Ed Kilgore Welcomes Disagreement

by Reihan Salam

Ed Kilgore offers a temperate and thoughtful reply:

Conservative theoretician Reihan Salam, writing for National Review, first argued that there’s not much substantive difference between the “New Democrat” deployment of private-sector entities in public initiatives and that favored by the privatizers of the Right.

Actually, this isn’t an entirely accurate characterization of the post, which you’ll find below. “Privatizers of the Right” isn’t a sound description of center-right thinkers and policymakers who advocate cultivating a range of delivery mechanisms for public services, which will vary depending on the policy domain, the scale involved, etc. Also, I wouldn’t describe myself as a “theoretician,” but I’ll take what I can get.

But then he pirouetted to make common cause with Obama’s critics on the Left:

It is entirely possible for both sets of critics to be correct. The concern from the right isn’t that the Obama approach will literally nationalize for-profit health insurers. Rather, it is that for-profit health insurers will continue evolving into heavily subsidized firms that function as public utilities, and that seek advantage by gaming the political process. Profits, including profits governed by medical loss ratios, can and will then be cycled into political action, which leads to the anxiety concerning a “corporate takeover of the public sector.”

Actually, these are argument that conservatives have been making for a pretty long time. I get the sense that Kilgore may have misunderstood the post in question, and for that I blame myself. My point was that these putatively rival interpretations are in fact perfectly compatible. This does not, of course, mean that critics on the left and the right have the same policy objectives. “Pirouetted” is a nice touch, though.

But do conservatives really oppose this intertwining of industry and government? Rhetorically, yes, operationally—not so much.

This is one of my favorite rhetorical turns. “You say you favor X. But then this other person did Y!” I disagree with other conservatives on a number of issues. And I imagine that Ed Kilgore disagrees with George McGovern and that he rejects certain aspects of LBJ’s Great Society, among other things. If Kilgore determines what conservatism really and truly is, and whatever conservatives say is necessarily a kind of subterfuge, well, I guess there’s not much point in having a conversation.

Salon’s Glenn Greenwald, who rejected my “incompatibility” argument about left and right critics of “corporatism” as strongly as did Salam, is smart and honest enough to acknowledge there’s no real common ground with conventional conservatives or Republican pols. 

At the top of the post, Kilgore suggests that I think that there is common ground between left and right critics. So one gets the sense — and I could be wrong — that Kilgore is suggesting that I’m neither smart nor honest. On the smart point, Kilgore is clearly right. For example, I barely know how to tie my shoes. There’s plenty of other evidence to suggest that I’m not the sharpest tack in the box, and I’ll happily concede the point. I do take exception, however, to the notion that I’m not honest. Any confusion on my part is entirely sincere. 

Kilgore ends his post with helpful advice for conservatives:

Meanwhile, conservatives need to be far less pious about their alleged objections to “corporatism.” Cheap rhetoric aside, their own agenda (when it’s not just preserving the status quo) is largely corporatism with any clear and enforceable public purpose cast aside whenever possible.

I find this very interesting, if not terribly responsive. My sense is that conservative journalists like Tim Carney were arguing forcefully against Republican corporatism during the Bush years, and that my own view more closely parallels that of economists like Edmund Phelps than it does the Republican politicians and lobbyists that Kilgore presumably has in mind. 

Having spent the better part of the last eight years criticizing the Bush White House while remaining on good and respectful terms with other conservatives, I’m impressed by the speed and vigor with which some folks on the left respond to criticism of the Obama administration. 

The Agenda

NRO’s domestic-policy blog, by Reihan Salam.