Tuesday, October 03, 2006

If Rod Questions Your Conservatism, Is It a Compliment?

A blogger named Clark Stooksbury recently took a potshot at Rush Limbaugh, and another blogger -- a friend of Rod's named Daniel Larison -- picked up on it, adding his own idiocy.

Dreher has since excerpted Larison's blog entry, saying that Larison "catches Rush Limbaugh out on an astonishingly un-conservative tear." I think a case can be made that, in context, Limbaugh's comments weren't as unorthodox as they think -- that none of these three stooges care too terribly much about the accuracy of their criticism -- but I wonder:

Is it really an insult if Dreher questions your conservative bona fides?

And just who the hell is Rod Dreher make such a charge? Consider how often he cites the New York Times as authoritative, how just this week he referenced Bob Woodward and John Murtha as reliable sources in attacking Bush's policy in Iraq and accusing Bush of lying, and (let us not forget) how he nearly wept for Dan Rather while he called Rush a "pillhead."

In the comments here this week, SiliconValleySteve observes that Dreher "has no center". I believe that's true, though I believe we should be charitable toward people who are figuring themselves out, as all of us could improve and even those of us who know the course we need to chart hardly ever navigate that course unfailingly.

But what I can't abide is this: Rod doesn't know who he is, but he's happy to tell others who we are and -- more appallingly -- that who we are is morally inferior, that we are not only different from him, but also deficient.

A person who's figuring himself out could still write a worthwhile account of his personal journey of discovery or of how others are finding meaning in their lives, but it's overreach to pretend that a comprehensive (and comprehensible) philosophy can be gleaned from the jumbled mess of positions Rod holds, and it's infuriating to pretend that others can be judged by that philosophy.

24 Comments:

Blogger kathleen said...

bubba, assuming you are writing about larison: anyone who tries to make rush limbaugh look like a fool is automatically a greater fool. i certainly don't agree with limbaugh on all points, but Rush is a brilliant commentator. any "stunning displays" of whatever larison objects to in Rush pale in comparison to the sorry sight of a grad student trying to prove to the world that he, not the rich guy with 29million listeners, is the smart one. pathetic. and yet so common as to be a total snooze.

3:52 PM  
Blogger Art Deco said...

Limbaughs's statement is off the cuff and confused but he appears to be taking exception to an unspoken understanding that people are to be regarded and treated as clientele of the helping professions, one consequence of which is that judgment and punishment (which assume competency) are replaced with diagnosis and treatment. Recent critics of this view have included C.S. Lewis, Thomas Szasz, Christopher Lasch, and Sally Satel. Not a crew of utopians.

Intelligence and earning power are not strictly correllated, and one suspects that is particularly so among people in the entertainment business. Mr. Larison is likely smarter. Thomas Sowell has offered that it is an error of some to confound expertise with intelligence and intelligence with articulateness, an error he adjudges particularly common among the intelligent and the articulate.

4:21 PM  
Blogger SiliconValleySteve said...

I've actually come around the Art's point of view. I'm still considering the full implications of his comments but they really ring true.

There is something else though. A narcissistic streak that seems to find everything in his life and himself to be extraordinary. The first place it really struck me was when he felt so "special" because he and his family were "so happy."

I mean please! Interesting work, stay-at-home wife, home ownership at a reasonable age, good health, wife who is good company, adorable toddlers. It is no big trick to be happy when things are going so well and life is so simple.

Why would he think it is so unique to be happy under such easy circumstances?

5:16 PM  
Blogger kathleen said...

Larison is "smarter"? it depends on what you call smart. I find Larison predictable, verbose and unduly difficult to read -- for me, that's not "smart". there are a great many articulate intelligent people (Bill Clinton springs to mind) who are also utterly useless and uninteresting. and i went to law school with a goodly portion of them.

It's often the case that those who can make their point concisely are underestimated by others, because they used five words to express a concept other people use fifty words to express. Because one is more easily understood does not mean one is lacks complexity in his thinking. Indeed, I find the opposite to be more often the case.

and I'm totally confident Sowell thinks Rush is more intelligent than someone like Larison or Dreher.

5:21 PM  
Blogger Bubba said...

It was a digression to mention this in the initial post, but let me quickly tackle Larison's criticisms.

Larison writes that Rush's conservatism was "originally, back in the old days of the early ’90s, a rehashed low-tax, pro-market conservatism that was good on mocking bureaucratic absurdity and Clintonian pretenses but basically superficial and empty." The problem is, Rush's national show predated Clinton by a full presidency, so the insinuation that Rush started out "originally" by criticizing Clinton is false on its face -- and is an odd error for someone who wants us to trust him as a former listener, someone who "istened to him often when [he] was growing up."

