The Corner

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Re: Jonah’s Dry Powder


Jonah, I’m going to try to be brief, because
I’ve got a family in there demanding that I come in and help take the tree
down, but also because I want to keep my powder dry on this until the book
comes out. But, let me try to address your objections at admittedly
insufficient length:

Easy ones first. Jonah, what part of my earlier blog (in response to Peter)
on Hillary Clinton’s It Takes a Village didn’t you understand? I said that
if she means that we needed a strong federal government to raise our
children, then I dissent. I explained that I take her popularization of that
phrase (which didn’t originate with her) to mean that we cannot be
indifferent to the social context in which our children are raised — and
that government can have a role in creating conditions that make it easier
to raise good kids. It sounds to me like your knee is jerking here, as if
you’re saying that just because Hillary Clinton said it, it must be Bad.

Secondly, jeez, I was joking on “admirably scruffy,” playing off the whole
unshaven liberal stereotype I invoked earlier in the Times column. As you
did the other day with Jeff Hart’s use of the word “utopian,” it seems to me
that your seizing on writing that is not as precise as you would have it and
harping on a single word as an (unpersuasive) means of discrediting the
whole. For the record, I don’t find Bob Geldof’s scruffiness literally
admirable, or not.

Third, I don’t love Whole Foods. I don’t dislike it, to be sure, but I have
reservations about the place. You are reading something into my Times piece
that doesn’t exist. As my wife will tell you, I have a chip on my shoulder
about shopping there from time to time, because although I like the quality
of the food, and the fact that the meat is not factory-farmed, I don’t buy
into the vibe there. I mentioned in my Times column that it’s interesting
that the guy who founded Whole Foods, which is growing by leaps and bounds
(it got listed on the S&P just last week), is something of a Reaganite, and
he wants to use the market and consumer preferences to morally worthwhile
ends, re: animal husbandry. What that shows is that familiar stereotypes are
breaking down. That’s why I brought it up in my Times piece.

Finally, you write:

First of all, the use of the word “now.” What the heck
are you talking about? What, exactly, did we learn and when did we learn it
since Ronald Reagan was in office that caused this epiphany? The writers you
cite — at least the conservative ones — knew that there was more than the
free market over fifty years ago. But presumably that “now” means some new
data has been thrown into the hopper. I am dying to know what that might

I’m sorry, Jonah, but it seems to me you’re being pedantic about this stuff.
I know you’re responding to a single newspaper column, and not my actual
book (in which I cite what many conservative writers of yore had to say
about the insufficiency of the market). I didn’t have the space to get into
the 20th century conservative writers who were skeptical about the market’s
effect on institutions that ought to be conserved. Of course they exist! May
they be rediscovered! Richard Weaver forever! What I was talking about in
the Times bit is the strong general sentiment in popular conservatism of the
past two decades that there’s nothing wrong with society that getting
government off the backs of the market can’t fix. When I say “now,” I’m
talking about now that we’ve lived through 20+ years of a Reagan-Thatcher
economic revolution that did a world of good in freeing up the economy from
statist shackles, we conservatives should look around us and understand that
there are serious problems in society that the market cannot solve — and in
some cases the unfettered free market makes worse. I think (and argue this
in the book) that we should rediscover these traditionalist conservative
writers and thinkers — did you not see that reference in my Times essay? –
and reinterpret their insights for the needs of the current moment.
I’ll let you have the last word. I’m checking out for now, and I don’t
want to argue at length about this stuff until the book is out. Cheers!