Friday, January 04, 2008

Before There Was a Crunchy, or a Contra...

When I tell people I started a blog in 1999, they laugh. When I tell them the URL was, they realize I wasn't kidding. I registered the domain for the first time in 1998, and while I had some of the right ideas, I always tried to turn it into a magazine, thinking that there was no way anyone would ever be interested in the solitary and eccentric ramblings of a lone crank slowly falling off his barstool.

Fortunately, unlike real estate, domains are cheap to hang onto, and I never needed the money bad enough to sell the name, so I am pleased to announce that in the ugly aftermath of Iowa '08, the SNOB is hereby back on the air.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Seasons in the Sun

This blog was born for one purpose--to thoughtfully and humorously confront Rod Dreher's crunchy-con hypothesis--and it has long since outlived that purpose. Having written blogs since 1998 (no, really, I wrote my own blogging software), I was so tickled to finally have one that a decent number of people read that I stopped caring why. The time to close the door passed some moons ago, so this is the end, my friends.

Though I have done my best to mock some of his most cherished ideals, I don't think Rod is a bad person or The Enemy. I consider him, like Andrew Sullivan, to be part of the conservative communion in all its mystery. It is easy, relatively, to be an ideological traitor like Michael Lind: sure, you have to get a whole new set of friends and whatnot, but then it's done and you settle into your new life, though the stain of apostasy persists in funny ways. Dissidents head straight into the whirlwind until the storm ends, and for this they are detested with greater ferocity. While some people draw excess satisfaction from persecution, I have always believed in the honesty of Rod's intentions, and have always sought to apply the appropriate respect, particularly to him as a person.

I think the anonymous 24/7 echo chamber of teh intarwebs makes it too easy for people to shriek wildly at each other. All dissidents require a certain constitutional sense of defiance for the established order to survive doing what they do, along with the reverence that keeps them from packing their bags and leaving altogether. Solzhenitsyn did not want to repudiate the Russia of Peter, Tchaikovsky, and Dostoevsky, he wanted to see it live the promise of those great men. But the endless puerile rage wears away the best in us, and the best of us. Take the faith and love and reverence from the dissident, and all you're left with is the dissidence. Heat, yes, but little light. The gulag corrupts not only the dissident but his jailers too.

Were Rod's ideas not challenging and novel we would not still be talking about them. My feelings about them have been modulated somewhat over the past year, but on the whole I still feel in them a force pulling in the wrong direction, an instinct for statist (and stasist) action which contradicts my most fundamental humanistic impulses. And yet it is more important now than one, two, or five years ago that we confront these ideas honestly, for I feel a sense of leftism resurgent nearly everywhere I look, and we will win not by ruses but by superiority. The global warming charade threatens to plunge us quite literally into a new Dark Age, with dangerous economic and foreign policy implications the environmentalist naifs are content to sneer at as beneath their loftier consideration. In a mere hundred years or so we have leapt forward so far, and here, on the very doorstep of a new golden age, leftist armies are massing to put us back in our cages.

I have never had the pleasure of meeting Rod personally but if it should ever happen, I will gladly buy him a beer and greet him as a friend. And with that, the Contra Crunchy is hereby retired.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

What's Negotiable.

What may be somewhat lost is Rod's blogging today is that he has made abundantly clear what values are negotiable when his social conservatism conflicts with his economic, erm, populism: the most important issues to most social conservatives, abortion and marriage.
I dunno, this 2008 election is going to be interesting for me as a social conservative. I've got no natural candidate to support -- unless Huckabee and/or Brownback get all Smoove B on me -- and I would by no means rule out voting for Giuliani. Like Ross says, social and religious conservatives are a lot more complicated than our opponents give us credit for. Giuliani (and for that matter, Obama) is far from my ideal on the issues. But with Giuliani, he's tough and innovative, and he's absolute right on law and order issues. I think Bush was the last hurrah for the social right regarding substantially changing abortion policy at the federal level, and for passing a constitutional amendment to prevent SCOTUS from declaring gay marriage. And frankly, I am incapable of believing the pandering of Republican politicians to my side on these issues. The war and its aftermath is more acutely important right now, and Giuliani has not been on the right side here. Still, I would trust him infinitely more than I would trust Hillary Clinton. [emphasis mine]


"I think Bush was the last hurrah for the social right regarding substantially changing abortion policy at the federal level, and for passing a constitutional amendment to prevent SCOTUS from declaring gay marriage. And frankly, I am incapable of believing the pandering of Republican politicians to my side on these issues."

