As you can only imagine, I’ve gotten piles of angry, baffled and dyspeptic email (along with some courteous and reasonable stuff as well) in response to the VP column. I thought this one represented a certain mode of thought, pleasantly offered with generosity of spirit:
SUBJECT: your outrageous column (McCain/Dem VP)
The tone of your last column and your thinking is the reason I stopped
listening to your podcast. You accept the liberal’s reference/
premises and then put up an argument trying to ameliorate the effect
of the proposed liberal solution. I’m at a lost as to what to do with
guys like you and Brooks and Barnes, Geharty, and Kristol. You are
very smart, make great points, but seem to have very little of what it
takes to be engaged in the ideological fight. There seems to be this
need to be accepted by the left.
To manage the decline of conservatism, and the decline of the
republic, is the stuff I expect from Kissinger and weak Republicans,
but certainly not from conservatives. I’m done with NRO, from now on,
it’s talk radio only
Me: Here’s a confession: I am a weak Republican. I’m a strong conservative, at least I like to think so. Maybe that makes me less beholden to the idea that every Republican victory is a conservative one as well, or that every Democratic success is automatically a conservative defeat. I get all of this email from people screaming that I’m some sort of RINO because of a column where I floated a strategic idea for how the Republican could win and the conservative movement might live to fight another day. But the idea that the fate of conservatism and the fate of the Republican Party are not merely intertwined but synonymous is what led us to the rhetorical abomination of compassionate conservatism and nurtured the crapulence of the congressional GOP lo these last 10 years. I would rather a McCain administration with a Ben Nelson or Joe Lieberman as #2 that felt obliged to appease conservatives with action than a McCain-Sanford administration where the McCain people felt they’d already done enough for the Right by putting their man on the ticket.
I have no problem with folks, including colleagues, thinking the idea is batty (sometimes in the column business you need to throw a few wild pitches). But I think this childish quest to assign moral or ideological cowardice or weakness because of a different interpretation of the lay of the political landscape to be wholly unpersuasive. (And I find it hilarious that quite a few think Ann Coulter is a “real conservative” even though she’d rather have Hillary Clinton win). The notion that I wrote my column out of a desire to be “accepted” by the left is just about the most inane and inaccurate interpretations I can imagine (I do like, however, the implication that Liberal Fascism: The Politics of Meaning from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning was written from a Gergenite perspective). It’s reflected nowhere in the actual text of the column, unless you think that independents and swing voters count as “the left.” And if you do think that, yours is the kind of thinking that will keep the Republicans a minority party for a generation and leave conservatives without even that creaky and leaky vessel to navigate out of these politically trouble waters.