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I can't do enough to recommend Megan's McArdle's post on the partly structural and party self-inflicted problems that conservative thinkers are having in getting their ideas listened to by that fraction of the public that doesn't already identify with conservatism.  It rambles a little, but is worth the ride.

Discussions - 15 Comments

I'm with you on the rambling, but I don't know about the payoff. Doesn't her point more or less boil down to offering conservatives a morsel of legitimacy to go along with the familiar milk about privileged liberals treating conservatives badly? They do, but so what?

On the other side, she seems to complain that conservatives are reacting to this drumming by curling up into balls and talking only to themselves and their closest cocoon mates. If that were simply true, it would deserve some criticism--and where it is true, it should be criticized. But, given the structure of McArdle's argument (which is built entirely upon near mechanical assumptions about power dynamics that don't seem to me to adequately describe this--or any other--phenomenon), there really is no alternative. So she blames them for what seems to her to be an almost mechanical reaction from which there is no natural escape. This is inconsistent. But, never mind . . .I don't believe in the structure of her argument and I don't believe that her view of what's going on in the conservative movement is at all as comprehensive as she suggests.

The tell is in this: she betrays a large amount of discomfort in her writing with the fact that so many people she considers "small town" or unsophisticated in some way are joining the party (as in getting interested and involved in politics). This is code for the FOX news audience--people with whom she admits to having very few personal interactions. I don't know if the emergence of this group of people means what she seems to think it means--that the dominant conservatism of today is intellectually flabby and can't appeal to anyone who is not already instinctively conservative. I'd guess it doesn't.

While McArdle's perception is one that has to be guarded against and pushed back upon in certain quarters . . . but I'm not sure why McArdle thinks that the ones who ought to be the most responsible for that guarding and that pushing back against stereotypes are the people who seem to me to be the "victims" of it. Why should good people with good instincts make excuses for themselves just for the sake of appealing to people with chips on their shoulders against them? The responsibility for rooting out prejudice ought really to lie with the person in possession of the prejudice . . . but we know it doesn't always work that way. So, if prudence demands that the FOX News audience and people from small towns inclined to be conservative now be on the lookout for ways not to turn off the likes of Megan McArdle and her friends, then so be it. But I don't know that McArdle has adequately demonstrated that there is a need for this kind of prudence. I am open to it, but not persuaded.

I think, on the contrary, that conservatism IS beginning to appeal to people who have not--until recent times--considered themselves particularly conservative . . . and I think, on top of that, that there are a lot more of these people than anyone has ever guessed. Conservatism is doing this because it has finally (if only very vaguely and indistinctly and probably not because of any credit owed to most of its "leaders") begun to align itself in the popular imagination with the job of conserving liberty.

American conservatism isn't about being uptight--as lefties are fond of suggesting--it's about being willing to make the hard choices required to preserve our liberty. When hard choices are forced upon good people--as they have been by recent turns of events--they tend to rally to the cause and develop an interest (even if untutored) in politics. When things go relatively well, their interest in politics wanes . . . and it's easy to leave it up to the eager and the earnest. Unfortunately, the bulk of these eager beavers and earnest flies are not particularly inclined to love liberty so much as they love power . . .

There are some odd birds of this eager and earnest variety who do love liberty more than they love power, however . . . and now it is their task (as it has always been--though in the distant background) to tutor their untutored but well-meaning and solid fellow citizens. They will succeed in this if they do it in ways that do not condescend but, rather, in ways that demonstrate a full-throated endorsement of the capacities of all Americans to govern themselves when liberty is defended. In other words, they will succeed if they truly do believe in the ideas they claim to champion. And then they have to work to make sure that the laboratories of liberty (our schools) are protected in the future from that other variety of eager beavers and earnest flies . . . I am less sanguine about the prospects for that than I am about the prospects of pulling the Republic back from the brink just now.

Julie, I got a really different takeaway from McArdle's post. Here are some of my takeaways.

