“The Conservative Crackup,” Slate’s dialogue between conservative intellectuals about the meaning of this year’s bruising GOP electoral defeat, makes for truly insightful reading. The attendant conversation in The Fray provides an excellent source of further illumination on the problems facing the GOP as it regroups from its recent losses.
One of the first stumbling blocks to fruitful conversation seems to be a lack of common understanding of which topic is under discussion. As Illinichief points out, “conservatism” and the GOP aren’t necessarily linked. “Conservatism” describes a (hotly contested) core set of political values that orders one’s priorities and shapes the means by which they are obtained. The Republican Party, however, is an empty vessel into which any American may pour their political identity, ambition, and votes. The discussion, therefore, is marked by an elementary division between task and tool—a schism which pulls the conversation in two very different directions.
For those debating “conservatism,” the salient questions are “what should be conserved” and who can be persuaded to join the cause of protecting it? This fundamental contradiction between “social conservatives” and “fiscal conservatives” animates most of the discussion. Jshankel best captures the cost of this unresolved dispute among self-styled conservatives:
The contradiction between social conservatism and small-government libertarianism hasn’t so much lost conservative voters as it has boggled the compass. When you’re arguing on the one hand that government is too blunt an instrument to reasonably regulate finances or the environment, but on the other hand the nanny-state knows best when it comes to terminating a pregnancy or setting limits on scientific research, you’re bound to get lost in the woods
Given the slant of Slate’s readership, it should come as no surprise that smart advocates for jettisoning moral conservatives abound in The Fray. One Democrat, jwschmidt, helpfully suggests that if the Republican Party “find[s] a non-crackpot version of Ron Paul, you guys can have a chance for my vote.” Rocket88 compares the two major parties and finds recent Democratic success attributable to the marginalization of their base. Many readers join endorendil in calling for a “circular firing squad” to drive the religious right from the Republican tent.
The wisdom of this advice is called into question, however, by other right-leaning “small government conservatives.” As this post from jbtowers or this testimonial from Republican atheist Ranson suggest, a play for libertarians at this point may simply be a case of closing the barn door after the cows have escaped:
I’m still currently registered Republican, though that’s only as long as my switch to “independent” takes to process. There’s no question that I feel the party left me behind, rather than the other way around. I’ll admit that I have loosened up with age, but I viewed the party as one of fiscal and personal responsibility, reasonable exercise of strength in foreign policy, advancing science and technology, and a focus on individualism and liberty. The party before me today in no way resembles that ideal. It is strangled by the religious right with an irrational focus on abortion and homophobia, is fiscally irresponsible on an enormous scale, idiotic in terms of foreign relations, anti-science to a degree that would be comical were it not frightening, and working to curtail every civil liberty they can get their hands on (except the right to own a weapon).
On a more constructive note, Mercedes1254 thinks conservatives would do well to focus on American education, an approach which EMStoveken argues would lay the foundation of a new conservative majority. DirtyBird lays out a fairly comprehensive and persuasive conservative agenda for the opposition party, despite a confessed lack of conservative ideas for how to deal with healthcare.
Many readers reject the premise that extensive Republican soul-searching is called for. Mutatis Mutandis convincingly argues that this election is less of a setback for conservatives than it seems. CaLaywer, a Democrat, even sees a route to Republican victory in California far shorter than you might suspect. Lawdawg74 thinks the Republican Party is just one transcendent leader away from its next Presidential victory.
If you’re willing to head into the weeds of specific issues, the_slasher14 has some excellent posts on tax cuts here and here. Foohog, a Republican Frayster, indicts his party for backing the wrong kind of tax cuts. Johnzep explains why “Republicans lost the debate on taxes.” On education, most of the best arguments seem to call for complacency. Other good posts on education can be found here, here, and here. Orion38 injects some realism based on his observation that half of everyone will always rank below average: “No matter how many engineers we crank out, no one will hire them if Chinese engineers can do the same job for 1/10 the cost.” I also recommend keeping an eye out for posts from BenK, consistently one of the Fray’s smartest conservative posters.
