A few weeks ago, Kathleen Parker wrote a column suggesting that Sarah Palin should remove herself from the ticket for the good of the McCain campaign and of the country. Parker cited Palin’s dreadful interview performances as proof of her glaring inexperience, saying that “if BS were currency, Palin could bail out Wall Street herself.”
Parker went on to write that “only Palin can save McCain, her party, and the country she loves. She can bow out for personal reasons, perhaps because she wants to spend more time with her newborn. No one would criticize a mother who puts her family first.”
Well, there’s room for disagreement there, but that does represent a reasonable and thoughtful point of view. It’s hard to argue with Parker’s point about Palin’s interviews, and many do believe that choosing Palin was a mistake. Of course, it’s quite possible to make an equally strong case against Parker’s argument—but it is clearly a plausible idea.
Not so to many conservatives. Parker reported that she got thousands of angry emails, many of them abusive and violent. Around the conservative blogosphere, the general feeling was that Parker was a “traitor”, a “Washington insider”, and not a “true conservative.” Parker’s idea was reasonable. The reaction of too many conservatives to it was not.
Last week, National Review’s Christopher Buckley wrote a column endorsing Barack Obama for president. Buckley is probably the most prominent of the conservatives endorsing Obama—there have been others, but they tend to either be a bit obscure or a bit crazy.
Buckley’s reasoning was that Obama’s eloquently written books reveal a temperament suited to the presidency, and in the absence of any real difference between the candidates, is a sort of tiebreaker for Obama. Apparently, Buckley thinks that temperament is a substitute for ideology.
This line of thought isn’t exactly closely reasoned (I’d love to know where Buckley got the idea that there aren’t any meaningful differences between the candidates), but it does not represent any kind of repudiation of conservative principles on the part of Buckley. His position is that both candidates are liberal enough that things like temperament assume great importance, a position that is reasonable, if not one I agree with.
After Buckley delivered this opinion, conservative opinion swelled against him. He claims to have gotten the whole Parker email treatment of nasty emails, and felt compelled to offer his resignation. Apparently, he thought National Review’s editors would be grateful for his consideration, but graciously insist on him staying with the magazine. They weren’t, and accepted his resignation. Needless to say, the conservative blogosphere was jubilant.
There are just two examples of conservative intolerance for differing views—there are many more, such as the backlash against Peggy Noonan after she said that Palin’s selection represents “identity politics,” the dislike of David Brooks and David Frum for not being “true conservatives,” and the astonishing anger of so many conservatives at John McCain (okay, McCain isn’t wholly conservative, but he’s not nearly as liberal as people like Michelle Malkin seem to think). Conservatives seem to think that there are two kinds of people in the world—people who think exactly like them, aka conservatives, and far left liberals. There are no other categories.
There is a puzzling and stubborn meme in the conservative movement regarding the influence of Washington cocktail parties. Apparently, nearly all heretical writing by conservatives-in-name-only is due to a burning desire to get invitations to elite Washington parties. It’s hard to follow this line of thinking—I’m pretty sure David Frum and the rest of his breed would be much more in demand if they starting toeing the standard conservative line instead of advocating their own brand of conservatism, and anyway I’m not sure that anyone much to the right of Michael Moore is ever invited to those elite parties anyway. But many conservatives are convinced that anyone who calls himself a conservative but has the temerity to disagree with accepted conservative thought is only doing so out a desire to be accepted in liberal circles.
This thinking should cease. There is no value in attempting to ostracize anyone whose thinking is not wholly in line with that of Rush Limbaugh’s. Is David Brooks particularly conservative? No. But he does have some strong conservative views, and can express them, which makes him worth listening to. Conservatives should seek to emphasize their similarities with pundits like Brooks and Frum and Buckley, not stress their differences.
A more welcoming attitude is essential for the survival of conservatism. Any political movement should take care not to become stagnant, but should rather welcome new ideas. Some ideas (such as Buckley’s proposal to vote for Barack Obama) are stupid, and will be criticized and condemned. But conservatives should argue over and discuss these ideas—not shoot the messenger. Having people like Christopher Buckley and David Brooks on board is good for conservatism, and conservatives should welcome them.