Let me begin with stating a general rule of mine. I am completely in favor of conservative in-fighting. By that I mean that conservatives ought to frequently and passionately engage in constructive disagreements with each other. We ought to argue over the line between freedom and virtue, between the individual and community, libertarians should fight with social conservatives who should fight with foreign policy conservatives who should fight with tenth amendment conservatives, and so on and so forth. We should fight about taxes, entitlement, foreign intervention, civil liberties, and much, much more. This is all good, and this helps us all get to better results. In-fighting is a sign of health and strength, not weakness. And conservatives (or classical liberals or broadly, "the right") ought to be different from the leftists who instinctively tend to side with those who seek more government, identity politics, political correctness, and summarily denounce those who dare buck the party line (see Booker, Cory, re: Bain Capital).
That said, when conservatives pick fights with each other, they should be constructive and helpful. And when they do, they should certainly not parrot lazy and trite talking points from the left. In addition, we should be especially careful to not to do these things during the season of what anyone who is remotely on the political right will agree is a crucial election as our nation nears and economic and social tipping point. Three intelligent and prominent conservatives recently engaged in ridiculous attacks on their ideological kin and deserved to be called out on it.
First offender is former governor and presidential candidate turned media personality and rocker-pastor-comedian hybrid guy, Mike Huckabee. He recently had this exchange in a New York Times interview:
Q: During the Republican primary debates, audience members booed a question from an active serviceman who was gay and shouted, “Let him die,” about a hypothetical gravely ill patient without insurance. Is this different from the party that you know and love?
A: Very much. It’s one of the reasons that I did not think this was a good time to run. The atmosphere was so toxic that it would not be an atmosphere in which I would breathe well. There is almost a hyperorthodoxy that is gripping the party that you have to go out and prove that you can be tougher, meaner, more hard-line than anybody else on the stage. It may lead to effective campaigning if the goal is to be the most ideological puritan on the platform, but the ultimate goal is more of what I’d call a true Reagan model. Not the Reagan model that has been invoked — but Ronald Reagan who understood that governing is an art.
This is all just so lazy and dumb. The idea to the GOP primary having a "toxic" atmosphere and being about "hyperorthodoxy" is right out of the MSNBC playbook. I'm not sure what kind of "toxic" atmosphere he's referring to. A few dozen idiots in a debate crowd does not a toxic atmosphere make. The atmosphere is urgent, sure. Impassioned. Impatient. But "toxic"? The kind of salt of the earth Americans who comprise most of the GOP primary voters in early states did not create a toxic atmosphere, Mr. Huckabee, and shame on you for implying that they did.
Secondly, what is this hyperorthodoxy people keep claiming, and Mr. Huckabee is sadly parroting? The GOP just nominated Mitt Romney. Mitt. Romney. Massachusetts-governing, health insurance-mandating, "I was an independent during Reagan"-claiming, Mitt Romney. If this were about hyperorthodoxy, Michelle Bachmann would have won in a walk. She lost. Badly. Or maybe Rick Perry, or Ron Paul, or Rick Santorum, or anyone but Mitt Romney. This is also the party who has nominated a Bush four times, Bob Dole, and John McCain going back to 1988. Hardly a lineup of fire-breathing, hyperorthodox, ideologically pure, super-scary right-wingers. I expect this cliche from a David Gergen, but not from you, Mr. Huckabee.
Offender number two is noted federal judge, Richard Posner. Now let it be said that Judge Posner, appointed to the seventh circuit by President Reagan, is arguably the most influential living legal mind to have not sat on the Supreme Court. There may be no one in the past century who is more of an authority on law and economics. However, he said the following in a recent NPR interview:
"Posner expressed admiration for President Ronald Reagan and the economist Milton Friedman, two pillars of conservatism. But over the past 10 years, Posner said, 'there's been a real deterioration in conservative thinking. And that has to lead people to re-examine and modify their thinking.'
'I've become less conservative since the Republican Party started becoming goofy,' he said."
This is also lazy, in addition to being of questionable truth. Without even looking at the claim, ponder his premise for a moment. Why would the Republican party, however exasperating he finds it, influence his political philosophy? That would be like saying that since the Dallas Cowboys are lousy, I no longer like football. The Republican party is a part of conservatism, but that is it. Conservatism has a deep and rich philosophical history that has absolutely zero to do with the Republican party. Ask conservatives who their idols are and, outside of probably President Reagan, you'll scarcely hear a GOP politician's name mentioned. As for the claim that the GOP has become "goofy" in the past ten years, I mean ok, if you don't like Sarah Palin and think the party has made too many political mistakes that's fine, but I am still unsure why all that would impact the political philosophy of someone as intelligent and thoughtful as Judge Posner.
The third offender is every liberal's favorite Republican, Jon Huntsman. The former governor of Utah and Ambassador to China thought it would be wise to run a presidential campaign-- after the last Republican president had a serious overspending problem and the last Republican nominee was a "maverick" who had a penchant for joining with Democrats to sponsor unconstitutional free speech limits-- on the premise that the party needed to be more moderate. Shockingly, it did not turn out well.
"I will not be attending this year's convention, nor any Republican convention in the future, until the party focuses on a bigger, bolder, more confident future for the United States," Huntsman said in a statement. "A future based on problem solving, inclusiveness, and a willingness to address the trust deficit, which is every bit as corrosive as fiscal and economic deficits."
He said he encourages "a return to the party we have been in the past, from Lincoln right on through to Reagan, that was always willing to put our country before politics."
I'm not even sure what the hell that means. But I guess if you look at from Huntsman's position, he is an ivy-league educated Mormon who was a moderate governor born to a famous father. So it would make sense that he does not want to attend the GOP Convention where they nominate… an ivy-league educated Mormon who was a moderate governor born to a famous father. I do not think it's worth responding to what Huntsman said, but I do think it is worth pointing out that it is sad. Huntsman is a talented individual with a great resume who could have remained influential and relevant in conservative circles for years to come, possibly running again for president or serving in a prominent position in a future administration. Unfortunately, he has chosen to become a clown who will have a permanent spot on lefty tv shows to regurgitate all of their (incorrect) preconceived notions about conservatives.
Just to recap before I step down off my soapbox and end the sermon: Constructive conservative in-fighting is good; parroting lefty talking points to undercut your ideological kin is annoying, unnecessary, and unhelpful.