Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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CPAC thoughts

Let’s hope that Anne Coulter’s de- (you fill in the blank) remark doesn’t overshadow everything else at the CPAC meeting. Power Line’s Paul Mirengoff rather liked Mitt Romney’s speech, as did his colleague John Hinderaker.

At the risk of reopening a major league can of worms (at least at this site), I want to call attention to this WaTi article, which contains the following passage about Rudy Giuliani:

In interviews afterward, some attendees said Mr. Giuliani lost momentum when he heaped lavish praise on Abraham Lincoln.


While many conservatives regard the Civil War president as the spiritual founder of the Republican Party, others deeply resent him as a man who ruthlessly suspended constitutional rights and freedoms in order to militarily challenge the South’s belief in its right to secede. Some saw similar disdain for individuals’ rights in Mr. Giuliani’s successful war on crime in New York City.


Mr. Giuliani took the side of the Bush administration on an issue that troubles civil libertarian conservatives, saying that "you need the tools like the Patriot Act and legal intelligence surveillance."

"Rudy thought he was addressing a Republican audience," said Mike Long, chairman of the New York State Conservative Party. "Mitt understood this is an audience of people who are conservatives first."

If invoking Lincoln (the man who conserved the Union) is "un-conservative," then I’m not a conservative. Yes, Lincoln--reluctantly, in the face of a foundational challenge to the preservation of the rule of law--temporarily expanded executive powers (saying something about not acquiring a taste for emetic you take when you’re sick, as I recall), but his goal was to preserve something worth preserving, something defenders of slavery wanted to dismantle, on a principle that would permit anyone and everyone to secede whenever it suited their particular interests. As Lincoln noted, on that principle, government is impossible. This might approach a libertarian position, but surely not a conservative one.

By the way, the best recent articulation of Lincoln’s "faith-based" conservatism that I’ve read is the conclusion of Patrick Deneen’s
Democratic Faith, which reads Lincoln’s Second Inaugural in tandem with John Winthrop’s "A Model of Christian Charity" (excerpts here; full text here). Here’s a representative sample from Deneen’s conclusion:

Lincoln’s culminating speech seeks to temper the impious belief in personal or national superiority, and thereby chasten the human temptation toward individual or national self-glorification. While Lincoln called the United States "the last, best hope on earth," it was in the light of his recognition that Americans were an "almost chosen people." His high estimation of America--one held throughout his life--was not because, in his view, America was superior to other nations owing to its greater approximation to God’s will, but because, as a democracy, it was organized politically in recognition of the fact that man was not, nor could become, God. Even in his most patriotic and triumphal moments, Lincoln was congizant that the "superiority" of democracy rested most fundamentally upon the humble recognition of human imperfection.

There’s much more, but you just need to buy the book.

Discussions - 28 Comments

The griping about Rudy because he praised Lincoln shouldn’t overshadow CPAC any more than Ms. Coulter’s self-indulgent and ill-advised comment should. The anti-Lincoln viewpoint, like it or not, is part of conservative intellectual discourse. It has no place at CPAC, which has completely different purposes, and less than no place in CPAC attendees’ comments to the media. Better to ignore this than to give it further play. In fairness to Mr. Long of the NY Conservative Party, I don’t believe his comments were in any way anti-Lincoln. They were addressed to what he felt was Rudy’s insufficiently conservative message. Reading the post here, one could think he was part of the anti-Lincoln meme. I trust that’s not the case.

I also doubt that Mr. Long was opposing the Patriotic Act or serious homeland security. Law and order was among the Conservative Party’s themes in its (bygone) glory days, and I’d be surprised if their leader was some misguided "civil libertarian." It would go against the party’s entire culture.

David,

Thanks for the comments. Perhaps the reporters’ juxtaposition was inadvertently or intentionally misleading. Here, FWIW, is what the New York Coservative Party has to say about the war on terror.

I don’t think Coulter’s comment should overshadow much of anything; it’s not much of a surprise, really. But perhaps the fact that she wasn’t simply in attendance, but that she was invited back as a speaker, even prominently featured on the site, after having made a whole host of outrageous comments from the fringe (remember the 9/11 wives that "enjoyed their husbands’ deaths so much"??) that - I thought - "true" conservatives should and would be distancing themselves from. Yet, instead of distancing themselves from the extreme right, conservatives seem to be embracing their fringe elements. Coulter, Malkin, Horowitz, Hannity, Schlafly? Yet, none of them - nor all of them collectively - were far enough out there to keep Cheney from blessing the conference with his presence. Nor did they keep Ashbrook away.