1. That there are structural problems with conservatives entering the mainstream news media and the academy, that there are no easy answers to the problem, but that the... discouragement (exclusion probably being too strong a word in general) is often unconscious and invisible to many of the people who practice it. I thought she was trying to get some of her more liberal readers to think more clearly about the situation, recognize the dynamic and make allowance for it - which would, if practiced widely enough, mitigate the problem she describes. You are right that the onus falls primarily on the prejudiced, but alot of times the people acting on the prejudice think of themselves as open-minded and tolerant and bringing their prejudice to their attention can help improve their behavior. I think her project on this subject can be summed up in a later post when she wrote, "The most I hope for is for at least some liberal academics to be conscious of the fact that they might be prone to be nicer to people who agree with them, than people who don't." Which maybe ain't much, but is something.

2. On the Fox stuff, my interpretation was that the rise of the populist conservative media has made possible a kind of cocooning b conservatives that was alot easier for liberals thirty years ago. Before the rise of the populist conservative media, most conservatives were stuck with consuming liberal-leaning points of view and confronting arguments that one was inclined to disagree with. Liberals could have found it much easier to avoid being confronted by conservative opinions in the mass media. Conservative cocooning was possible, but it was alot harder (must.... not watch CBS news, must... read Reader's Digest.) I remember reading Rick Perlstein's book on the Goldwater campaign and him describing how for most mainstream journalists, the Goldwater voters just didn't exist in their idea of America. The Goldwater voters might as well have visited America in space ships, done their civic duty of voting and then gone back to their space ships when they were done Well now it is much easier for conservatives to cultivate the same insularity, but with greater risk. The old liberal-leaning media had a broad audience. It still has liberal-leaning people AND basically nonpolitical people who want to get the news in the easiest way from brands they know. The conservative alternative media tends to talk more to that very large fraction of America that is right-leaning, but has less of an audience among the politically unaligned.

There are alot of things to like about the new alternative conservative media. For instance, you and I would never have gotten into contact in the media environment of thirty years ago. But conservatives, (and liberals and everybody else) can get into the habit of getting so used to talking to each other that they have trouble talking to conservatives and nonconservatives at the same time. If you were to right to me that Obamacare is a social democratic takeover of medicine that will move the relationship of American citizens to their government closer to the kind of relationship in Europe, I would agree with you. But someone who was a nonconservative who was also a nonliberal might find the statement to be nonsense. Not nonsense in the way that hearing something exaggerated can be nonsense. Nonsense in the way that hearing someone suddenly go from English to a language you don't know can sound like nonsense. We share a common base of references and commitments, so I knew what you would be talking about. someone who didn't, wouldn't. That was one of the reasons I was so concerned about the Pence question to Obama a few months ago when Pence compared an Obama policy to a Carter policy. To someone steeped in the conservative narrative of the recent past, the question made sense. To someone who just knows what they read in a papers (or the yahoo frontpage), it was just a politician saying Obama's policies would fail because of alot of stuff that was unintelligible. Like with the other stuff that McArdle was saying, I don't think this is destiny, as much as a temptation to be avoided


Hmmm . . . I think we are doing a bit of talking past each other.

For one thing, I think you misunderstand my point about the onus for correction falling on the prejudiced and not on the victims of prejudice. My saying that was in the context of discussing the perceptions of McArdle and other conservatives who seem to view regular folks now energized about politics (but not quite as informed or sophisticated as they) with an undeniable, if not always overt, contempt. I think this is more their problem than it is the problem of those they are judging--but, as I say, I am open to the argument that prudence may demand them (as in the victims of prejudice) to address it by refutation, however unjust that may be.