So far, I believe Gina Dalfonzo from Chuck Colson's Breakpoint blog is the only one to have noticed this and to have commented:
Congratulations, Rod. You've finally done it. You've completely floored me. How wonderful to know we don't have to bother trying to find and support pro-life, pro-marriage candidates anymore, because Bush was the last hurrah.

Whatever that means.

Rod explained himself, somewhat lamely:
I'm not saying I like it, or that we should have to find and support candidates who believe what we social conservatives believe. What I'm saying, though, is that if we couldn't get this stuff through with Bush as president and the Republicans holding both houses of Congress, then I find it unlikely that we'll ever get it through -- especially, on the marriage question, given that young adults by and large have no problem with gay marriage.

Like I said, I don't like it, but I think that's where we are.

I believe he means that he's not saying that we shouldn't have to find and support politicians who oppose abortion and the redefinition of marriage, but why should we bother if he thinks the cause is hopeless?

He betrays what I believe to be an unjustifiable pessimism: Rod says our chances are slim for "substantially changing abortion policy at the federal level." First, somebody should explain to him that we can't change abortion policy at any other level because of Roe v. Wade.

Second, someone should explain that, though the pro-life movement suffered a 7-2 defeat with Roe, we now have four originalists -- Scalia, Thomas, Roberts, and Alito -- who would likely overturn Roe because it was an atrocious decision. Furthermore, of the five oldest members of the court, three are liberal (Stevens, 86; Ginsberg, 73; Breyer, 68) and the 70-year-old Kennedy is considered a swing vote. Is it impossible or even unlikely for Bush's successor to shape the court so that it has the five originalists needed to overturn Roe? Hardly.

As with Iraq, Rod displays an incredible lack of resolve: that young adults are generally less opposed to redefining marriage is hardly a reason to give up -- or in Rod's case, to make the issue unimportant in deciding who to support in a presidential race.

On the issue of marriage, I agree that the moment has probably passed for an amendment to preempt a SCOTUS ruling mandating gay marriage. Does that make the composition of the court any less important? Does that make an amendment after such a ruling an impossibility? Put simply, does that mean that we can have no further effect on the legal definition of marriage, so that we should set aside that issue to support someone who is utterly opposed to our position?

Thank God that those who led the pro-life movement in the first years after Roe were made of sterner stuff than Rod here.

Further, Rod displays a sort of ideological purity that is positively counter-productive. He says that he is "incapable of believing the pandering of Republican politicians to my side on these issues." Suppose his distrust is justified: let's suppose both parties' leadership holds our positions in contempt and consider us to be women-hating homophobes. Is it better to vote for a Democrat who's sincere in their opposition to us, or to elect a Republican who, pandering or not, will advance our cause, however slightly?

All of this was a long time coming. After all, he supported the pro-choice liberal Joe Barton because of his position on the environment; he gallingly redefined what it means to be pro-life to justify supporting abortionists because of their position on Iraq; and he made clear his belief that rank-and-file Republicans are homophobes for agreeing with him on the issue of marriage.

I wrote in July that I believe he's been just begging the Democrats to moderate on abortion and secularism, that he would gladly leap into their arms if only they would moderate their positions. It appears that I gave him too much credit. Let's ignore his supporting the Dems in November because he wanted to punish the DC Republicans: as I pointed out before, Rod praised Obama back in June for his speech on religion, but Al Mohler rightly pointed out that the speech offered nothing more than "secularism with a smile." Now, Rod's praising Obama because he could "admit that his mind was changed by a religious conservative." His mind was changed on what, his policy position on abortion? Certainly not, Obama's support of abortion on-demand is unchanged, it's just that he's moderated his rhetoric to emphasize "fair-minded words."

Wrap the iron hand of radicalism in the velvet glove of civil speech, and that's good enough for Rod.

Even that may not be needed, though, because now Rod is throwing overboard two of the key issues of social conservatism, giving them up as lost causes to justify his support of social liberals.