I also noticed that The Washington Times (both the daily and weekly editions!) was a sponsor of the conference. Do you think that might reflect poorly on their journalistic credibility? Or are they not part of the dreaded, liberally-biased MSM??

And by the way, Romney was heaping praise on Coulter right before she made her "faggot" remark. Again, where’s the distancing? How is she being shunned by the ever-so-civil and respectable right?

To get back to a more serious issue, namely national security -- I appreciate the link to the Conservative Party statement on this. It’s not very impressive and seems to be the product of a compromise with a civil-libertarian or small-government element that demanded a say, but it’s basically sound. As I suspected, there is no opposition to the Patriot Act or surveillance, only a justified suspicion of the value of the new bureaucracy.

The Washington Times report was either very poorly written or very poorly edited.

Craig,

I have never been a fan of Coulter (she seems to be the conservative equivalent of Howard Stern), and hope that conservatives will start ignoring her. I don’t think that the others you mention are comparable.

"[T]he conservative equivalent of Howard Stern....," that could only be written by a man blissfully unaware of what Stern offers on a daily basis.

That comment is so far off base, out of bounds, off track, that it’s beyond hyperbole.

The one thing that Coulter should try to get paid for, beyond her speaking gigs, appearances and bestselling books, beyond all that, she should really try to find a way to cash in on all of the Conservatives trying to demonstrate how respectable they are by trashing Coulter. Now if she could find a way to do that, say charge $1,000 for every time a conservative trashes her for being "the conservative equivalent of this, that or the other," if she could do that, she’d really be in the chips.

Dan,

Would you say those things about Anne Coulter, or would you have been one of the people in her audience applauding her crack about John Edwards?

And yes, I suppose I am "blissfully" unaware of Stern’s daily fare. Is there are better personality--someone equally given to self-aggrandizement and inappropiate cheap shots--to whom to compare Coulter?

Actually, I was one of those people trying to fathom what she tried to imply. I thought it was weird.

My first thought was that she was trying to use another word for wimp. And young people often use "gay" and "faggot" as synonyms for wimpy and pathetic. As in: "That’s gay," which I heard used in a mall just the other day, while I was taking my nephews to an arcade. That was my first take on her comment.

Then I began to wonder if she was referring to some bit of gossip, that I wasn’t privy to. But I pretty quickly discarded that.

And then I got the idea that it was a set-up. That she thought of the line prior to, and she was simply looking for an excuse to use it, or rather drop it before an audience. A question came up about Edwards, and she "fired for effect." But there didn’t seem to be much effect, other than puzzled looks and nervous laughter.

I’m inclined to think that she’s on a bend of late, of uttering verboten words, or thoughts. We saw that last year at CPAC. And we saw it again just the other day.

As for Stern, there’s simply no comparison between Coulter and Stern. I can’t help on a proper comparison, at least not off the top of my head. Stern administers S&M spankings on the air, there’s hardly a show that doesn’t enter the weeds of some guests sexual existence. He’s not just low class, he’s a low-life. He’s a sign of the times.

But not Coulter.

There’s a great deal of sham posturing and sham denunciations going on right now, that’s far more offensive than anything she uttered. Clearly Edwards doesn’t seem too stunned by it, he’s using it as way of ginning up more money.

O.K., Stern is worse, but Coulter is just a provocateur who utters outrageous things in order to get attention. I remember in the late 70s reading P.J. O’Rourke and even R. Emmet Tyrell, who were outrageous in a way that at least had the smell of Aristophanes. Coulter doesn’t even approach South Park.

Yea, when I was a teenager, I had a subscription to the old American Spectator. National Review too. That’s when Buckley was interesting. But his columns have become a waste of space. You just know he churns them out dictating to his recorder in the back of his limo. And he constantly imitates the Summa Theologica. First there’s a question, then he poses an answer, which isn’t the accurate one, before Buckley tells us what he thinks.

Coulter is a provocateur, but more than that too. Her books are not frivolous. They’re hard-hitting, they’re titled to get attention. But THERE is some substance to them. Which means there is some substance to her.

Imagine yourself as her for a moment, you’re sitting in that chair, you’re seeing all the eagerness in the eyes of the audience, the expectation, they’re JUST WAITING for you to drop some sidesplitting reference. AND THE PRESSURE is on. It’s that which is getting to her. She doesn’t want to let that audience, expectant, eager, enthusiastic, she doesn’t want to let them down.

What some conservatives really resent Lincoln for is ending slavery.