But I also think her concern about the sensibilities of the so-called "non-conservatives" she hopes will be persuaded to become conservatives is a bit disingenuous. The truth is that she is really concerned about urban elites and their inclination to dismiss conservatives as backwater, parochial, and not very smart. I have, many times in the past, agreed with you that there may be a serious perceptual problem for conservatives (and I've been most acutely aware of this problem when it comes to the subject of race) in large cities. McArdle sees the cartoon picture her sophisticated liberal friends want to paint of conservatives, and it has her panicking. She doesn't want to be like "that" . . . but she does not seem to know enough about middle America (and at least she admits this!) to see that the picture her friends are painting is a cartoon and not reality. She needs to get out more and get over/past her cultural distaste to see what she has in common with the crowd who share her politics but not her tastes. She ought to be defending them to her friends, not fretting about the association.

I guess this really boils down to whether you think the vast majority of people in the country without strong political opinions lean conservative or lean left. I say they don't lean one way or the other. They are, at heart, still American liberals (with a small "l"). THE political question, in the end, is always which conglomeration of opinion and interest (conservative or center-left) makes the strongest appeal to America's nascent liberalism. This appeal has to be one both of heart and mind.

If one lives in a large urban center and doesn't get out much, I can understand the confusion. But drive out to the suburbs . . . even poke around in the less sophisticated parts of the city. Do lots of folks lean liberal? Sure. They are American liberals. But (excepting a few pockets here and there) are they leftists beyond persuasion? That's just silly to imagine.

Yes, you're right that most indifferent people consume a good deal of liberal news (which is still a different thing than saying that they consume leftist ideology) . . . but their habits of heart and mind are still pretty solidly American in the sense that you or I would understand it. (And so, by the way, are the habits of heart and mind that characterize most of the so-called "liberal" media.) Conservatives really need to check their pessimism about the American people. We are always underestimating them . . . and overestimating the extent to which we conservatives are marginalized and leftism has triumphed.

If it is so powerful, why did it take them 100 years to get to where they are at now? And why does it appear that they are about to have a Pyrrhic victory? It is as if we conservatives sometimes glory in being in the minority--like martyrs or, worse, members of an exclusive club. This is stupid politics. And, again, it is inconsistent with the ideas that ought to define us. Either men are capable of self-government or they are not. Whatever the excesses of rhetoric or imperfections in style, I am very proud to see the way that the American people are now standing up.

Finally, when it comes to the relative exclusion of conservatives from the media and academia and the general meanness of liberals/leftists I guess I am just not as concerned about that as McArdle seems to be. This seems like an old and moldy rant--one I might have enjoyed reading 20 years ago--but an odd one to read in 2010 . . . next to a discussion of the vast (too vast, according to her!) influence of FOX News and then re-posted on a website operated by a bunch of conservative academics--all employed.

I know that these things may seem like drops in the bucket compared to the vast influence of liberals in the academy and in the media . . . but, goodness! To adopt McArdle's weird metaphor and turn it on its head: we conservatives are not blacks in the Jim Crow south of the 1940s! And it would not be better for us if we acted as if we were . . . just as it was not good for blacks back then to act as if the world had it out for them. Some patience with ourselves and with our fellow citizens is warranted. I am much more content with the state of American conservatism today than I was 20 years ago . . . but this is not to say that we should be sanguine with the state of things. You always have to be on your toes.

Maybe I am naive, but I just think that in the end, if people are good at what they do, work hard, are mindful of the problem of persuasion, and labor on with patience and prudence, they will always find a way to make a useful difference in the world. In a way, conservatives who allow themselves to be intimidated by "meany" liberals or who don't push on (or, when necessary, push back) in spite of it . . . well, maybe they're just not that good. And maybe there are a good number of us who are tempted to use this as a useful excuse for our failure to persuade. I know that sounds harsh . . . but there it is. Maybe the reason conservatives have failed to persuade as much as they should do, up till now, is because they just haven't been that good and just haven't had their act (intellectual or otherwise) together. I do not believe in a golden age of American conservatism . . . what? The one when only a handful of high-brow folks could call themselves conservatives and serve as tokens or museum pieces? No thanks.

Am I saying that FOX or a populist kind of conservatism is that good and that it can do what the conservatism of old did not do? No, not exactly. But I am saying that their audience (and the audience of talk radio) is not the monolith of dyed-in-the-wool conservatives (or instinctive knuckle-dragging antediluvians) that some suggest.

