are Fox News Conservatives
Here’s what I’m looking forward to in the event of a Barack Obama victory in November: the disgust on Sean Hannity’s face. The outrage in Rush Limbaugh’s voice. The sputtering angst of Mark Levin. The juvenile name-calling of Ann Coulter. And the crestfallen excuse-making of Steve Doocy and Gretchen Carlson.
Tears. I want there to be actual, salty tears of frustration. Yes, I’m a bad person.
But a Mitt Romney loss in the presidential election might offer something better than an opportunity for liberal schadenfreude—it could mean the end of Fox News conservatism.
Understand: I’m not talking about the end of conservatism itself. There will always be a right wing to our politics, a place for people who truly believe that low taxes and limited government are the essence of the American experiment. What’s more, liberals will probably always need that counterbalance to help us guard against our own excesses.
Instead, I’m talking about Fox News conservatism–a variety of the ideology that is generally coarse, stupid, untruthful, and mostly harmful to the body politic. It’s embodied in the likes of Limbaugh, Hannity, and pretty much anybody associated with the late Andrew Breitbart. It has, over the last few decades, come to be what we think of when we think “conservatism,” but that’s not the way it has to be.
You can believe in limited government, for example, without believing, falsely, that President Obama is a socialist tyrant in league with the New Black Panthers.
You can believe that America should strike a more muscular posture in the world without believing, falsely, that President Obama went on an “apology tour” in order to strengthen the country’s enemies.
You can believe that attempts to control carbon emissions might do terrible, unjustifiable damage to the world economy without believing, falsely, that “climate change” is just a conspiracy by scientists to let liberals wrest control of businesses from their owners.
You can be against abortion, or oppose government-enforced birth control requirements, without calling women like Sandra Fluke a slut. You can oppose affirmative action without falsely painting civil rights heroes like Shirley Sherrod as reverse racists. You can desire to preserve religious traditions without subscribing, falsely, to the notion of a “war on Christmas.”
There is nothing about conservatism that requires the rejection of facts, the embrace of lies, or the wholesale abandonment of civility. Unless, of course, you live in the Fox News universe.
As Mitt Romney’s candidacy apparently crumbles, there is growing evidence of a pushback among independent-minded conservatives. At the Atlantic, writer Conor Friedersdorf has been writing about the number of right-wing charlatans who spend so much time lying and distorting the truth that many Republicans can’t recognize the truth in order to properly act upon it. In the New York Times, David Brooks has lamented that the Republican embrace of Ayn Rand-style screwthepoorism has caused conservatives to neglect other parts of their tradition. At the American Conservative, former Philadelphian Rod Dreher has urged his brethren to “turn off talk radio, turn off cable” in exchange for smarter, better sources of thought and information.
These writers have a long way to go: Michelle Malkin excoriated Brooks, for example, after Brooks criticized Romney’s infamous “47 percent” comments. And it’s also the case that many expected the demise of Fox News conservatism after Republicans lost the White House in 2008: Instead, we got Tea Parties.
What’s more, liberals shouldn’t expect that a conservatism that purges itself of its worst excesses will somehow become liberal. (For that matter, neither should other conservatives.) There are smart, evidence-minded conservatives who will oppose and frustrate us, but also challenge us to do better: Folks like William Voegeli (whom I know), Nicole Gelinas, Reihan Salam, Ramesh Ponnuru, Jim Manzi, and more. I don’t agree with them about much, but I’d feel better about our country if they were the face of conservatism instead of, say, Sarah Palin.
Such a reckoning certainly won’t happen if Mitt Romney wins the White House. Only one thing can bring about the revival and ascension of a better, smarter conservatism: a Barack Obama election victory. We can only hope.