Modern Conservatives Have Nothing To Offer America
A recent op-ed from a noted conservative thinker exposes the moral and intellectual bankruptcy at the heart of conservatism.
For a while now, I’ve been making an earnest effort to take American conservatism seriously. We live in a pluralistic republic, after all and I, like so many other people, worry that the increasingly partisan nature of American political (and cultural) life threatens to tear it apart. As part of that effort, I will often read the conservative voices that populate the (minority) of The Washington Post’s opinion pages, including commentators such as Hugh Hewitt and Marc Thiessen.
Most recently, I read Danielle Pletka’s most recent opinion piece titled “I Never Considered Voting for Trump in 2016: I May Be Forced to Vote for Him This Year.” Now, to be fair, I knew what I was getting into even before I started reading. If the title hadn’t given it away, my knowledge of Pletka would have. I’ve seen her more often than I care to count on MSNBC — usually as a guest on Chuck Todd’s Meet the Press Daily, a carnival of both-sides-ism and generally sloppy journalism — and so I figured that I knew where this was going to go.
Needless to say, the article is exactly as the title advertised. In what basically amounts to a glorified puff-piece, Pletka lays out in spurious detail her many reasons for feeling that she simply can’t vote for Biden. She proclaims her fears that he’ll be a “figurehead” for the radical left, running a “teleprompter presidency,” before trotting out all of the bogeymen that lazy conservative “thinkers” always use to scare the electorate. She references open borders, job-killing regulations with the Green New Deal, and Supreme Court packing. Never mind that most of these provisions have been either tamed or outright rejected by Biden — and most of the Democratic electorate. What matters for Pletka is the fear-mongering that is the last redoubt of a philosophy that lacks all credibility.
It’s when she gets to issues of race, however, that Pletka really lets loose. She “fear[s] the virtue-signaling bullies who increasingly try to dominate or silence public discourse — and encourage my children to think that their being White is intrinsically evil, that America’s founding is akin to original sin,” as well as the “leftist vigilantes who view every personal choice — from recipes to hairdos — through their twisted prisms of politics and culture.” A Biden administration, she claims, would be dominated by the likes of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders, while President Biden stands by and does nothing to arrest this “tyranny of the woke left.”
Let me pause here to say what Pletka herself clearly intends to say but can’t, at least not in the pages of one of the nation’s foremost news outlets. She’s afraid of this new world where people of color and other minorities have, after literally centuries of abuse and disenfranchisement, begun to advocate for themselves. One can see this is the way that she deliberately hyperbolizes these calls for justice. It strains credulity to think that any serious racial justice advocate would claim that they think being white is intrinsically evil. What’s more, she deliberately misrepresents the original sin argument, which typically argues that it is America’s founding on the basis of slavery that is the original sin.
You know, when it comes down to it, I’d probably have more respect for Pletka if she’d just come right out and say what she means rather than hiding behind her strangled syntax and dog whistles. If she’d just say that she’s afraid of black people, at least we’d know where we stand with her and could treat her ideas accordingly. Instead, we are once again treated to straw-man arguments and hyperbole, if not outright lies, both about Biden himself and about the progressive movement more broadly. What’s more, Pletka deliberately downplays the extent to which the GOP has been taken over by its own fringes, the evidence for which is everywhere, from congressional candidates expressing belief in QAnon to Trump tacitly endorsing white supremacy (and, for that matter, winking at QAnon himself). She does have one point, though, and that’s that we know what we’re getting with Trump: four more years of normalizing right-wing, reactionary violence.
Of course, Pletka isn’t alone in her mendacity. Hugh Hewitt and Marc Thiessen frequently espouse the same sort of nonsense from their perches at The Post, often twisting themselves into all sorts of knots in order to justify their support of a president who, time and again, has shown that he cares little for the conservative orthodoxy that has supposedly formed the bedrock of their political life. They, like Pletka, are willing to turn a blind eye to all of the ways that Trump has inflamed the racial divides in this country, throwing jet fuel on almost every cultural conflict with which he has come into contact. And all of that is not even to mention the fact that his willful downplaying of the pandemic — and subsequent bungling of it — have almost certainly cost thousands of American lives.
There are, of course, some conservatives who continue to beat the anti-Trump drum, most notably Jennifer Rubin and Max Boot at The Post (the latter of whom had his own stinging rebuke to Pletka). The truth, however, is that mainstream conservatism in this country is a spent force. Lacking ideas or morals of its own with which it can engage the public, it instead relies on dog-whistles and fear-mongering. Of course, this has been the Republican strategy for quite a while now — hence Nixon’s “law and order” campaign and Bush Sr.’s “Willie Horton” ad — but now it seems to be even more explicit, and even more dangerous.
If the conservative movement wants to again become a serious force for good in American politics — by holding the forces of radicalism in some sort of balance — then perhaps it’s time they spent some time in the political wilderness. I very much fear that’s the only feasible remedy for what ails it.