The fact that The Washington Times sponsored that conference is laughable. Oh yeah, they’re a seriously OBJECTIVE news source!

"What some conservatives really resent Lincoln for is ending slavery."

Leave.

This is no place for senseless mud-slinging without some sort of factual support.

Just leave.

Coulter is nothing more than a publicity hound laughing all the way to the bank. Patrick’s Lincoln comes close to the Thomistic view that true magnanimity actually includes humility--or a grateful appreciation of how one’s many forms on indebtedness to other persons contribute indispensably to one’s own personal display of liberty. Manliness turns into magananimity properly understood only when it becomes completely realistic. So Aristotle was wrong to think that humility couldn’t be incorporated into an account of moral virtue for beings who are both reasonable and proud.

The Coulter comment was rude and inappropriate and should be denounced as such. But conservatives need to be careful that they do not seem to be enforcing political correctness.



I will leave the Lincoln comment alone, since we have covered that ground.

Is it fair to say that there is a huge difference between enforcing the standards of good taste and prudence and enforcing an arbitrary and ill-considered notion of political correctness? I think it is fair. But I also think there is a temptation for many conservatives who are seeking but not getting the attention that Coulter both seeks and gets to run for the exits and be the foremost and loudest to denounce her and thereby garner the most praise for being "enlightened." There is also a bit of cowardice in some of this--as some appear to be ever fearful of the least bit of stain any single "conservative" might put on the white dress of conservatism. I want none of it. Steve Hayward is right that it is best ignored. If a person cannot see the difference between bar-room banter and a formal speech at a conference, shame on them. Other conservatives should note it, take it in, do their best to learn from it, not repeat it themselves and move on. She has only hurt herself and helped Edwards--as someone above has already noted. Coulter is at best amusing, at worst irritating. She’s nothing more than that and so be-moaning or condemning her is pointless. It’s almost as if she were drunk in public--tacky, yes. But does the fate of the Republic rest in the balance? No. Will I continue to enjoy her columns if they’re funny (which they often are)--you bet. But I will do it in the same spirit with which I have always done--like eating chocolate. It’s tasty, enjoyable, diverting, and may have even have some small and intangible health benefits that allow me to justify it to myself while my reason tells me that it really isn’t health food. If I took took the anti-oxidant properties of chocolate too seriously, I’d get fat. If you take Ann Coulter too seriously--for good or ill--you’ll make yourself crazy. Still, she is better than South Park, Joe.

Could someone explain to me what the issue with Dinesh is? I must have missed that memo.



As I explained in another thread, I am no fan of his, since I though his book The End of Racism took some shots at paleos. But what is everyone talking about? His new book I assume, but what is the beef?

Dan,

D’Souza’s new book, The Enemy at Home, proclaims that 9/11 was the fault of the cultural Left in America. He claims "the cultural left and its allies in Congress, the media, Hollywood, the nonprofit sector, and the universities are the primary cause of the volcano of anger toward America that is erupting from the Islamic world. The Muslims who carried out the 9/11 attacks were the product of this visceral rage—some of it based on legitimate concerns, some of it based on wrongful prejudice, but all of it fueled and encouraged by the cultural left. Thus without the cultural left, 9/11 would not have happened."

To many of us, while grains of truth may exist within his thesis, the overall package comes off sounding as absurd as the stuff that leaks from Ann Coulter’s mouth, thus the comparisons.

D’Souza’s claims come off as well-reasoned as the claims on the Left that Bush and Cheney ordered the World Trade Center Towers to be bombed to give them a reason to go to war.

"But I also think there is a temptation for many conservatives who are seeking but not getting the attention that Coulter both seeks and gets to run for the exits and be the foremost and loudest to denounce her and thereby garner the most praise for being "enlightened." There is also a bit of cowardice in some of this--as some appear to be ever fearful of the least bit of stain any single "conservative" might put on the white dress of conservatism. I want none of it."



Very well put Julie. I agree. This sort of self-purge strikes me as very unseemly.

Dominick, thanks. That is what I thought the issue was. Here is what I don’t get. Hyperbolic condemnation of the left has been the stock and trade of conservatism for years. In fact some of us have criticized the modern right for being defined too much as anti-left and not enough as pro-right.



So why special condemnation for Dinesh? Is it because he ends up making a bit of an apology for Islam?



Islam does resent what it sees as the decadence of America and the West, as do Christians, and they are right to do so. But that is not primarily what motivates them. We would still be infidels if all we churned out culturally was It’s a Wonderful Life instead of Madonna and Brittany.



