Politics & Policy

A “Good” Conservative

The only good conservative is a contrarian conservative.

Today’s Washington Post features a prominent op-ed by our own Ramesh Ponnuru who comes out in favor of Al Gore’s Social Security plan. All fecal matter and ticking packages should be sent directly to him. I think it’s a very good piece and I will leave it to the ravenous hordes at the Cato Institute and the Wall Street Journal to tear Ramesh apart.

Instead, I’d like to gripe about something else. Ramesh got the revered “boxed” op-ed on the Washington Post op-ed page. The only way a conservative can get such a spot is if he is willing to eat his own or further the beloved story line of the liberal Washington press corps. Call it “schismism.” Nothing pleases these people more than the idea that the GOP is being rent asunder between social conservatives (the villains) and David Gergen-style Republicans (the dupes). The holy grail of schism op-eds is the abortion cri de coeur in which a moderate Republican with little or no popular support — unless you mean the other parents at the Sidwell High School bake sale or soccer game — worries about the “growing split” in the GOP. We rarely hear about dissension, let alone schisms in the Democratic party.

Just look at the relative silence over Al Gore’s consideration of Evan Bayh for vice president. Bayh is pro-choice except for partial-birth abortion. Feminist groups are trying to sabotage his chance for a veep nod because of his supposedly “anti-choice” record. Patricia Ireland even warned against picking Bayh in an interview with National Review. And yet the big split in the Democratic party is nowhere to be found on television or on the op-ed pages. If pro-life groups threatened to boycott a candidate who was, say, pro-life except for the life of the mother, don’t you think the New York Times op-ed page would light the night sky with flaming outrage?

Anyway, it should be said that Ramesh is no moderate conservative. It should also be said that the Post does run Charles Krauthammer and George Will. But they pretty much have no choice on that score because of their popularity. The point remains that when choosing guest op-eds from conservatives they are almost always attempts to start a fight or expose one. Editors love reports from behind enemy lines that expose the deep fissures and feuds on the Right. If memory serves, the last time the Post ran a boxed op-ed was when Bill Kristol, of The Weekly Standard, diagnosed the demise of the conservative movement and the probable triumph of John McCain.

As I write media columns for two different magazines, I often wrestle with the question, can No-Doze be taken nasally? But another question is, why is the media so obviously biased? Of course, one answer is that they’re all a bunch of Ivy-League, guilt-ridden, unthinking liberals determined to suck up to liberal politicians and liberal causes.

This theory, obviously, has a great deal of explanatory value — especially when we look back on Clinton coverage. Dan Rather to Bill Clinton: “If [co-anchor Connie Chung and I] could be one-hundredth as great as you and Hillary Rodham Clinton have been in the White House, we’d take it right now and walk away winners…Thank you very much and tell Mrs. Clinton we respect her and we’re pulling for her.” Time’s Nina Burleigh on Bill Clinton: “I’d be happy to give him [oral sex] just to thank him for keeping abortion legal.”

But another way to look at it is that they just think conservatives are weird. Conservatives question and second-guess all that is noble and good in the world. Liberal journalists work under the assumption that they are without bias or ideology and, therefore, people who disagree with them must suffer from both.

Bryant Gumbel told Tim Russert in an interview: “You know what? In terms of my political views, I hold them in check. I don’t think that someone who watches is inclined to think that I’m one way or the other.” Gumbel can also say with a straight face to millions of viewers about a quiz on racial attitudes: “This test is not going to tell you whether you’re a racist or a liberal.”

That’s why it’s so funny to watch journalists decry the suggestion that they may be biased. “We’re just professionals,” they insist. The assumption is that political and ideological affiliation has no relevance to doing the job.

But buried in this “professionalism” is the idea that “progress” is defined by ever increasing government involvement in every nook and cranny of American life. Ideology has nothing to do with it; “intelligent” and “informed” people believe expensive government is the engine of social improvement. “During the darkest days of the tax battle, did you have the urge to tell the state residents `Oh, grow up?’” asked Time reporter David Ellis when he interviewed Connecticut’s Governor Lowell Weicker a few years ago. You see, raising taxes isn’t about politics, it’s about maturity.

Conservatism in this light simply becomes synonymous with bias. You can’t be a conservative and objective, that’s a contradiction in terms. Nowhere is this better exposed than when conservatives or Republicans try to become mainstream journalists.

When the ultra-squishy moderate Republican Susan Molinari was hired to co-host a CBS morning news program, mainstream journalists decried the inherent bias in having a pol do news. Howard Kurtz said “It’s kind of an insult to journalism.” The New York Times led its editorial decrying, “The GOP News from CBS.” “This really makes me want to puke,” cried Nina Totenberg.

Now, last I checked, Nina Totenberg needed no Dramamine when George Stephanopoulos — wildly more liberal than Molinari is conservative — became her colleague at ABC News. And Stephanopoulos gets assigned reporting assignments while his old boss is still in office and his book was still on the shelves. No bias there, because liberals can maintain their objectivity.


My apologies for both the missing columns this week as well as the rather aimless rant above. I was off gallivanting around upstate New York in a desperate attempt to be as far away as possible from the nation’s capital on July 4th. There is something about the sight of thousands of drunk off-duty marines and round the clock frat boys urinating on the National Mall that dampens by patriotic enthusiasms and my shoes (uh, sir, I’m standing here). Instead the woman and I went on a road trip with no specific destination in mind. We ended up in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., where we had a great time.

Saratoga is a beautiful prosperous town with a very 1950′s feel. There are ice cream shops, diners and record stores that still sell LPs. Of course, Saratoga has a regular horsey season for the horsey set, which we were delighted to skip, since it would have jacked prices higher than the last roll of toilet paper at an Olestra eating contest.

Saratoga is so sleepy and harmless that my favorite people-watching came in the form of the three or four punk rockers we saw strolling along with their spikey red Mohawks and nose rings. These guys were keepin’ it real. They were the most authentic punks in the whole Saratoga region. Of course, this is like saying “the best Oktoberfest in Tallahassee, Florida”; “the most honest thing Bill Clinton ever said” or the “world’s bravest Frenchman” — but give ‘em points for trying.

Of course, Saratoga Springs is also the home of Skidmore College, an upstate, upscale liberal arts school. Skidmore, I am sure, is famous for many things, but I don’t know what they are and this is no-research Thursday. But one thing I can tell you it is famous for — among a very, very small group of people — is that it ranks among a fraternity of schools which deigned to reject my application.

I should say that I don’t want to sound a little bitter, and I’m not. I’m very bitter. The fair Jessica tells me I have had the last laugh as various Skidmore alumni swell the ranks of accounting firms and pederast-rehab clinics while I am living the increasingly exciting life of the mind — and the belly. Still, I cannot shake this chip off my shoulder (but when I try, my belly swings around nicely).

Perhaps it was the trauma of having freshmen sing “be all you can be in the army” to me in High School, but I have always been resentful of people who actually got into their first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth or seventh choice colleges. Skidmore was my sixth choice, I think. I know plenty of slack-jawed morons who went to that school solely because they got better grades than me.

You may be wondering what the point was here. Well, other than to spew vitriol, my hope is to write off the trip. So expect many more references to Saratoga Springs, Route 9, the Vanderbilt country home, the wonderful Gideon-Putnam Hotel and any other place I might have spent money I don’t have.

Lastly, another reason for the delay was that I appeared on Fox News today. The camera had to pan back all the way to CNN to get me in the frame. Sorry ya missed it.


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