One mo’ Steyn…on April 23, 2012 at 5:40 pm
I hate beating a dead horse (unless its wife and children are tied up and forced to watch) but since my Mark Steyn post set the world on fire I thought I’d expand my comments a bit on the state of conservatism and Mark Steyn’s place in it.
I was attracted to Steyn as my subject because I have traditionally cut a break to Goldwater-era conservatives, like Buckley, Will and even Cal Thomas, respecting them as the elder statesman of a movement that once had an intellectual component to it. Those men could hold up their end of the conversation without flecking their opponents faces with spittle.
And so, owing to Mark Steyn’s moderate tempo and his affected English accent, I was fully prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt. But the more I listened the more he sounded to me like any modern conservative, just slowed down and with a bit more cheer. He solidified my opinion of conservatism as a movement in retreat, mowed down by its own rage like a soldier on the beach in Saving Private Ryan, trying to stuff its entrails back into its torso for one more run at the enemy. All that’s left for “happy warriors” like Steyn to do now is cash in on a few more book sales and lectures. The summit of their mission will never be reached, and I think Steyn’s breed understands this.
What Steyn has done is let the cat out of the bag about what is happening within conservative thought; the malaise, equivalent to liberalism’s own, that can no longer be concealed with the red-hot rhetoric of the recent past. For example, who these days, left or right, can find a double standard in their enemy that they do not themselves ascribe to? Given the abject bitterness of today’s politcs, Steyn strikes me as too smart not to realize the emptiness of feigning incredulity at what liberals will stoop to. But though it clearly bores him, he is still opportunistic enough to give it a go.
So here is Steyn in a Q&A contrasting the merits of conservative “civility” vis-a´-vis liberals. As usual, we see the scales falling backwards, attaching themselves to Steyn’s eyes with some sort of Super Glue. He upbraids Bill Mahrer for calling Sarah Palin a nasty name, saying “It is a very bizarre world in which…calling Sarah Palin the C-word is the height of wit (…) Generally speaking I’m a kind of believer in civility, but I think that the right shouldn’t get its knickers in a twist by making a virtue of not playing by the left’s rules.”
Now, I agree that CUNT! CUNT!! CUNT!!! should be doled out with an eyedropper (save it for Ann Romney, not also-rans like Palin), but this is classic conservative double-think, like trying to bluff while your cards are facing your opponent. The idea that the right wing is constrained by Victorian manners is moth-eaten camouflage these days. Is Rush not calling women sluts with near impunity? Does O’Reilly not feel secure in waving his balls in the President’s face during interviews? And Anne Coulter’s routine of trotting out words like “fag” and “pussy” to bait liberals is now so old hat that if she were to post a YouTube video where she’d tied Al Gore to a chair and proceeded to shove Bullet Ants up his urethra we would merely roll our eyes. And yet Steyn and his cohorts perpetually claim that the right plays by “different rules”.
It’s all part of conservatism’s tedious strategy to portray themselves as the babysoft underdogs, barely hanging on by their fingernails no matter how many governors mansions or houses of Congress they hold. Now conservatives are in genuine retreat, not in numbers, but in ideas. Books like Steyn’s–dire warnings of a future without a muscular America–have accidentally hit the target. But how has the Hyperpower come to this?
Conservatism can’t help owning its share of the blame; their ideas simply did not work when they were given their best chance to succeed. In conservative hands, America’s economy became the plaything of the free market and would now resemble Somalia’s if not for overwhelming government interference, the thing conservatives were pledged to prevent. And the economy still has not righted itself despite as much genuflecting to Wall Street as any president has ever done. Meanwhile, our bicep-flexing wars against Islam, the longest wars in American history, have left the entire nation in a tepid mood. Finally, no one believes anymore that Republicans didn’t inflate the debt as much as Democrats. So we must ask: what is left in the conservative’s bag of tricks?
“Culture trumps economics everytime, everytime,” Steyn tells us, repeating the popular righty talking point that the Sons of Flyover Country need to storm Hollyweird. Yet why do they only advance one hostile howler monkey after another in this cause? “Culture” was the war cry of the late conservative firebrand Andrew Breitbart as well. He also thought that conservatism’s mission ought to be creating more right wing sitcoms, but his brief career as political bad boy was ultimately reduced to a viral video of him shaking his fist at a clutch of Occupy protestors. You can see why Democrats are glad for Bill Clinton. For all his faults, “It’s the economy, stupid” was the revelation that conservatives still ignore while they gradually push out a plutocratic turd as their nominee for president.
This kind of tone-deafness is endemic amongst conservatism today. Scott Walker is facing a recall election that should have been impossible if contempt for labor was what Republicans believe it to be. The fact of the matter is, you can throw as many copies of Atlas Shrugged at the public as you want: the majority of people in this country still punch a clock. They don’t rub elbows with corporate titans like Wisconsin’s governor does. And when those powerhouses are funding a national drive to shrink pensions so that they don’t have to pay an excise tax on their quail eggs, sooner or later the People are going to remember what brought unions into existence in the first place.
Rather than address the blowback from conservatism’s successes, the likes of Steyn would rather keep us jumping at the threat of jihadists even while Islam’s Second Prophet has a family of fiddler crabs nesting in his chest cavity. When 9/11 popped the right wing’s “End of History” prediction, conservatives began madly trying to resurrect America’s Cold War spirit with a muslim face. The problem is, the Cold War was all about sexual tension: decades of agonized frisson with the Soviet Union leading them to finally succumb to capitalism’s wiles. But we have been engaged in a hot war with our new enemy for over a decade. All that fucking wears you down! Working Americans aren’t interested in manufactured threats from the Canadian Islamic Congress any more than they care what Alec Baldwin thinks about driftnet fishing. And while Steyn may not know what the country’s real concerns are, he knows what sells books and fills lecture halls: it’s Jud Muhammed!
And so we get more duplicity as Mark Steyn fills us with fears of Sharia law being written into the Constitution. Yes, a Muslim shot Jews (and non-Jews) in Toulouse, France. It may be religiously motivated, and deserves our disgust and a clear-eyed look at the motives behind it. But is Steyn seriously suggesting that White Christendom doesn’t have troubles in their own camp? Hey, here’s a hate crime for you. Here, have another! And another! And I hope you saved room for dessert!
As conservatism struggles to walk back the consequences of their own triumphs–the sub-prime bubble, the wholesale transfer of the democratic process to the monied elites, games without frontiers and war without tears–book tour conservatives are left with nothing but peevish, nativist humbug to stir up the crowds. Public intellectualism like Steyn’s is just a racket. He can’t advance real answers to the real issues because he doesn’t even know what people who work for a living are looking down the barrel of. Here’s a clue: It’s the austerity, stupid.