Who Is and Who Is Not
David Frum requires no defense. I don’t want to get into the personal issues involved in this spat he’s got himself into with John Hawkins, although it does strike me as weird that Hawkins thinks Frum “tells liberals what they want to hear about the Right” because it’s “a career niche — and it can pay big dividends” moments before going off on how there are innumerable REAL conservatives like the Hot Air guys, Ace, Jim Hoft, and even Hawkins himself who are in fact more popular than Frum. Maybe there’s a mainstream-media-versus-conservative-media argument there, but it’s pretty tough to defend a position that holds that it’s somehow more tempting/profitable to be a Rightist contrarian like Conor Friedersdorf than a party-line-spewing teevee star like Sean Hannity.
Anyway, Hawkins thinks he knows the reason why David Frum has a column on CNN.com and the more popular, straight-and-narrow conservatives don’t:
There’s an easy answer to that question: the mainstream media loves “conservatives” and “Republicans” who will trash whomever the Left hates most. So, if you’re willing to talk about how Sarah Palin is a hick, Glenn Beck is a crank, Rush Limbaugh is bad for the country, and the Tea Party is bad for democracy, the mainstream media will reward you — and because conservatives pride themselves on being open minded, they’ll all too often give you a pass for your atrocious behavior — especially since the MSM doesn’t insist you play their game all the time. As long as you’re willing to say what they want about the people they hate the most, they’ll reward you with a cover story at Newsweek and then in your off time, you can churn out a few articles to point gullible conservatives towards while you’re trying to guilt them into taking you seriously by crying “epistemic closure!”
In Hawkins’s world, it’s apparently impossible to believe that Glenn Beck is a crank, that Rush Limbaugh is bad for the country, and that the Tea Party is bad for democracy and still be a conservative. How do I know that? Because Hawkins denied FrumForum admission to the Blogads Conservative Hive on the grounds that he doesn’t “consider FrumForum to be a conservative website”. Why not? Well, it can’t be because there’s no conservative writers over there. Frum himself regularly criticizes the President. Hell, just this morning Alex Knepper had a good post admonishing the media that wrote applauding eulogies of Robert Byrd in the face of his incredibly racist voting record. No, Hawkins’s problem with FrumForum is that its writers don’t like Beck, Limbaugh, Sarah Palin (although I’ve never seen any conservative criticism of Palin that involved her being a hick), or the Tea Party. That and the fact that said writers aren’t despised by the Left, which is for some reason some kind of prize achievement for some on the Right.
It’s funny how Hawkins criticizes conservative pundits who are willing to criticize conservatives for being “willing to say what [the MSM] want[s] about the people [it] hate[s] the most” and “tell[ing] liberals what they want to hear about the Right”, because that’s exactly what a huge percentage of the conservative blogosphere is dedicating to doing to its own audience. Let’s not cast aspersions on Glenn Beck for his association with a registered nutcase because that’s not what conservatives want to hear — they’ll just get mad at us and then they’ll never visit our site again. Let’s not disparage Sarah Palin because that’s not what our audience wants to hear. Let’s not criticize Rush because he has the number one radio show in the country and he’s on our team. That’s like saying don’t criticize Stanley McChrystal for his flawed Rules of Engagement and, if you’re a Magic fan, don’t slam Dwight Howard for his poor free-throw shooting. Has Hawkins ever considered that maybe FrumForum gets less traffic than other prominent conservative sites precisely because it is willing to tell a conservative audience the ugly truth? The things it doesn’t want to hear about conservatives?
Example: why do a lot of conservatives like Mickey Kaus? Is it because he’s a Democrat wants to reign in the influence of labor unions and is anti-amnesty or is it because he doesn’t like Barbara Boxer or Ezra Klein? Is it because he’s a fresh liberal voice among a chorus of talking points or is it because he catches as much shit from the Left as Frum catches from the Right? It’s certainly true that there are liberals who exhibit the same behavior with regard to Frum, i.e. they like him because they think he’s sort of an in-house critic who validates all the nasty predispositions that they ever had about Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck. But that doesn’t mean that guys like Mickey Kaus and David Frum aren’t valuable to their perceived own sides. The country would be better off if the Left were more willing to listen to Kaus’s ideas about limiting the power of unions. And maybe the country would be better off if conservatives were more inclined to elect a candidate that stood a chance against Harry Reid instead of Sharron Angle.
Hawkins seems to be suggesting that we go on TV not as individuals, to express our own ideas as best we can, to offer the most useful information we can discover. No – people should appear as representatives of pre-existing tribes: conservatives, liberals, blacks, whatever, to engage in a ritual of synchronized repetition of pre-existing phrases. You are a conservative? You must say THIS – and never that. You must approve THIS – and never admit to doubts about that.
If you’re not kissing Glenn Beck’s ass, you’re not a conservative. And I don’t have a problem with people kissing Glenn Beck’s ass! But I do think it’s damaging to a “movement” if its members are unwilling to call out any of their own — especially the most popular ones — because of what I see as a perceived (if not real) fear that their readers will leave them and not come back if they do so. As Frum says, despite all the clamor about the groupthink and closed-loop-iness that everybody is denying occurred on JournoList, at least its members agreed that those things were bad. Hawkins appears to hold an opposing view.