The Corner

“Respectable Conservatives”

First of all, what gives? I leave for like five minutes and Laura Ingraham is sitting in my cubicle with her feet on the desk and with my action figures and authentic Klingon cutlery in a box underneath it.

Regardless, here’s a short rule of thumb for how to tell who is a “respectable” conservative in the eyes of liberals: any conservative out of power or not seen as supportive of those in power. An even shorter rule of thumb would be: conservatives are respectable if they are useful to liberals. Pat Buchanan became respectable, even adorable, among a loose coalition of liberals leftists, from MSNBC’s Chris Matthews to Ralph Nader, when he turned on the GOP establishment. Kevin Phillips, David Gergen and John Dean have been “real” Republicans — though rarely conservatives — for decades because they are willing to confirm the assumptions of liberals. An even more telling example would be the “neocons.” Before the Iraq war, neocons were the nice conservatives, the good conservatives, the idealistic conservatives the un-racist conservatives, according to academics, The New York Times and others. This is not to say that they aren’t nice, good, idealistic and un-racist. Rather, it’s to point up the way in which conservatives become evil as they become influential, relevant, or otherwise inconvenient to liberals. John McCain was touted as a good choice for president by The New Republic and other liberal voices. Today, McCain is increasingly villified by many of these same voices because, it turns out, he’s actually a Republican.

Similarly, William F. Buckley is suddenly the voice of humane and decent conservatism, according to liberals. A more humane and decent man, you’ll never meet. But it’s doubtlessly true that if WFB had the president’s ear, the same voices cheering him would once again be calling him a fascist. And, needless to say, if Bush governed on Pat Buchanan’s playbook, Chris Matthews would lose his crush on him awfully fast.

Update: From a reader:

Don’t forget the greatest example of your point – Barry Goldwater.  A lunatic extremist in 1964, but when he strongly criticized Nixon, he became a conservative elder statesman.

Jonah Goldberg — Jonah Goldberg holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute and is a senior editor of National Review. His new book, The Suicide of The West, is on sale now.

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