I read Jonah Goldberg op-eds; also Media Matters; thus, back to back, this:
“There is always a certain meanness in the argument of conservatism,” Ralph Waldo Emerson famously said, “joined with a certain superiority in its fact.” Children often think their parents are being mean when they tell their kids to do their homework. That doesn’t make the parents mean, it makes them responsible. Eventually, the lessons of life persuade children their parents were right all along.
On Fox & Friends, co-host Gretchen Carlson claimed that the U.S. solar “industry’s future looks dim.” The show brought on Fox Business reporter Shibani Joshi, who said that Germany’s solar industry is doing “great” because “they’ve got a lot more sun than we do,” before adding, “In California, it’s a great solution, but here on the East Coast it’s just not going to work.”
I’m not the target audience, so the fact that I guffaw at ‘superiority in its fact’, coming from Goldberg, doesn’t indicate much about public perceptions. But I wonder … (this is sort of a continuation of John Q’s musings about whether the Overton window has shifted, for the better): has anyone done polling that might indicate whether voters – some groups of voters – have, over time, come to associate conservatism’s evergreen ‘meanness’ with, shall we say, an inferiority of fact? Is the public tending more to associate the mental toughness of conservatism with that thing you get from wearing a tinfoil hat too tight? Carlson and co. assuming Germany is on the equator, or something? Just the latest barrelfish example, of course, but …
I bother to ask only because it seems conservatives like Goldberg, and the promising pols he talks up in his piece – Jindal, Rubio, Ryan, Cantor – are defensive about this stereotype. That is a bit new, isn’t it? ‘The prudent party’ is this year’s ‘compassionate conservatism’. An attempt to reassure voters you’ve got a quality that you know is associated with the other side, not your side.
The problem with candidate Akin wasn’t just that he was ‘mean to women’ but that he was mean in such a wacky, reality-confounded way. So he reinforced two negative stereotypes of the brand. But just admitting that the brand has been branded this way leaves you deep in the hole. Goldberg jokes that ‘We’re not stupid!’ is not a great chant. But it’s worse: “Some of us aren’t stupid!’ Democrats are famous for finding ways to lose the frame game, and conservatives can always blame media bias for anything. But this is such a loser line: ‘The mainstream media want you to think that, just because some Republicans are crazier than any Democrats …’
I just listened to a Matt Lewis/Bill Scher bloggingheads in which they discuss the Karl Rove vs. the Tea Party kerfuffle. Lewis (the conservative) says if Rove really cares about crazy candidates who crash in the general, he should pour that money into getting them some proper training, not promising to try to kill them. Send them to some ‘don’t stick your foot in your mouth’ boot camp. But there’s no hint, from Lewis, that the perceived competence deficit is some phoneybaloney leftist talking point. It’s not that Rove is talking about nothing, or that liberals need party-training-as-potty-training in some equal, opposite way. I think, if this were pointed out, Lewis would say what Goldberg says: we’ve got young stars with great prospects – Jindal, Rubio! That’s true. But that’s sort of a separate point.
Once you’ve conceded that your party is, distinctively, half crazy, you’ve conceded a lot on the trust front. (Conceding that your party is mean is comparatively easy. Mean is tough! That’s good! So long as you aren’t half-crazy.)
Will conservatives start coming up with slogans along the lines of the ‘Get Clean For Gene’ campaign of yore. ‘Act like your brain isn’t being eaten by prions for Ryan’. The problem is not just that not a lot of synonyms for sanity rhyme with Jindal or Rubio. Republicans are always complaining that you can’t trust Republicans to be conservative. If conservatives also grant that you can’t necessarily trust a conservative not to be your crazy uncle, who’s left that you expect people to trust like a dad?