A big problem with American and Western liberalism is not one that many seem willing to address. That is our immigration policies should reflect differential threats and religious/cultural compatibility among other things. It should be illiberal.



But one thing that bugs me is conservatives basically taking the feminist defense and screaming "You are blaming the victim." Seriously, I thought only feminists did that. Just as it is appropriate to suggest that wearing provocative clothes and drinking to the point of oblivion was an unwise move for a victim (which is quite different from "she was asking for it."), it is appropriate to examine American policy in the same light. That kind of rational look at things can not be declared off limits. Shrill cries of “you’re blaming the victim” that were prominent in conservative circles especially right after 9/11 do not advance the debate. They silence it.



Is that another of Dinesh’s sins? That he violated the don’t blame the victim protocol?



As I said before, Dinesh has done his own purging. Wonder what he feels like being on the opposite end? And isn’t it a little ironic that the person who is modestly defending him belongs to the group he wanted to purge.

But being the sort of southern gentlemen, we know you are, Dan Phillips, I assume that you can also agree with me when I say that the remark itself was unseemly. Purging people for doing stupid things or saying stupid things is stupid, I agree. Stupid comments deserve to be ignored unless they are uttered by people in a position to put stupid ideas into actual effect. Ann is not one of these people. But it would be even more stupid to defend the stupid thing she said. What I’m saying is that the truth lies somewhere in between denouncing her and endorsing her. She’s not worthy of either reaction in this instance. Take her for what she is worth; which is something, but not as much as either her vociferous critics or her fanatic supporters think. I think I was most apt when I compared her to chocolate. I not only like chocolate, I admit that I sometimes need chocolate. Ann’s like that. But she doesn’t replace a good meal.

"But being the sort of southern gentlemen, we know you are, Dan Phillips, I assume that you can also agree with me when I say that the remark itself was unseemly."



I will let others judge whether I am a Southern gentleman, but otherwise I absolutely agree. (Get it. My hopefully gentlemanly ways will not allow me to endorse the compliment. ļ ) Here is what I wrote in # 15 above.



"The Coulter comment was rude and inappropriate and should be denounced as such. But conservatives need to be careful that they do not seem to be enforcing political correctness."

I don’t think Dinesh’s problem is that he violated any real or imagined protocol of "don’t blame the victim." From what I can garner of this debate, it appears that he may have violated the "do your homework and think before you write" protocol. His hypothesis was an interesting one (I have heard him discuss it and he does that much better than he appears to have written about it), until he let it become the conclusion despite arguments and evidence to the contrary. I think he just got carried away by a clever inspiration and wrote the book in the manner one might compose a blog post. Yes, Christians and Muslims can agree that there is excess in the American culture. But you are right Dan Phillips, the worrisome element of the latter damns us not because of some leftward turn but because we are infidels from the get go. No amount of wholesome American goodness would do for them. And so, given that they can’t be persuaded it is apparent that we do not and cannot share common ground in our condemnation of that excess. Sadly, there probably is no way around the difficult task of persuasion by other means. And while I think Dinesh’s thesis is wrongheaded and (perhaps) sloppy, I don’t fault him for the desire to open a door to persuasion rather than force. Still, I think his error can be instructive to us.

This is going to sound bad, but I don’t mean it to. Mass market political books on both the left and right are full of sloppy thesis’s. So why is Dinesh being singled out? I can’t help but believe that he violated some taboo.

Dan P., I think you know the reason to the query "whither D’Souza?" It’s because his book is more poorly thought out than most, more sloppy than most and is about a topic that is far more serious than most.

The only way the Left can be fingered for 9/11 is that they’re weak, they’re timid, they ooze timidness, they ooze fear. Our enemies SENSED that fear, {as most of our enemies in our glorious past have}, and they acted on it.

Our enemies mock us, laugh at us, scorn us, take to the streets and laugh while they clearly scare and intimidate our leftist elites.

They’re closing in for the kill.

They’re not shocked at Brittney, though they intend to gang rape her thoroughly before they saw her head off. They see Brittney, Paris Hilton, they see all of that as EVIDENCE of a society ripe for the taking. It goads them to jihad, it doesn’t outrage them to take up jihad.

Our society bemoans our casualties as if it were the Somme, as if it were Gettysburg.

It’s all evidence of dry rot.

I think it’s more because people rightly expected better from him. He didn’t have a reputation for being sloppy.