Insofar as a coherent ideology can be determined, perhaps Rod is more accurately described as some variant of the paleoconservative than as a liberal. But on economic matters, his vague populism has not distinguished itself from socialism: perhaps the distributism of E.F. Schumacher differs from traditional socialism in that it wants the state to command the economy in novel ways.

On international matters, his talk about our being in a generational war and needing a tough foreign policy hardly amounts to an actual idea for winning that war; if he can call Iraq a "meat grinder" despite a casualty rate that's ridiculously low compared to the rest of history, it's hard to see how his attitudes are any less suicidal than the Left's politically correct multiculturalism; and, ultimately, his disagreements with Ted Kennedy and Jane Fonda didn't stop him from supporting the Democrats in November, did it?

He even takes for granted the assumptions of the Left: the dire state of the environment; the near infallibility of the mainstream press; "the fraud, the mendacity" of the Bush Administration for getting us into a war on "dubious pretenses;" and even the slander that mainstream conservatives are godless materialists who gave Bush their uncritical support until late 2005.

With his justifying an abandonment of opposition to abortion and the redefinition of marriage to support liberals -- demanding little more than talk about community and a more civilized rhetoric to justify their radicalism -- I must say, he may not be a liberal, but he might as well be.

What's the difference, other than his being able to broadcast commentaries on NPR as a disenchanted conservative? What does it matter?

His journey to liberalism, predicted by Jonah Goldberg less than a year ago, is complete, for all practical purposes. He will support liberals and their causes, and ultimately no disagreement with them will amount to anything substantive, to say nothing of actual opposition.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The First Rule of Comedy.

20, 27, 22, 30, 30, 24, 14, 9, 11, 17.

Those, my friends, are the high temperatures for Pittsburgh, PA, for the last ten days. January 28th was the last time Pittsburgh experienced above-freezing temperatures at a balmy 33. The average high for this time of year? 35-36 degrees.

(Source: here and here.)

And what's Rod blogging about today? Global warming.

"It's hot. Get used to it."

Because even someone like Timothy Bell, a climatologist deeply skeptical of the claim of man-made warming, agrees that the planet has been generally warming since 1680, I won't argue that there is global warming.

(Bell asserts, "These climate changes are well within natural variability and explained quite easily by changes in the sun.")

But, as in comedy, in rhetoric timing counts for an awful lot.

How obtuse does one have to be to bleat about global warming when over a dozen Americans have died since this past weekend because it's too damn cold?

A Question.

Consider that Rod highlighted an article that argues for "why we need a William Jennings Bryan figure in America today." Consider how often Rod has written about populism, including a post in which he entertains the notion that we are "on the verge of a populist revival." Consider that, as early as June of last year, Rod had kind words to say about the clearly over-hyped Barack Obama. (As we noted earlier, Rod missed the secular undertones to Obama's supposedly pro-religion speech, perhaps because he relied on a news account rather than the text of the actual speech.) And consider how Rod writes about John Edwards in a post about the upcoming presidential race:
I think he'll be the nominee, and his running mate will be either Iowa governor Tom Vilsack or Democratic vice-presidential also-ran John Edwards, whose populist message will be much more appealing in 2008. [emphasis mine]
Now that Rod has written that he'll be referring to Edwards as "the Kingfish, I ask you:

Does he mean that to be an insult or a compliment?

He wouldn't be the first to compare Edwards to Huey Long, but Michael Knox Beran at NRO didn't mean it as a compliment, and I struggle to believe that, in the twenty-first century, even a politically confused "working boy" from Louisiana would let his infatuation with populism take him so far as to actually make a positive comparison between Long and a modern-day politician -- to say nothing of a self-described conservative doing exactly that. (Wasn't Long an explicit socialist? Wouldn't Rod's love of the small and local preclude using his name as a compliment?) If for no other reason, the comparison isn't shrewd because I believe Huey Long is too closely associated with demagoguery and corruption.

But that's precisely where the evidence leads. This is by no means anything close to being the most ridiculous thing he's ever broadcast, but it's certainly odd.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Connecting Dots...

Perhaps the problem with the Middle East, commented on most recently here, could be addressed by what Rod discussed in the previous post, here.

Maybe the problem is that Islamic architecture doesn't encourage the goal of people reaching their fullest potential living virtuously in community.

A Note on Emotivism.