I think FOX has appealed to a broad variety of people. And a significant number of them were folks who--until FOX came around--were not particularly interested in politics, in part, because what they saw of it (in the left leaning media) did not resonate with their habits of heart and mind or with their basic understanding of America's greatness. Maybe it is THEY, more than the wimpy academics McArdle frets over, who felt marginalized and discouraged and disinclined to engage.

Now that there is a vast and energized audience for conservative ideas and opinion, the object ought not to be to scorn and scrutinize that audience or to scold them for the sins of the extreme elements . . . it ought to be to help make them stronger and better and, thereby, to make our country stronger and better.

Politics is just not very important to the typical garden-variety conservative. He does not look to government to solve his problems. He looks to himself, to his family, to his neighbors and to his local community. He is thus not much inclined to pay attention to conservative thinkers and to theoretical considerations. When he participates in political discourse he is inclined to listen to opposing points of view especially when they are packaged the right way (read Obama). Everything changes when the garden-variety conservative understands that something is happening in the political realm that threatens his community, his neighbors, his family and/or himself. He will participate in a somewhat aggressive and irrational way until the threat to his way of life goes away and then he will return to more important things. The tea party people have to understand that the program of the left is a permanent threat.

I agree with every word you say . . . but I think that this is the best opportunity we're going to have in a generation to make the case that the left is a permanent threat. And McArdle's subtle insulting is exactly the wrong way to make that case.

Julie, I do think we are talking past each other and there is a lot in your last comment that I agree with, but I don't think that McArdle was scorning engaged, conservative, Fox News watching small town nonelites. I don't think she even addresses them directly in any significant way. I see it that she was describing how conservatives who felt marginalized from the mainstream news media and the academy had responded with creating and flocking to alternative institutions (including Fox News, but also the conservative think tanks) but that these institutions are of limited utility and not a full substitute for engagement within the wider media and the academy, and that the limits of those institutions were reducing the quality and relevance of much of the work that those conservatives might otherwise be producing. McArdle might be right or wrong (I think she overstates her case and there is a fascinating conservative discussion on health care policy going on among conservative policy thinkers) but she was critiquing the work of conservative journalists, scholars and policy analysts rather than your regular walking around conservative. The post was titled "What's the Matter With Fox News" but based on its content, it could just as easily have been entitled "What's the Matter With the Heritage Foundation".

This part of McArdle's post is fair enough:

"When I look at the institutions of the right, it seems to me that a lot of time is spent reassuring itself about what is already believed, rather than challenging itself to find innovative new directions to take the movement--or even better describing the problem. Too much Fox News, not enough God and Man at Yale. I think I understand, institutionally, why this is happening--and I think mainstream institutions have to bear some of the blame."

I don't happen entirely to agree with it, but it is a fair point. If one wants to criticize the work of conservative intellectuals today as not being quite up to snuff with the work of previous generations of conservative thinkers, I think an argument could be made for that and McArdle's own particular spin is to put some of the blame for that problem--as she sees it--on the shoulders of the MSM. (This is the part that I described as a bit whiny . . . though, even she concedes that the New York Times can't be held accountable for the problems of conservatives. )

But even here, where I concede that a fair point could be being made, she appears to taint it with the scorn I mentioned. She despairs of the retreading familiar of ground and rehashing of arguments and is dismayed by leading conservative thinkers deigning to appear on FOX news--where, presumably (at least by her lights), they are preaching to the choir and, in the process, looking more lightweight . . . maybe even becoming more lightweight.

This is where I think she is just wrong--or her instinct to be turned off is wrong. (Never mind the perceived scorn for a minute . . . perhaps it isn't that and it's just that she doesn't understand who the FOX News audience is or, as she says, she doesn't understand the average walking-around conservative). FOX News probably does not have a lot to offer someone as well-read and intelligent as Megan McArdle. Knowing about the things she knows is, after all, her day job.

