Andrew Breitbart is gone but not forgotten. Don’t confuse his sleazy "conservative journalism", or Santorum’s "social conservatism" with the real thing.
The recent passing of Andrew Breitbart, online right-wing scandal-monger, was widely mourned by the so-called conservative press and politicos. True, he was only 43, but the outpouring of grief was disproportional in every way to his rather sleazy accomplishments, such as helping Congressman Andrew Weiner find his way into retirement and re-publishing a video (without bothering to investigate its context) of Shirley Sherrod, an African-American Agriculture Department employee, which purported to show her as a racist. In context, of course, the tape showed exactly the opposite, but the harm – the intentional harm – had already been done.
The apparent importance of this sleazy and unethical “journalist” to the conservative movement says a great deal about the movement itself, which has degenerated into a win-at-all-costs, big-government fiasco that has somehow conflated social conservatism with political conservatism.
That’s a lot for one sentence, so let’s break it down. Win at all costs? Sure. Anything that President Obama says, no matter how innocent, is subject to Orwellian interpretation. All kids should aspire to college? Elitist, says Rick Santorum. Education is for snobs. For a guy whose ignorance seems at times boundless, Mr. Santorum should know when he is overreaching. Don’t jump into a war with Iran right away? “It’s hope, not a policy,” responds Mitt Romney, who knows a lot more about vulture capital than foreign affairs. Of course it’s a policy, almost exactly what Mr. Romney’s advisors recommend in an op-ed piece written under his signature. There is no need to go on: the point is that in order to defeat the incumbent, his opponents will go to ridiculous lengths of vilification, and there is reason to believe it is backfiring pretty badly, at least in recent polls.
Big government? Oh, most certainly. The “new” conservatives want government to reach into the personal lives of a hundred million women who wish to use contraceptives or want choice in child-bearing. They want government to redefine,or even better deny, science in the name of religion or ideology, are in denial about the plain facts of climate change and even evolution. True, the big government they want is largely theocratic, but that is a lot scarier than the straw-man threat of European socialism. Listen to Ron Paul if you want a truer picture of small-government conservatism.
Rick Santorum says he is the true “conservative” in the Republican field, but by that he means social conservative, not political conservative. As pointed out above, his implementation of social conservatism would mean big government interfering with personal freedom at every turn. When the Tea Party first arose, it was careful to avoid the social issues, and so its message was attractive to many: smaller government, balanced budget, lower taxes, less regulation. All that is gone in the heat of this campaign, sadly enough.
There have been many great conservative political thinkers in our history. They have values sorely lacking in today’s pretenders: original thinking, valuable ideas, a counterweight to liberal excesses. In my lifetime, the ideas of William F. Buckley come to mind. A devotee of laissez-faire economics and a devout anti-communist (and at one time an apologist for segregation, a mistake he later repented), he was also a brilliant orator who promoted free dialogue on his syndicated Firing Line program. George Will, perhaps his most prominent intellectual heir in the public media, is as outraged as any about the phony, cutthroat politics passing as conservatism today.
Buckley conservatives, no matter how disagreeable, did not confuse ideology with science. Nor were they anti-intellectual; their arguments were couched in reason and common sense, not hate. They believed in separation of church and state. And they could not be bought by big-money donors looking to line their own pockets, like the Koch Brothers, whose Bounty towels probably grace your kitchen cabinet and whose hate ads reach millions of Americans each week.
Now I am not a conservative. But I miss the principled opposition of a generation ago. If I’m going to tilt at windmills, I don’t want them full of hot air.