Personally, I have never found all that plausible the idea, recently repeated here, that architecture dictates morality.

("I know I'm a lazy, abusive drunk, honey, but we're not living in the right house in a true communitarian neighborhood.")

I agree that the individual can become the most virtuous only within a group -- specifically, by playing a specific role both within the organic relationship of the family and within the family of a local church. But this isn't something that results from architecture. Truth is, I don't think it's the sort of thing that can be imposed from above in any circumstances: virtue requires freedom, and invariably some people are going to abuse that freedom.

"The New Urbanists," Rod writes, "with their ideas of returning to the ways civic spaces were designed in the past (e.g., human-scaled, pedestrian-oriented), hope to revive a civic and communal spirit among people, by creating public and private spaces that reflect a traditional understanding of how human communities flourish."

But were these traditional "human-scaled" communities actually more moral than modern society? First-century Jerusalem was almost certainly closer to the New Urbanists' ideal than modern New York, but it's not as if Christ looked at the architecture and said that the city needed no moral improvement. On the contrary, quite a few of its residents plotted or enabled the vicious murder of an innocent religious teacher.

But I digress. Rod repeats the view of one Philip Bess that "we are now living, and have for some time been living in, a highly individualistic 'emotivist' society (emotivism being the philosophical stance that denies objective truth, saying rather that truth-claims are nothing more than statements about the feelings of the speaker), in which the feelings of individuals are considered the absolute telos, or goal, of society."

Emotivism is a very odd thing for Rod to criticize about modern society, since he, first, seems to oscillate between the idea that we need a modern Benedict to help us retreat from society and the idea that we need a modern William Jennings Bryan to lead a populist movement for reform. (If Rod really bought the idea that retreat was necessary, would he be so infatuated with Obama?)

More than that, his still unsubstantiated claim that conservative writers were uncritical of Bush and Congressional Republicans prior to late 2005 is, I believe, based more on the projection of his own emotional state than objective reality, because objective reality quite clearly refutes his claim.

His often hyperbolic, often hypocritical writing is more easily understood if seen more as a manifestation of Rod's emotional state than as a reflection of time-tested principles or even objective facts. So, what's all this about emotivism?

Thursday, February 01, 2007

On Faith and Abortion.

Before Rod praised a priest for criticizing Nancy Pelosi's views on abortion, he should have considered the possibility that, like someone we know on the web, Pelosi has redefined for herself what it means to be "pro-life."

Just a thought.

Rod Most Certainly Is Mistaken.

Apparently we mainstream conservatives never strongly criticized the Bush Administration or the GOP Congress, at least not until it was too late. Responding to something Rich Lowry said at the NRI Summit this past weekend -- and building his entire blog entry around a rhetorical question that sounds clever but makes absolutely no sense in context -- Rod accuses the leading voices of conservatism of being silent as Bush and the Congress drifted from our principles:
Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't recall that National Review, nor conservative journalists in general, nor especially Your Faithful Servant -- mea maxima culpa -- rising in any serious and sustained way to stand up to this administration or Congressional Republicans as they did violation to conservative principles back when they were riding high in power. [emphasis in original]
Put simply, he's wrong.

Steel tariffs, the highway bill, farm subsidies, the prescription drug bill, campaign finance "reform", judicial nominees waiting in limbo, Social Security reform going nowhere, and an apparent inability to use the veto: on these and a host of other issues, publications like National Review and broadcasters like Rush Limbaugh have most emphatically not been silent.

I'm not the least bit surprised that the only "notable exception" to the lack of criticism is Buchanan's magazine. Rod continues:
Personally, I fell off the Bush wagon with Harriet Miers and Katrina, but until then, I wrote and thought as if the president could do no wrong. And I think you'd have to look pretty hard to find much criticism in my written work of the Republican Congress. I might be mistaken, but I'd guess that's the record of most, though not all, journalists and commentators who identify themselves as conservatives.
He'd guess wrong; he admitted that he might be mistaken, and he earlier asked to be corrected if he was wrong. I took him up on his offer, listing three NR cover stories between late 2005 and the November elections, all of which were highly critical of Republicans in Washington.