But for people not employed in the conservative intellectual establishment, there is necessarily a bit of a learning curve (as there once must have been for Megan McArdle). However hackneyed the ideas and principles of conservatism may seem to her, they are fresh to most people. And they necessarily exhibit the enthusiasm of a new convert. This is what I take to be the tell that FOX (and other conservative media outlets) are not just appealing to the choir. The choir doesn't get excited unless they are singing a new song. And because I think it's fair to say that the songs offered on FOX are not particularly new, the excitement they generate must be coming from someplace . . . it is new to the MSM to have competition for the hearts, minds, and attention of viewers. And the ideas offered on FOX are new to most of those tuning in.

As I've said before, when I visit my parents and meet up with their friends (people I've known all my life and people who were never particularly political--and certainly not "conservative") I continue to marvel at the number of references they now make to serious conservative thinkers, books, etc.

Conservatism is becoming more popular, more known to people, more hip . . . that's all. McArdle's fears about that may yet be realized--but I don't think it is time to sound the alarm just as we head out of the shoot! What is the alternative? Sitting back in the position of the minority forever and coming up with really fantastic and mind- blowing political ideas that look smashing . . . on paper?

If her point is to suggest caution moving forward--again, that's fair. But there's caution and there's cowering. I think she leans more in the latter direction--but you (and she) may certainly disagree.


1. I would be glad to see McArdle on Fox News (especially if she got a longish segment), especially to talk about marginal tax rates. I think it would be good for her, Fox News and the audience. I would also like to see her (and Reihan Salam, and Yuval Levin and Peter Lawler and others) on Good Morning America.

2. I do think that the conservative alternative media offers competition for the MSM, but I worry that as alternative conservative media's audience has matured, it has competed (and to a large extent made major gains) primarily among the right-leaning fraction of the population. I don't think that has to be a bad thing, as long as the alternative conservative media is not over relied upon as a way of communicating to the public as vast segments of the public do not consume and are only vaguely aware of the existence of those media.

3. I'm less confident that conservatism is becoming more popular. The combination of high unemployment, unfathomably huge deficits, and losing the argument (for the moment) but not the congressional vote on Obamacare has certainly energized right-leaning people, demoralized liberals (at least relative to 2008) and pushed persuadables in the direction of the Republican party. I want an improved unemployment picture, but if such a thing were to come to pass, the demoralization of liberals and the drift of persuadable could easily be reduced. I'm not at all for sitting back, but also for fantastic policy ideas (I think McArdle overdoes the no Republican ideas bit), but I think that any enduring conservative revival will have to be based on some policies most people haven't heard of yet and that will be very difficult to communicate to the average voter.

"I'm less confident that conservatism is becoming more popular." More popular than when, Pete? Was it more popular in the "golden age" before we had access to a large center-right audience? Are you saying that its popularity is roughly the same now as it was then . . . that the large audience is maxed out and reached its natural limit? That there is nothing persuasive in the work and message of any of these shows? I just don't think that's true.

Part of what is going to be needed to build and solidify a workable conservative majority is better understanding on the part of walking-around conservatives of conservative principles and America's nature and purpose as a country. It is imperfect, perhaps, but FOX is giving them a better introduction (because it, at least, IS an introduction) to these ideas than they would have gotten from (what?) 20 or 30 years ago. National Review? Great . . . but you had to read it. And, even then, it was not for every reader.

What you say about an enduring revival is great . . . but it misses one thing. It will also require a more energetic and better informed base WITH MORE PEOPLE IN IT. We should do all things in their proper place and proportion and not feel the need to get at cross purposes with each other over these small points of taste/culture and habit. The high powered conservative intellectual needs the FOX news audience whether he wants to admit it or not . . . and vice versa. But I wouldn't rub in the vice versa so much if I were one of those people . . . which I know, of course, I am not.