He writes that "as Limbaugh became more successful he increasingly embraced the establishment GOP views on everything and frequently became their willing propagandist in a way that was not the case when he began," an assertion I've seen leftists make at Rod's blog but one that is just surreal to an actual listener: on immigration, on spending, on campaign finance "reform," and on the Medicare prescription drug plan, Rush has been adamant in his disapproval of the GOP establishment. Rush even disagrees on tactical issues, believing that the GOP is wrong not to defend rigorously Bush's foreign policy.

Aside from bashing Rush, Larison implies that REAGAN wasn't a conservative because he was an optimist who believed in the capabilities of free Americans, which is just weird, and then he simply overreaches in trying to connect Rush's embrace of Reagan's optimism to the specific statement he criticized:

It was always a struggle of the happy people vs. the gloomy people, which somehow translates into believing that the gloomy people think that man is flawed–because, well, that is a gloomy thing to think. If man is fallen, flawed and imperfect, optimism doesn’t seem very reasonable, but if he is perfectible and can make progress towards that perfectibility optimism is the essence of common sense.

At this point it's clear Larison isn't trying to understand what Rush said but is merely trying to twist everything Rush has ever said into an insidious advocacy of progressivism.


But what is it that Rush is trying to say? Well, let me admit that the monologue to which Clark links wasn't Rush's finest hour -- one of something like 13,000 hours broadcast nationally; I had trouble following precisely what Rush meant, even after reading and listening to the context of the quote.

I looked at what Rush said today in continuing that same discussion, and I made this intuitive leap: being reluctant to discuss his faith for whatever reason, Rush tried to avoid using the word "sin" and instead used phrases like "by-choice imperfection."

Upon doing those things, I think I know precisely what Rush was trying to say:

When it comes to sin, liberals are enablers.

They certainly don't mind the consequences of sins like lust and sloth, as such consequences can be used to justify the social programs that empower them politically.

And they furthermore refuse to judge or condemn sin because A) doing so allows them to avoid being hypocrites when they themselves sin; B) it gives them the opportunity to treat sinners as victims of social conservatives and their supposed judgmentalism; and C) they think it's actually compassionate to tolerate a person's every behavior.

It's not that Rush believes in the perfection of man: he said so yesterday, for those interested in the truth; he said explicitly, "none of us are perfect." I highly doubt he believes in the perfectibility of man, and there's nothing in what he said yesterday or today that suggests such utopianism.

Rush doesn't deny our sins; he's just being critical of liberals for enabling those sins.

5:34 PM  
Blogger Bubba said...

I realize something.

One of the problems with Clark, Daniel, and Rod is that I don't think they're really interested in understanding what Rush says; they just want to take shots.

One of my problems is that I do want to understand what Rod says -- or, rather, not what he says, but what he believes, whether there's a reasonable and internally consistent philosophy that drives his positions and arguments.

I doubt there is, and I furthermore doubt that Rod's goal is communicating such a philosophy.

It's not that Rod wants us to know what he believes, it's that he wants us to know who he is, or who he thinks he is:

A man who is smart and cultured and wise.

A man who has the tastes of the worldly cosmopolitan and the authenticity of an earthy farmer.

A man who is important and who has important things to say: let's not focus too much on what those things are.

5:41 PM  
Blogger John DaFiesole said...

I find Larison predictable, verbose and unduly difficult to read -- for me, that's not "smart".

I haven't read enough by Daniel Larison to find him any particular way, but I have read a fair amount in the Crunch Con genre, if you will, that is "verbose and unduly difficult to read." I think in particular of Caleb Stegall's now-defunct New Pantagruel, which I found not so much difficult to read as unreadable.

Yes, I get that it's a cultivated style -- although, as a Strunk & White man, I don't much care for using twenty-six words where nine will do -- and I can believe some people enjoy reading and writing that sort of thing.

But if your primary goal is to get your ideas into wide circulation, you shouldn't go about it by writing in a way that turns most people off.

6:31 AM  
Blogger kathleen said...

yeah, all those crunchy cons are horrible writers -- except for dreher. the mystery of dreher is that he is a decent writer whose prose, while fluid and easy to read, offers nothing of substance. i've compared him to Naomi Wolf in that respect.

6:41 AM  
Blogger Pauli said...

John/Tom, you're right on the money.

..."verbose and unduly difficult to read." I think in particular of Caleb Stegall's now-defunct New Pantagruel, which I found not so much difficult to read as unreadable.