Rod's reply? He implied I personally attacked him, which is not true, and he wrote, "I don't mean to trash NR either; I am as guilty of anybody of the same thing, because I didn't start to criticize the president until around the time the first story you cite came out." That's hardly comforting: if an admitted horse thief accuses an innocent man of the same crime, that's still slander, as the accuser's admission of guilt doesn't give him carte blanche to spread the blame around.

On the substance, he suggests that my evidence isn't strong enough.
Anyway, you give me the opportunity to clarify my point: I said "serious and sustained." I applaud the stories you bring up, but I note that the ones you pick out only started appearing in late 2005, only a year before the GOP got walloped. Maybe there were others, I don't know. I hope to find out.
We should stop right there because Rod admits that he doesn't know if there were earlier criticisms. He doesn't know, and he hopes to find out, but that doesn't stop him from acting as if he knows there is little or no earlier criticism.

He continues:
What I'm trying to say is that the tendencies of Bush and the GOP Congress that many of us on the Right woke up to and started writing critically about didn't suddenly appear in 2005. What I'm interested in is why we only started noticing it then, and speaking out.
I responded that, as a journalist, perhaps Rod should confirm whether a theory is true before investigating the causes behind the theory.

I say this because I immediately pointed out another NR cover story critical of the DC GOP, this time from two years prior:
Sept 29, 2003: Swallowed by Leviathan:
Government spending has been growing faster under Bush than it did under Clinton, renewing the debate about how conservative Bush is. A minority of Bush’s supporters have celebrated the president’s alleged embrace of "big-government conservatism." By Ramesh Ponnuru
(I should probably admit that, though I have an uninterrupted archive of the last five years of NR, I rediscovered these stories simply by reviewing the free contents pages in the incomplete archives at National Review Digital: it was not the most comprehensive research, yet I believe it to be enough to call into serious question Rod's ridiculous theory.)

In addition, I pointed out that Jonah Goldberg was apparently suspicious of big-government tendencies in "compassionate conservatism" way back in 1998. Another reader pointed out other examples, and as of this blog entry's publication, Rod has yet to offer another response.

Let me be clear that I think some mainstream conservatives are less critical of Bush than others: Larry Kudlow seems less critical than most of his fellow writers at NRO, and Sean Hannity seems less critical than Rush. And I'll reiterate that I doubt that National Review has been as critical as Pat Buchanan.

But that makes Rod's assertion no less ridiculous.

While supporting Bush as clearly preferable to Al Gore or John Kerry, the intellectual leadership of mainstream conservatism has long been disappointed and often infuriated at the Republicans in the White House and on Capitol Hill. He misses this clear and basic fact, and so I wonder -- I truly wonder -- just what in the hell Rod Dreher is doing writing about conservatism as a so-called conservative.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Broken Windows.

Rod's responded somewhat critically to an article by Jim Schutze in the Dallas Observer, in which Schutze mourns the loss of the "groovy" neighborhood of Old East Dallas, lost not to decay, but to improvements.

"I am frightened," he writes. "East Dallas, once a funky, diverse refugee camp for people on the lam from the real Dallas and maybe real life, is now well on its way to becoming the one thing none of us ever wanted. A nice neighborhood."

The article begins with a surreal nightmare: one of his artist neighbors -- "one of the original urban pioneers" -- was actually impressed by the open house of a so-called McMansion.
"Everything worked. Even the windows! Everything. I bet they never have to call Roto-Rooter. And the kitchen! The kitchen!"

"You've got to get a grip on yourself. I'll tell Jordan on you if you don't."
What surprised me is that Rod didn't praise the author.
I'm afraid I've got little patience for this sort of thing. Schutzism was alive and well in New York City in the Giuliani years. It came from the sort of liberals who loathed Giuliani for cleaning up the porn theaters and making Manhattan a place you might actually want to live. There is a certain kind of Romantic who finds decay and disintegration somehow more ... authentic, and in any case preferable to regeneration. What's interesting about Schutze's piece is that he went to talk to his longtime neighbors, and found that they don't really share his silly idealism.

It's a funny thing what little detail can trigger a memory, and the artist's being so amazed that the new house's windows actually work -- "Even the windows!" -- reminded me what, just last year, similarly silly idealists had to contribute to Rod's "Crunchy Con" blog at NRO.

