Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Bliss was it in that time to be alive

...but to be conservative was pretty remunerative as well...

Mary Pickford and Buddy Rogers in Sam Taylor's My Best Girl (1927).
Last Friday Brooks was back lamenting the decadence of today's conservatives, so inferior to the lovely, charismatic conservatives of the past, who used to patronize him at old Mr. Buckley's dinner table and make him feel witty and important. In the room the women came and went, talking of T.S. Eliot. So to speak. There was a pretty little bit of deserved spite against today's conservatives:
Many [conservatives of Irving Kristol's generation] grew up poor, which cured them of the anti-elitist pose that many of today’s conservative figures adopt, especially if they come from Princeton (Ted Cruz), Cornell (Ann Coulter) or Dartmouth (Laura Ingraham and Dinesh D’Souza). 
But you can't help thinking that what he really objects to is that nobody in that crowd seems wholly aware that he exists. And he can't stop implicitly taking a pro-elitist stance himself, that being what conservatism is if you boil it down to the essence.

Krugman covered the piece in a blog post, in which he actually name-checked Brooks and Douthat for a change, and pointed out that the glorious time Brooks remembers is a figment of the Brooksian imagination:
We’re supposed to think back nostalgically to the era when serious conservative intellectuals like Irving Kristol tried to understand the world, rather than treating everything as a political exercise in which ideas were just there to help their team win.
But it was never like that. Don’t take my word for it; take the word of Irving Kristol himself, in his book “Neoconservatism: The Autobiography of an Idea.” Kristol explained his embrace of supply-side economics in the 1970s: “I was not certain of its economic merits but quickly saw its political possibilities.” This justified a “cavalier attitude toward the budget deficit and other monetary or financial problems”, because “political effectiveness was the priority, not the accounting deficiencies of government.”
In short, never mind whether it’s right, as long as it’s politically useful. When David complains that “conservative opinion-meisters began to value politics over everything else,” he’s describing something that happened well before Reagan.
(Update: I see Driftglass already cited this on Sunday.)

Equally delusional is Brooks's conclusion:
This is a sad story. But I confess I’m insanely optimistic about a conservative rebound. That’s because of an observation the writer Yuval Levin once made: That while most of the crazy progressives are young, most of the crazy conservatives are old. Conservatism is now being led astray by its seniors, but its young people are pretty great. It’s hard to find a young evangelical who likes Donald Trump. Most young conservatives are comfortable with ethnic diversity and are weary of the Fox News media-politico complex. Conservatism’s best ideas are coming from youngish reformicons who have crafted an ambitious governing agenda (completely ignored by Trump).
Funny, that: he only meant to use "insanely" as a meaningless banal intensifier in his second sentence up there, but then he had to use "crazy" twice with its literal meaning in the third, forcing us to notice that he's one of the crazy old conservatives himself, though with a kind of senile melancholia in contrast to the lively lunacy of the folks he's talking about.

An appropriate counter swiftly arrived, over at Alicublog,

 Conservatism's young people are great? Is Brooks talking about the alt-right bros who refer to David French as a cuckservative, and to him as a kikeservative?
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    • Many young people who call themselves conservative are not just crazy but extremely dangerous.

      Conservatism remains what it has always been since its origins in 1789, two things: a small group, the more fearful and illiberal sector of the ruling class fighting democracy and the concomitant threat to its economic dominance with an endless stream of rationalizations for why they should continue to run everything, and the relatively large group of low-class xenophobes and reactionaries they could persuade to vote for them by infecting them with the same sort of fear (just as the Burkes lived in terror of revolutionaries after their heads, so did their small-farmer and shopkeeper voters worry about the hungry cobblestone-throwing poor).

      What's happened at the moment is that the high-class conservatives have really lost control. Their "ideas" are so weak that they're almost invisible—as politicians like Marco Rubio find, to their cost, if they're not screaming bloody bullshit about immigration and abortion they're not getting any attention at all, because the policies they have to recommend, health savings accounts and stern advice on the economic consequences of fornication, just have no weight. The biggest idea they now have to offer is the old socialist standby of a guaranteed basic income, the kind of permanent cash dole they've devoted themselves to protesting against (as if it really existed in the 70s and 80s, with those T-bone–eating Cadillac-driving young bucks and welfare queens) for the last 60 years. Lolwut? 

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