Politics

‘More Bill Buckley, Less Bill O’Reilly’

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Jon Henke points to Steven Hayward’s op-ed “Is Conservatism Brain-Dead?” which makes some very salient points. Chiefly:

The best-selling conservative books these days tend to be red-meat titles such as Michelle Malkin’s “Culture of Corruption,” Glenn Beck’s new “Arguing with Idiots” and all of Ann Coulter’s well-calculated provocations that the left falls for like Pavlov’s dogs. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with these books. Politics is not conducted by Socratic seminar, and Henry Adams’s dictum that politics is the systematic organization of hatreds should remind us that partisan passions are an essential and necessary function of democratic life. The right has always produced, and always will produce, potboilers.

Conspicuously missing, however, are the intellectual works. The bestseller list used to be crowded with the likes of Friedman’s “Free to Choose,” George Gilder’s “Wealth and Poverty,” Paul Johnson’s “Modern Times,” Allan Bloom’s “The Closing of the American Mind,” Charles Murray’s “Losing Ground” and “The Bell Curve,” and Francis Fukuyama’s “The End of History and the Last Man.” There are still conservative intellectuals attempting to produce important work, but some publishers have been cutting back on serious conservative titles because they don’t sell. (I have my own entry in the list: a two-volume political history titled “The Age of Reagan.” But I never expected the books to sell well; at 750 pages each, you can hurt yourself picking them up.)

But, therein lies the crux of the problem for conservatism; people don’t want intellectualism (or at the very least they do not appear to want intellectualism). The modern conservative movement, led by the likes of Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter, wants to be spoon-fed right-wing talking-points like so many tiny jars of Gerber baby food. If people would be willing to pick up a 750-page book by a conservative intellectual once in a while, our political discourse might sound a bit different right now. I would venture a guess that there would be a lot less ‘socialist!’, ‘fascist!’ and ‘racist!’ invectives being thrown around, no?

Though I will admit that the ‘more Buckley less O’Reilly’ comparison is a bit off for my tastes. I feel that (with my recent warm-fuzzy feelings for him — if you can call it that) Bill O’Reilly is not nearly as divisive and, frankly, offensive as Ann Coulter or Sean Hannity.

Oh, and for the record, this is not a problem that is exclusive to conservatism. The Keith Olbermanns and Ed Schultzs of the world aren’t as bad as their conservative counterparts, but they are not necessarily helping the progressive movement either. This is a knife that does indeed cut both ways.

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Photo: Jan Lukas/Little, Brown