The Corner

Douthat & The Conservative Mind

I’m on a deadline, so I reserve the right to revise and extend my remarks, but I think Ross Douthat is basically right in his take. An excerpt:

On domestic policy, I think the intellectual right doesn’t have nearly as much of a close-mindedness problem as many people seem to think. Even if you don’t venture into the wilder parts of the blogosphere and just stick with National Review, The Weekly Standard, National Affairs (which has made a big difference on this front) and a few other outlets, you’ll find a pretty lively debate about everything from  financial reform to health care to taxes, with plenty of room for diversity and disagreement and heterodoxy. I’m not going to argue that this is a golden age of conservative domestic policy, exactly, but I do think that the end of the Bush administration has opened up space for a lot of interesting conversations, and allowed some impressive younger thinkers come to fore. Jim Manzi, Yuval Levin, James Capretta, Nicole Gelinas, Brad Wilcox, Luigi Zingales, Ramesh Ponnuru, my former co-author … maybe it isn’t the lost early-1970s world of Commentary and The Public Interest, but it certainly isn’t an intellectual wasteland.

The problem, as I’ve argued before, is that with rare exceptions (a Mitch Daniels, a Paul Ryan), there aren’t many Republican politicians who seem interested in taking up the best right-of-center policy ideas and fighting for them. This was true during the stimulus debate, it was true during the health care debate, it’s been largely true during the financial-reform debate, and I’m worried that it will be true once we start debating the deficit in earnest as well. The world of “the movement” is the same way: The single-issue groups are interested in their single issues, the talk-show hosts are interested in big ideas, the failings of liberalism and their ratings (or if you’re more cynical, just their ratings), everybody’s interested in the horse race and trashing Obama … and nobody wants to have a nuanced right-of-center discussion of, say, how best to curb risk on Wall Street.

….Which brings us to the politics of national security, where I think the dynamic I just described on domestic policy is somewhat reversed. Whether it’s right-wing congressmen like Dana Rohrabacher and Tom McClintock murmuring that many of their colleagues think the Iraq invasion was a mistake, Sarah Palin endorsing Rand Paul, or Glenn Beck calling for cutting the defense budget, there seems to be more room than you might think in Republican/movement politics for a robust argument about the means and ends of our foreign policy. But the conservative intellectual elite seems stuck in a very narrow ideological niche, having wedded itself to a particular kind of hard-edged neoconservative-Jacksonian fusionism that’s embodied by figures like the ubiquitous John Bolton, and that squeezes a lot of the oxygen out of the right-of-center foreign policy debate.

As someone who is largely sympatico with that “hard-edged neoconservative-Jacksonian fusionism,” I’m less troubled by the foreign policy consensus on the mainstream right. But I’m willing to concede that it does seem to be an awfully hard conversation for dissenters to break into.

Anyway, you should read the whole thing.


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