I used to think it was because I was dumb or something, but then I found other folks online who agreed. Besides, it's not like your stuff is exactly Highlights Magazine, but I understand it a great deal more. Whatever these guys are -- excepting Dreher -- they are horrible communicators. And I, like Kathleen, don't know where Rod's going half the time either. "Where's the beef?" I ask.

There's a qualitative difference between reading something by George Weigel, RJN or a lot of the popular conservative writers and wading through a clumsily-written populist rant or overlong diatribe by an agrarianista about the Wal-Rush-Neo-Limbaugh-Suburbocon-Mart problem. Besides having a sense of humor, their writings speak to the heart, not solely the head. Unfortunately, I think these cats, the reactionary radicals, the crunchy cons, et al really believe they are the heart of the heartland. But I think it's all inflated sentimentality which mostly just leaves me cold. There are several exceptions, Cubeland Mystic with whom I've conversed via email often. Definitely a heart guy. But paging through that Front Porch Terrorist book the reader will be confronted with so many unexplained references to obscure persons as to necessitate days of remedial research work at the local university library.

Maybe this would all pay off and one would emerge from the library converted to a Wendell Berry-style world view, ready to start a properly pessimistic utopian community. But when my mind finally understands, albeit partially, the long-winded pontifications from these sages, my heart kicks in and I say "That's interesting, but what good is it? For anyone?"

8:20 AM  
Blogger Bubba said...

The New Panties' closing its doors is amusing, if only for the explanation given: the site "succeeded", but God only knows at what, and it supposedly attracted a "large number" of people though the Site Meter appears not to be working or public.

It argued itself out of existence: "This is a good thing."

They said it, not me.


Jape pointed out that Stegall wrote another article at Dreher's paper. (And on Sunday, again!)

It's the same old tripe: we're selling our "birthright of independence and self-sufficiency" by shopping at Wal-Mart, and the Minutemen of old would have seen the retailer as "forced dependence".

It's exaggeration that defies even parody that makes a person suggest that Wal-Mart enslaves people, that salvation cannot be found in the suburbs, and that (from the farewell) the "discipline of place" is "nothing less than the key to the pursuit of Christian holiness."

(Tell that to Saint Paul and the generations of missionaries that have followed in his footsteps.)

Most everything they write is obvious, is pompous (and evidence of a firm belief that quidquid Latine dictum sit altum viditur), or is utterly unhinged.

Actual profundity is a rare thing from these guys, though I'd love to buy them at what they're worth and sell them at what they think they're worth.

10:40 AM  
Blogger kathleen said...

today's beliefnet blog indicates soon Rod will flirt with the idea of becoming amish. it was only a matter of time!

10:44 AM  
Blogger Diane said...

Slightly off-topic, but has anyone else noticed this pattern? Example: When he posted re TIME's cover feature on the Prosperity Preachers, Rod said something like, "You have to have a subscription to see the whole article, but here's the gist blahblahblah." It sounded as if Access to the Whole Article were some rare esoteric privilege or sumpin'. I felt like responding that there's this Real Life phenomenon called a NEWSTAND which his readers might want to visit, but I refrained. :p (Hey, not to mention a supermarket checkout counter; most do stock TIME among the tabloids...IMHO, TIME is pretty much a tabloid itself, but I digress.)

Perhaps I'm uncharitably misreading Rod here. Perhaps he only meant to spare his readers the aggravation of trying to view the article online only to get that annoying message about how you have to be a subscriber blah-blah.

But then....I kept encountering the same kind of thing in other posts. "You have to have a subscription...you have to have been invited into the Secret Information Vault by the Grand Poohbah of the Secret Gnosis...you have to be on this elite mailing list or subscribe to HOTLINE or belong to this exclusive club or know the secret handshake in order to have seen *this*...but I'll graciously deign to fill you in about it." (I'm making up those examples, of course, but I've seen repeated examples that come darn close to this sort of silliness in their apparent claim to privileged access to Exclusive Information.)

Has anyone else noticed this pattern? If so, what do you make of it--besides that it's silly and fatuous, I mean?

Diane

10:46 AM  
Blogger SiliconValleySteve said...

I'm of the Strunk and White school myself. While in highly technical fields prose must be written in very specialized language that is fully understood by only a small number of experts, in far too many situations "difficult" prose is just a case of puffing-up to increase ones sense of self importance. And, as someone who spends a good portion of his waking life working from Internet RFCs, I attest that there exists both clear and muddy text even in specialized writing. IOW, there are puff-ups there too.

The impression I get of Steagall et al is of a bunch of auto-didacts with inferiority complexes about not having a position in the academy. Considering the awful state of their prose is scary enough but imagining that they might actually speak this way is downright terrifying. The closest I can imagine is the renn-faire types with their "thees and thous."