As for the best post of the discussion, I think the prize goes to first-time Frayster rmoore for his big-picture post-mortem on what this election really meant to the great American middle:
Obama’s road to the White House began in New Orleans. I have always lined up with the Libertarian Party on most issues. I am pro choice and anti gun control. I don’t like the idea of a huge federal bureaucracy that sucks money out of my pockets as fast as I can earn them. I have voted for politicians from both parties who seemed to line up with my beliefs.The turning point for me, and I think most voters came with hurricane Katrina. I remember that the original story was about the looting. I can remember watching CNN and being struck dumb by the disconnect between the commentators denouncing the looters as nothing more than criminals while watching a bunch of people taking diapers and drinking water. Americans sitting on a highway overpass awaiting rescue for not hours but days…I still get mad thinking about it. The image of Americans floating face down, drowned in their own sewage while the President of the United States cut brush at his ranch is burned into my memory. It changed me. I had become cynical. I stopped giving money to charities because they all seemed corrupt, I had stopped voting because there did not seem to be any real difference between candidates. Hurricane Katrina got me thinking about what I really wanted out of a government. For the first time in a long time I started contributing to charities and I started to look for democratic candidates to vote for. Obviously I’m not alone in this. If Bush had only called his vacation short on say, Monday. He could have sat in the Oval Office and shuffled papers, and his supporters could have defended him. If he had actually gone to New Orleans instead of flying over it, they could have supported him. Instead, he didn’t see fit to end his vacation until Thursday. He presided over one of the greatest natural disasters in American history, and he couldn’t have done worse if he had started fiddling or said “Let the people of New Orleans eat cake.”As it was, no one can defend his leadership without showing themselves as either dogmatic drudges or party flacks. It was the most expensive two week vacation in history. In a year, the Republican majority in Congress was gone, and now the White House is gone. All of this talk about school vouchers and realignment and wandering in the wilderness is just as empty as the states where the Republicans can still count on votes. It changes nothing. They have lost, and they will continue to lose as long as they continue the way they are. As long as they prey on our fear and our greed, and as long as they keep calling anyone who doesn’t agree with them un-American they will keep losing. Tucker Carlson, Christine Whitman and the rest, you are just moving the deck chairs around on the Titanic. If you think this election went badly, just try financing the next Presidential campaign on contributions from Walmart Republicans and see how much that gets you.As for me, I hope the new President is up to cleaning up the mess left from the last one.
I’d like to think his closing point is a bipartisan peg we can all hang our hope upon. If his premise is accurate, the end of Republican misfortunes may lie no farther away than the next election. To read many more great discussions on the meaning of this election, look for the checkmarks in the Dialogues Fray.—GA … 3:50 p.m. PST
Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2008
“Well the whining, bitching and excuse-making are over,” said ProudInfidel last night as the results came in. If only. But still—is there hope that in the chat rooms and blogs of the United States some posts and posters may disappear now the election is done? These are the ones we won’t miss here at Slate—additional suggestions gratefully accepted:
1) Usernames like HonestPoster and BalancedViews. Sure sign that an unhinged rant will follow.
2) Posters saying, “They don’t like me because I tell the truth.” No, that’s not why they don’t like you. Or asking “Is it just me?”—in the words of a favorite ancient Frayline: “[Y]es it is just you, and not only this week, either.”
3) People who really truly believe that if others don’t see it the same way, they just need an extra bit of persuasion or another 54 posts listing more arguments, cut-and-pasted from other media, or an e-mail they found in their inbox today that says “forward this on—it is all true.” As one poster put it: “I don’t think that you really think I’m stupid; I think you just disagree with me and in your frustration you’re sublimating cognitive dissonance into hostility.”
4) Defending in your favored candidate what you would attack in the opposition. On the plus side, kudos to those who can make an outrageous twist. When Obama faced criticism over campaign financing, Nightswimmer had his answer ready: “So [Obama] changed his mind. It was a smart move. I hope it won’t make John McCain cry—like his first wife did when he dumped her for a young heiress. That’s an important vow. Agreeing to negotiate campaign financing is not on that level.”
5) Hilariously original references to Repugs, Rethugs, Dummycrats.
6) Shrieking posts at the end of an article about, say, poetry, asking, “[D]on’t you care that this election is being stolen?”
7) Posts predicting the end of the world. May produce a nice polite reply: “Then you and your friends can enjoy the Rapture that much sooner.”
8) Paranoid posts from those importantly believing that the FBI cares about their political views. Again, a helpful reply can be counted on from fellow posters:
“And now [that you’ve posted in the Fray], They have your IP address. You’ll probably just have time to get your affairs in order before the helicopters arrive.” “I can hear the rotors spinning now!”
There was one curious absence: In 2000, every day there would be posts saying some version of: “Slate! Ha! Why don’t you change your name to Slant!” Nobody says this any more. We quite miss it. They still say “your an idiot” and “do you get paid by the word?” and “why are you allowed to publish this?” though, so all is not lost.
