Careful who you call "Crazy"
David Klinghoffer, a Discovery Institute fellow, published a column today in the LA Times descrying the descent of conservatism from the heights of "neocons" to the swamps of "crazycons", from the high-minded polemics of Bill Buckley (who did not see himself as a neocon, by the way), Irving Kristol and Richard John Neuhaus, to, well, internet innovator Andrew Breitbart and his supposedly "deceptive" attempt to reveal Agriculture Department official Shirley Sherrod as a racist. The latter episode, Klinghoffer thinks, typifies a rise of uncivil behavior and a decline of interest in positive policy alternatives.
The article is bound to provoke misunderstandings. Liberals will use it to pummel all conservatives and all conservative arguments, though that, of course, is not what Klinghoffer intended. (Exactly what he did intend is not at all clear.) Conservatives will see it--also incorrectly--as a demand that the Right lay off attacks on liberal leadership failures that are all too apparent in Washington, D.C.
This reminds me, sadly, of the early 60s when George Gilder and I criticized the Goldwaterites for tolerating segregationists and the John Birchers who was who were calling President Eisenhower a communist. We had good arguments on both points and maybe they helped lead to change. It certainly is gratifying to read recent historical accounts that show how Bill Buckley and others made a successful effort to turn the conservative movement around on civil rights and rhetorical extremism. Republicans in Congress at the time, as it happens, supported civil rights legislations in higher percentages than Democrats did, and the influence of the John Birch Society's paranoia managed to evaporate rather fast.
But meantime, many of the positive things Gilder and I were trying to contribute to right of center politics temporarily got lost in the controversy. Constructive conservative initiatives we tried to present languished. We found that we were perceived as foes by many on the right (that abated in time, of course), while the left only valued what we had to say so long as they could use it as a weapon against conservatives. The lesson I learned is that conservatives can make news by criticizing their natural allies, but seldom (given mainstream media bias) by criticizing their natural adversaries or by offering new policy ideas.
In only a few years it became clear, in any case, that the real locus of extremism was on the left. America and the West are still suffering from what the 60s and 70s wrought.
On the right, the conservative movement went on to triumph in the election and policies of Ronald Reagan. Buckley and Reagan brought people like Gilder and me more closely into the conservative fold. Both of us, in different ways, were able to provide ideas and leadership on national policies in the now-iconic Reagan administration.
Yes, today there are a few cringe making voices on the Right. Still others make mistakes, despite generally solid analyses. But it is one of the Left's favorite tactics to exaggerate and misrepresent mistakes by conservatives and to try to marginalize conservative spokesmen based on opportunistic and one-sided criteria of political correctness. I have not followed the case closely, but that may have happened to Andrew Breitbart.
Self-indulgence of stridency once again is much more pronounced on the Left. Only recently, for example, Tea Party activists were being accused of violent tendencies. When a federal judge voided much of the Arizona law on illegal immigration, who demonstrated in the streets? The angry Right? Nope, the Left.
Conservatives do need more policy initiatives in both domestic and international policy. The country needs it from them. But that hardly warrants now taking the spotlight off the destructive policies presently in place in Washington, D.C. First things first.