There is one real nut-job that comments on his blog named "Scott Lahti" that deserves special attention. The guy goes off on screeds that give the impression that he's doubling up on his ritalin prescription. I'd fix a "handle-with-care" sticker on the guy but Rod seems to have a genuine appreciation for him.

I wonder has the criticism from the greater conservative world made Rod so anxious to embrace anyone who shows respect for his "ideas" that he is blind to how goofy they are or in spite of his talent as a writer is he that incoherent himself.

10:47 AM  
Blogger Diane said...

LOL, Kathleen. But ISTM the Amish community's Christ-like response to that horrible tragedy really *is* leading Rod to do some salutary soul-searching; He wrote: I'm brought to a low and mean place by bad things that don't even happen to me, and yet ... look at them, how they react to one of the worst imaginable violations. [emphases added]

Well, that's an excellent point. And ISTM it's a very Good Thing that Rod is pondering it, because it's spot-on: He has indeed been brought to a "low and mean" place by things that have not even happened to him personally.

Maybe the Amish will teach Rod a few lessons here. (Of course I recognize that we all need to learn those lessons. And yes, those Amish folks really are amazing. Not because their vegetables are organic, but because their hearts are fileld with Christian love.)

11:00 AM  
Blogger kathleen said...

diane, Rod probably has a lexis/nexis account where you can read subscription stuff through his job. it's another Extra Special Mainstream Journalist badge he likes to flash, probably. (uh oh, i just had a mark shea moment with all those caps)

11:22 AM  
Blogger Scott Lahti said...

"siliconvalleysteve" wrote:

"There is one real nut-job that comments on his blog named 'Scott Lahti' that deserves special attention. The guy goes off on screeds that give the impression that he's doubling up on his ritalin prescription. I'd fix a 'handle-with-care' sticker on the guy but Rod seems to have a genuine appreciation for him."

First Cap'n Concrunchy (aka "Bubba") - and now "Hiyo SilVal" (Away!)!

You caught me - you caught The Tater!

And made my week.

And leave me no alternative - but to triple the frequency - and the length - of my posts in Rod's comboxes. And at a dozen other blogs.

You're welcome.

12:49 PM  
Blogger kathleen said...

scott, if you make your posts longer it will only facilitate skipping them altogether.

12:52 PM  
Blogger Pauli said...

Fah-so-Lah-ti....

Doh!!!!

Man, I'm bored already... what's up with that guy?

12:54 PM  
Blogger Scott Lahti said...

Yeah, it's like he's a cat and we're his mice or something...

1:12 PM  
Blogger Bubba said...

Returning the subjects at hand, Kathleen, I'm not sure I mind a journalist using the resources at his disposal: what I mind is this retreat of "I'm just a writer" every time being held to journalistic standards becomes inconvenient.

1:59 PM  
Blogger kathleen said...

oh i don't care rod that uses nexis, diane was just wondering about his tone and i thought his gearhead pride in having a lexis/nexis account might be the totally-in-character reason.

2:07 PM  
Blogger kathleen said...

"Yeah, it's like he's a cat and we're his mice or something..."

nyyyooooo, it's not really like that

2:09 PM  
Blogger Cubeland Mystic said...

Scott Lahti is okay. He mostly posts snippets and provides a lot of helpful links. When he writes his own stuff it is fun, and sometimes very profound.

9:19 PM  
Blogger Cubeland Mystic said...

A simple life is a conservative lifestyle. It is very empowering. Dreher highlights some characteristics of it in his book. That is why I blog there.

If it is of interest to anyone, my thinking has been influenced by a couple things. I've unintentionally gained a circle of friends who have some political influence. They are all Republicans. But after evenings with them, I don't really see them as cons. They see the Reps as a way to protect their interests, but their social values are not that conservative.

The other influence grows as I work my way up in corporations, I am not seeing a lot of conservatism in corps. I've been at quite a few of them too. On the other hand, I’ve seen a lot of libs in managment.

So I ask myself what does it mean to be a conservative in 2006? I still have no answer other than I am weary of republicans, and dems are beyond consideration. Does conservative values have anything to do with politics?

On Dreher's blog I do see a lack of focus. Sometimes I think it is a lib blog. There is a lot of crunchy but not a lot of conservative. So I will wait and see how it goes over the next couple of months.

There are big problems in our country which we should be addressing in these blogs. I've talked about raising kids to be active creators not passive consumers. Active Bush bashing is not what I had in mind.

Pauli thanks for the complement. Good night all.

11:43 PM  

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