We should also give a shoutout to all the great posts, intelligent arguments, and engaged writers who come to the Fray. We find what we said back in July: “These are Slate readers: Whatever their politics, 95 percent of them know that they are against racism, stereotypes, and dirty tricks.” If you wanted a quick history of the election, you could do worse than look through past Fraywatches for their contributions. For great quotes, we stand by our SuperTuesday Quiz, then go for a quick turn through Hillary’s “womanish leisure suits,” Michelle Obama’s thesis, those fluctuating primaries, and that fist jab. Sorry it’s over? Tell us what you’ll miss …—MR … 1:30 p.m. GMT
Friday, Oct. 24, 2008
Slate’s customer base: “gangstas that want to pimp their lives”? Yes, we, too, were surprised by JonIscream’s description, it conjured up such an … unlikely view of you all. The topic was etiquette one way or another: This post referred to the review of a new biography of Emily Post, but etiquette was also at the heart of John Swansburg’s piece on other people’s birthdays. That article touched a nerve with you gangstas, and it is time to trundle out the Fray Multiple Post summarizer. Birthday reactions divide (with a bit of unmannerly pushing and shoving) into the following categories:
As it happens, your Fray editor has special authority to speak on etiquette matters and knows that, in fact, everyone believes his or her rules to be best and hates to be challenged and is outraged by everyone else’s (totally wrong) rules. “I was always brought up to …” are words you can hear too many times. So it was a pleasure to read an unusually kind, charming post on etiquette from bigmac, who was talking aboutEmily Yoffe’s article on taking offense.
Most people walk around with sharp nails and thin skin—they offend others sometimes even unawares, and then take offense to the slightest askew look. Rather than concentrate on their behavior, we need to look inward at ours. For example, when reading this article, it is easy for me to see how this subject applies to so many people. … But I can’t change them. I can only change myself (with God’s help and grace) and so I should read this and examine my own head and heart. A rhino hide and velvet gloves—that’s what I need to go for.Defiinitely someone you should invite to your birthday party.—MR… 2:30 p.m. GMT
Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2008
“Politically speaking, ‘elite’ just means ‘just as educated and rich as us, but in the opposite party.’ This was a useful definition from justicepsych but not one that was going to meet with a lot of approval. Some of us have not been able to get to the “XX Factor,” let alone its Fray, in recent weeks, so it was certainly time to drop by and see which cool intellectual debates were going on there. Whoa, take that back, the word intellectual has proved to be as controversial as almost anything in Slate this election year, and cool isn’t exactly the right word, either. Rachael Larimore’s “Thoughts on Intellectuals and Anti-Intellectuals” in the blog was the focus of endless discussion on—well, on intellectuals and anti-intellectuals. Amazingly, apparently you can insult someone by calling them either of these names. Throw in “elitist” and you have a full-scale flame war.
Ophymirage posted a splendid disquisition on intellectuals. Naturally we’re going to quote the funny bit:
When it comes down to it, Intellectual are a harmless bunch. About the worst thing that intellectuals are going to do to this country is to stage a pretentious community-theater production of “Titus Andronicus” with giant puppets.
But also a serious, if possibly idealistic, bit:
The best thing that intellectuals can do for this country is to show everyone the way to the tools that are necessary for genuine self-knowledge. And one of the chief benefits of knowing yourself is that it makes it a lot harder to hate other people.
There’s a long discussion here on whether we want elites ruling us or not. Go here to find out who’s an intellectual, who an engineer, and who could run a gas station. At what might be called the far edges of the discussion: What was that again about the Labrador going to duck-collecting college? No, didn’t quite get it. Lubbesuh says there are too many intellectuals, and even those with opposing political views seemed to agree.
The splendidly-named HopefulCynic had this to say—
Is it better for Americans to vote for someone they feel reflects their own worldview, or someone who is best able to do the job? It seems to me loyalty to party should come far below loyalty to country or family or duty … somewhere around loyalty to Kellogg Brand Cereals.
—and made a convincing case. “Are Intellectuals Mean?”, posted byMalone, was very popular with other readers, though mostly, it has to be said, those who agreed with him or her politically.
Posts are still pouring in on this topic, so feel free to join in. But a word of warning: you don’t even want to go near the other current argument in “XX Factor” on flag mending/trampling. It’s sticky and cross and long and involved. But, no—what are we saying? That would be a recommendation to most Fray posters. MR …5.00 p.m. GMT
Friday, Oct. 10, 2008
Kitty Burns Florey’s attempt to diagram Sarah Palin’s sentences was a hit this week. Even before Tina Fey’s dead-on impersonations brought attention to the VP candidate’s tortured linguistic style, language itself was already a campaign theme, starting with Hillary’s famous declaration during the primaries: “You campaign in poetry, but you govern in prose.” After the frequent attacks on Obama’s “lofty” (and, therefore, supposedly empty) rhetoric, Sarah Palin’s syntax is in some respects just the latest to come under scrutiny.