I’m sure you’re not surprised that I found your discussion of the thoughtless obtuseness surrounding the "Don’t blame the victim" mantra pretty sound. Suggesting that a woman not parade around half-naked and drunk at a frat party is not the same thing as blaming her if she gets raped. It is simply giving her good advice and demonstrating that you understand something about human nature. I get that. I don’t think that’s what Dinesh did here, however. I don’t think he’s in trouble because he’s violated some taboo about "blaming the victim" by pointing out the foul character of much of American popular culture. Duh? What serious American disputes this? Even some on the left will admit it in their better moments. Does it make Dinesh uniquely brave to point these things out? No. But he is unique in suggesting that it may have played some role in the decision of some jihadists to attack us and that that, if true, is somehow significant. And you are the one who demonstrated most clearly to me the fallacy here when you pointed out that 9/11 would have happened even if America churned out nothing but Capra-esque theatrical delights. A really bad rapist will rape even an innocent grandma sitting locked up in her apartment. That’s the real problem with Dinesh’s book as I understand it. The extremists who hate America and want to destroy her are in the category of the really bad rapists who would attack even an innocent grandma. I just think the evidence shows that their hate is not any greater today than it was before--it’s just that they have the capacity to do what they’ve always wanted to do now more than they ever had before. That’s why 9/11 happened as far as I can tell.

I think your worrying about Conservatives slipping down the slippery slope of the "Don’t blame the victim!" mentality of the left side of the aisle is rather like Dinesh’s thesis. It’s a clever inspiration and it sounded good when you said it--but upon reflection the center just doesn’t hold. That’s o.k., though, Dan. At least you didn’t write a book about it!

Julie,



The blame the victim issue has not been primarily about cultural decay, and I suspect you know that. It has been about American foreign policy.



After 9/11, ANY examination of American foreign policy, especially with regard to the Middle East, was immediately greeted on the right by cries of "blaming the victim." Some knuckleheads were even tossing around the s (sedition) and t (treason) words.


But you can not have a rational debate that way. Whether American foreign policy contributes to the Muslim hatred of America is an objective question that must not be ignored.



Dinesh’s problem, as I see it, is not a sloppy thesis. Had he suggested that liberalism is the cause of heart disease, people might have snickered, but it would have been just one more opportunity to bash the left. The problem is that Dinesh strayed from the tidy little narrative of evil, hateful "Islamofascists."



This is more clear to me since I see that Dinesh has also been attacked by Serge Trifkovic (sp?) who is associated with paleo circles. (It is probably fair to consider Serge T. a paleo, but he is first and foremost a Serbian Partisan.)



This whole attitude of reading out people who stray from the party line gives me the creeps. It has clearly hampered honest and needed debate.

I see. I misunderstood you. You do think that we can be blamed for some of the hatred that moves the Islamofascists--because, I guess, our foreign policy has not been sufficiently centered on "America first" or some such. About that we entirely disagree. But the nature of our disagreement here is as lengthy and as unfathomable as our disagreement over matters Lincoln. So it’s probably not useful to get into it at any great length. About it I will only offer this--because we might agree here: even if (and for me that’s a big if) our foreign policy has stupidly pursued avenues that could give Muslim hate for the West more ammunition, it didn’t create the hate. The most it could have done is add fuel to their already burning fires--and then it becomes a question not of whether the policy was simply to blame for the hate, but whether it was prudent even given the fire of hate it would fan. Sometimes you have to do things even if they help people hate you; and that’s especially true when those who hate you are beyond reason.

But even with this massive disagreement between us left alone, I don’t think you have to buy into the idea that Dinesh is becoming the victim of a purge--though it may feel that way from his point of view. I think people just don’t agree with his book. He will live to write another day and I and many others may agree with much of what he says then--as I have agreed with much of what he has said in the past. I think I will judge Dinesh’s and Coulter’s opinions--as I try to judge anybody’s--by what they are saying in the discussion at hand. This does not mean that I will forget what they have said in recent weeks or that I don’t think it may have some bearing on things they will say in the future. That would be stupid. But D and C are not dead. Their work is not done, and it cannot be summed up in the way that the work of a dead thinker can be summed up. So I agree with you that attempts to read people out of the discussion are creepy. I don’t think serious people are suggesting that when they point out the obvious and serious flaws in the arguments now being advanced by these two writers. Some of the language of passionate pundits seeking to distance themselves has been a bit rough and too defensive, I agree. But they will calm down. Their instinct is to worry over-much about the impact bad arguments will have on the cause. They mean well but they forget that the people who really matter in this on-going great debate about America are the people who have never heard of and may never hear of either Dinesh or Coulter. They are the ones who can be persuaded--only now, probably not by either of these two. That’s the only real harm that has been done in these two incidents.

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