Julie, I should have been more clear, I meant compared to last year and that many of the seeming gains of the moment are tied to transient circumstance rather than mass persuasion - though there might have been some of that, in the sense of explaining what is wrong with Obamacare. I do think that the alternative conservative media has limits to its audience in the sense that very large parts of the population are not part of its audience and will not be any time soon. Thats okay. It is a good way to get conservative messages across to tems of millions of people, but it cannot be a substitute for better communication through the MSM.

I don't think that taste, culture, social class, or education really have much to do with it. It isn't like appeals through the MSM (which Reagan, who read National Review, mastered before the rise of the conservative alternative media and managed to speak conservatism to those who did not read National Review) will mean appealing to some higher, better, smarter group of people. It will just be a group of people who you were not reaching through the conservative alternative media and who might therefore have a different frame of reference, and a rhetoric that works with someone who consumes conservative media (which includes you and me and Hannity watchers and many others) might not work as well with this second group - though this does not preclude, and one can hope for, a rhetoric that appeals to both groups.

I love Ronald Reagan . . . but you do have to understand that there is one massive and glaring problem with the so-called Reagan Revolution: and that is that it didn't ever happen. IT was a transient thing with limited long-term appeal. Thankfully, it got us through the biggest crisis on our plate at the time--the Cold War. But it was much less successful with the long term project of conservatism when it comes to matters here at home.

I think you are right that Reagan was a man who--himself--mastered the kind of balance between deep thinking on the issues and popular discussion of them. And that explained his appeal. But, by himself, he could not re-educate or re-orient the entire electorate or even a lasting majority of it . . . he won success for himself in that time . . . but he only got the devotion of the usual suspects. Yet the success he did have absolutely SHOULD BE a lesson to us about what is possible when one tries. Imagine if there were more people trying on that level and with that amount of effort (doing their homework, as Steve Hayward likes to say) . . . and they kept it up! What would be possible then?

What is most cheering about Reagan and his memory, to me at least, is his undying faith in the integrity and capacities of the American people. One needs to do his homework, yes . . . but he cannot (not for one second) lose sight of his faith in America and its people. As I like to say, either self-government is possible, or it's not.

As for the last year, I probably agree with you more than I care to admit that the gains we've seen (and I do think we've seen some) have more to do with the failures of our opponents than they do with any homework anyone on our side of the aisle has been doing. On the other hand, now they're paying attention. Show them!

I do think that the gains are probably going to be more lasting than you think . . . though not as lasting as they need to be if we don't show them. This is because I have absolutely NO faith that Obama and the Democrats are going to do anything that they need to do to prevent disaster . . . they don't know how. And even if the economy begins to rebound (and I still have doubts about that despite the "cheery" news of the last week . . .) the economy is almost beside the point now. People are not only angry about the economy. They are angry about spending and what that might mean for the economy in the future. They are especially angry about the contempt the administration is showing for the basic principle of consent. And they are peeved by the arrogance and the dismissive attitude of the President and his party.

They may still think that he is a basically decent human being (and I probably agree with them about that) and so they are happy to give him "favorables" on that score--they still think he is "cool." But they certainly don't think that about Reid and Pelosi and the Congress in general . . . can it rate any lower? The election this fall is partly (not mainly) about Obama . . . it is really about the direction of the country. And right now, I'm much more comfortable sitting where I am sitting than I'd be if I were in their shoes.

Is that all because of FOX News and the like? No. But they are rather like a giant, free, 24 hour, and on-going commercial for the point, aren't they? I come from a family immersed in the advertising business . . . and people pay good money for advertising. You know why? Because it works. And, at its best, it works because it is persuasion. FOX News, if it is advertising, is advertising at its best.

And who really watches "Good Morning, America" anymore? It wouldn't be bad to get booked there, I guess . . . but probably the people watching that also watch FOX . . . even if they don't admit it. Regular people not obsessed with politics (like we are) just see FOX as a more exciting and engaging alternative to CNN . . . not so much a bastion of right wing propaganda. That's a liberal trope. They consider it to be just another kind (and a more interesting kind) of television news . . . Just sayin' . . .