If diagramming was intended as the most neutral and objective way to decipher meaning in Palin’s speech—a candidate who has elicited enormous curiosity since her introduction to the national stage in September—Ischua dismisses the diagramming exercise as “petty partisan parsing.”
kaboku68, a schoolteacher from Chitina, Alaska, writes in to say that “[w]e have a different form of syntax. … Alaskans often have elements of the indigenious [sic] languages of … Alaskan Natives involved in their speaking patterns” (a claim contested vigorously by Fritz Gerlich).
For WetHen here, the debate format may have had an effect:
Palin’s object was to only sound decisive, matching her punchy delivery method to that of Biden’s forceful style. The words – they didn’t matter. Anything that sounded like a word would do as long as she didn’t pause, didn’t sound thoughtful, didn’t break pace.
northwoods describes the VP candidate’s “Joycean stream of consciousness” as a generalized condition among politicians, who “never mind the meaning … fill up time so that the questioner is defeated and time runs out.”
the little I’ve read about linguistics suggests, counter-intuitively, that the coherence and diagramability of [Palin’s] speech aren’t reliable indicators of her intelligence or clarity of thought. Chomsky’s notion that language isn’t the product of some sort of general intelligence, but of a specific module in the brain, is generally accepted today.
JerseyInsuranceGirl wonders, should Palin get elected, how translators will revamp and interpret her sentences in foreign languages. Scotboy56 gives it a try, and “with a few judicious uses/changes of punctuation, and one reordering of words,” manages to make the Palin quote “read perfectly”:
I know that John McCain and I, as his vice president, will do that. Families, we are blessed with that vote of the American people and are elected to serve and are sworn in on January 20. That will be. Our top priority is to defend the American people.
Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2008
We love it when the post titles tell the story. The Swedish Academy speaks on why Americans don’t win Nobel Prizes for literature, Adam Kirsch puts the case for homegrown fiction, and readers get to comment on all of it. A quick scan of the “Culturebox” board gives the following posts: U.S. writers robbed by Nobel Committee; most Nobel literature is boring; good to know America isn’t the only place with bigots; Nobel nordicentrism; MFAs killed American literature; Europe is finished, anyway (“skinny French women … will all be in burkhas”); Danielle Steel.
Danielle Steel? By no means is she the only author who has been omitted from the prize-giving, thanks only to the sheer prejudice and anti-American feeling of the committee, apparently. But we would still challenge readers to guess what name is going to come after these words from Bec393: “[T]he only living American writer worthy of a Nobel nom is …”—go and see, prepare to be surprised (maybe).
Bjoern Staerk says America’s greatest contribution to literature is science fiction and goes on:
But then literary fame is not about justice. I’ve given up counting the number of wonderful authors I’ve come across by accident, only to find out that they’re utterly forgotten and ignored. Perhaps the real problem with the Nobel Prize and other awards is that they give readers the illusion of knowing who the greatest authors are. The odds are that the world’s greatest author wrote one promising book which didn’t sell well, then gave up writing for a paying job.
There’s a nice defense of Dario Fo by thelyamhound, who tackles liberalism in the same post:
As far as the politics go, the fact is that since the beginning of time, artists tended, overwhelmingly, to be “liberal” in comparison to the dominant social flavor of their respective eras. What exactly that meant must be taken in relation to the era in question, but the notion that there’s suddenly some “liberal bias” to art is nonsense–not because there’s not a bias, but because there’s nothing new about it. If conservatives want more art, they should raise more artists … but don’t be surprised if the industry turns them (if nothing else, gays have always been disproportionately represented in creative fields, and while gays aren’t reflexively liberal, they tend to be so on social matters, at the least).
Readers were keen to discuss the merits of Philip Roth and Toni Morrison along with the some less obvious names: According to B-Real, “We’ll see Bob Dylan get the medal before they give it to some guy who sees fit to make biting commentary about the horrors of modern America from his monastic abode on a farm in Connecticut.” (We think that would be Mr Roth.) Everyone had a dog in this fight, but Mikerol gets a mention for the most heroic nomination: In his view, Austrian writer Peter Handke “would deserve [the Nobel Prize] even if he raped his grandmother, just for the capacities for communication that he has enabled in the logos.”
That might be the Fray sentence of the week, although there’s competition: Let’s hear it for WorkingAuthor, who has harsh words for Doris Lessing, and adds sternly, “I hope she reads this.” Let’s hope her day isn’t ruined. MR … 3.30 p.m. GMT