Frederica Mathewes-Green was less than happy with those who chose to live in new developments in the exurbs of Charleston, and she too read a lot into windows that don't actually function.
They don't want to live in old Charleston (where I grew up, btw) because the neighbors are too close. They don't care about building for durability, because they're going to be moving on in five years anyway. When they move, they'll want the latest windows, the latest counters, and any house more than 20 years old is embarrassingly out of fashion. Old Charleston looks nice on a postcard but they don't want to live there. They'll take planned obsolescence any day over the upkeep headaches of a quirky older place. (For example, I wrestle with clunky old aluminum storm windows every season, because that's the price of keeping the wonderful, wavery original windows. The next owner will certainly rip it all out for something "efficient"). Sad but true: today's sprawl is exactly what a great many Americans yearn for. [emphasis mine]
The decidedly non-crunchy John Podhoretz responded with his usual, regrettable bluntness: "Once again we see the key contradiction between the contributors to this blog and the vast majority of ordinary Americans. You guys live ideologically. You make choices that gratify you because they represent a fulfillment of ideas you hold. Most people don't live this way, and to presume that they should is, well, the sheerest snobbery."

And Rod responded, not to tell FMG how little patience he has for this fetishizing of stagnation, but to tell John that conservatism is and ought to be elitist "in the sense that it believes in standards."
It believes that ideas have consequences, that some ideas are better than others, that there's a way to live that's better--truer to our religious values, truer to human nature--and that we shouldn't be embarrassed to say so. I presume you are not a moral relativist or a populist, John. You have no problem telling people how you think they should live in other areas of their lives--nor should you, as long as you are not obnoxious about it. You just don't like that we try to apply conservative principles to the way we build the environment around us, so you engage in crude populism rather than make an argument about why our concerns are baseless. Try something different. You won't get very far with a group of thoughtful conservatives by using "elitist" as a pejorative. We had all better be elitists about something!
I believe that Rod's defending Frederica here; at the barest of minima, he didn't at all suggest that she was going to far in defending old building fixtures because they were old.

(Things kinda digress from there, with you-know-who leading the charge with truly ridiculous assertions.)

The difference might simply be that the shoe is on the other foot -- instead of being a gentrifier looking down on the suburbanites, Rod is a gentrifier that Schutze thinks is ruining the neighborhood.

I hope, instead, that Rod is maturing in his philosophy.
Lorlee [Bartos] makes a point that we all have to come to terms with: you can't have absolute stability. If you're not getting better, you're probably decaying. You can do things to control the rate of change and the direction of the change -- that's what our neighborhood achieving Historic District status recently was about -- but change is coming one way or another.
Change is inevitable, which is why I think criticizing television is in many ways futile: the technological landscape has probably rendered many traditions obsolete, but we should look for new practices that encourage the eternal virtues rather than merely pine for the non-existent golden days of the past or urge for people to almost literally run for the hills.

The very premise of Rod's book seems to be a rejection of the fact that things change, but I hope he's maturing away from that naivete.

And I wish he would apply this rather obvious lesson to Iraq.

"You can't have absolute stability. If you're not getting better, you're probably decaying."

If you're not winning, you're probably losing, and if we were to retreat from the battlefield in Iraq, neither our enemies nor our own national psyche will let us act as if it never happened. As usual, Mark Steyn has a good word to say to the defeatists:
The open defeatists on the Democrat side and the nuanced defeatists among "moderate" Republicans seem to think that big countries can choose to lose small wars. After all, say the "realists," Iraq isn't any more important to Americans than Vietnam was. But a realpolitik cynic knows the tactical price of everything and the strategic value of nothing. This is something on an entirely different scale from the 1930s: Seventy years ago, Britain and Europe could not rouse themselves to focus on a looming war; today, we can't rouse ourselves even to focus on a war that's happening right now. Read 100 percent of the Democratic presidential candidates' platforms and a sizeable chunk of the Republicans': We're full of pseudo-energy for phantom crises and ersatz enemies, like "global warming."
Stability is an illusion; with Iran seeking to acquire the Bomb, time is not on our side. While I read alot about the seriousness of the threat we face from Islam, in nothing Rod has said or written do I detect an awareness of the importance of this battlefield in dealing with that threat.

And, in both these crunchy topics and the subject of Iraq, I still have not seen much effort on Rod's part to engage criticism from the right, either in the comments or in response to hawkish columnists.