Julie, I think that Reagan did more than fine in the context of the challenges he faced as President. I think that the failures regarding limited government of the last thirty years are better laid on the rest of us. As President, while flawed of course, he did better than anyone had a reasonable right to expect.

There are some things from the Reagan era that are either nontranseferable or inimitable. The marginal income tax cut strategy has hit a point of diminishing returns. We can't will any politician or ourselves to have his talent as a speaker. But there is one of many things that is very much worth learning about: The determination to find a way to sell his ideas to people who didn't share (or didn't think they shared) his principles or policy preferences. Unlike Goldwater, Reagan mastered talking to both conservative and persuadable audiences at the same time.

I was just rereading the transcript to his "A Time For Choosing" speech. I'm reminded of how fact-based it was but also how it didn't assume that the audience came in sharing his frame of reference. In that sense it is a stark contrast to the Pence question to Obama which assumed anyone listening must have bought into all sorts of conservative narratives. The Pence question would have been just fine in front of certain audiences. there were tens of millions of Americans who had a pretty good idea of what he was talking about (and his basic point was sound), but there are tens of millions of others who, in those kinds of formats need to be spoken to at the same time, and talking to both sets of audiences requires a different rhetoric.

Pete . . . I don't dispute that Reagan can teach us a great deal about rhetoric ( and particularly about how to reach the persuadable). I agree with you that the failure to follow through on much of the Reagan domestic agenda rests more with people other than Reagan (though . . . it's not really accurate to say that he didn't have anything to do with it not getting more fully implemented). Still, politics (and the rest of life too) is tragic in many ways. All good things fall short of perfection and, often, even of intention.

On the other hand, even if Pence deserves a whipping for the question you reference, does it rise to the level of the "Time for Choosing" speech in magnitude? How many people were watching that? Was that they right moment for that kind of persuasion? Maybe. But I am not sure that it was. Most people who took the time to watch that were already deeply engaged on one side or the other, I'd guess. I think it would be better if Pence and others could address themselves in the way you discuss on other occasions where there is likely to be an audience that is not so full of fully committed people . . . but a real question today--and maybe that's what you're REALLY getting at--is where is there likely to be such an audience?

Maybe the real problem is that today people have taken seriously the idea that there is a time for choosing . . . and they've chosen. The split is what it is -- and we're all left (on right and left) desperately trying to engage people who are not particularly inclined to be engaged. Events will have to conspire to make them get interested and . . . perhaps they are.

Julie, I don't use the Pence example to compare it unfavorably to "A Time For Choosing" on the level of general rhetoric. If Reagan was the standard, then none of us would 'scape the whippin. It was more a question of the audience one had in mind. Pence's question was just fine for one group of Americans. It was historically literate and concise. To other Americans it was meaningless. Keeping that audience in mind is, in part, a habit, and a habit that Reagan cultivated.

Whether people have actually chosen... I'm pretty hopeful. When Reagan gave "The Speech" he was seen as the celebrity spokesman for a minority persuasion that was about to be eternally discredited by Goldwater's impending defeat. Reagan spoke during what was considered a liberal era. You are right that events mattered alot in the increase in the popularity of what we would recognize as Reaganite conservatism, but Reaganite conservatism was only one potential response to those events (there were potentially more statist, corporatist, less collective security oriented rights that could have arisen - Nixon's first term is an example of such a right, minus the less collective security stuff.) I'm confident that events that conservatives might take advantage of will continue to happen, and that there will be a latent audience for conservative solutions. I worry more about whether conservatives will be ready. But I hope.

I think part of what Reagan did, too, was to invite his audience to rise to the occasion . . . I say, invite, and not assume . . . also, invite, and not condescend. Maybe Pence, in his way, was trying to do that too. Still think you overestimate the size of the audience watching that thing you reference . . . and therefore, maybe underestimate their capacities. So in one sense, you are more optimistic or hopeful than me . . . in the other, less.

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