Bruce Bartlett has a new article at the American Conservative detailing his estrangement from the mainstream Right. Titled “Revenge of the Reality-Based Community,” it’s all about how the Republicans are supposedly unwilling to listen to arguments from outside their bubble of like-minded pundits, and how Bartlett “paid a heavy price, both personal and financial” for challenging right-wing dogmas.
The article is a mixed bag. Bartlett makes a few good observations. For instance, he recounts this story about some Beltway Republicans’ reaction to a New York Times Magazine article:
Not one person had read it or cared in the slightest what the New York Times had to say about anything. They all viewed it as having as much credibility as Pravda and a similar political philosophy as well. Some were indignant that I would even suspect them of reading a left-wing rag such as the New York Times.
This cocoon mentality certainly exists and it is one of the more annoying aspects of the mainstream, Beltway Right. Equally annoying is their tendency to portray liberals as hippies and communists, which Bartlett notes in Republican treatment of Obama as a far-leftist. (As I’ve argued here before, the liberals are the real conservatives and to be what most people call “conservative” is actually to be radically opposed to the existing order.)
But I think the article is mostly wrong-headed. Here are some of the worse arguments that Bartlett makes:
- Throughout the article, Bartlett acts like some kind of martyr for being driven out of the organized Right. But this kind of excommunication is hardly martyrdom. As the comments to the article show, for every Republican that he has alienated he’s gained the approval of ten more liberals who can laud him as someone who has “seen the light” and rejected Tea Party “nonsense.” Paul Krugman has already done this. The center Left holds a much greater amount of power in the media and in academia than does the Right, and it has at least an equal number of powerful Washington think-tanks. So it is hardly martyrdom to convert into a moderate liberal. If anything, such conversion can be a career boost. The real martyrs are people like Whittaker Chambers, who believed that he was forsaking the winning side of history and joining the losing side when he converted from communism to conservatism. Of course, a move like that takes a real personal toll—Chambers was roundly denounced in the media (not just Fox News) and suffered from depression for most of his life.
- Though a lot of Republicans remain willfully blind to opposing arguments, these are mostly the rank-and-file activists, not the intellectuals. Conservative and libertarian intellectuals have grown up in a university system where they are constantly opposed, by professors and fellow students, and accordingly are well-versed in their opponents’ arguments. But the same can’t be said for the liberal intellectuals. In fact, most of the people that I’ve met during my years spent in elite universities are totally ignorant of some of the basic libertarian or conservative theories. They will argue, for instance, that libertarianism is about social Darwinism, when even Ayn Rand argued in The Virtue of Selfishness that it is about social cooperation. Most conservative intellectuals can tell you who John Rawls was, but I haven’t met many liberal intellectuals who could tell you who Russell Kirk or Ludwig von Mises were.
- Despite his disdain for Republican cant, Bartlett buys into the bizarre theory that modern Democrats can grouped together with the Jim Crow Democratic Party. This is the kind of argument you read on RedState.com. True, the nineteenth century Democrats believed in slavery and then later opposed civil rights legislation. But many of them also supported localized government and the gold standard. The Democratic Party that Bartlett attacks was actually the more conservative party of its time; it has more in common with the modern Republican Party than with the modern Democrats. The old Democrats were certainly wrong to support slavery and Jim Crow, but they also advocated for other good conservative and libertarian policies that the modern Democrats would hate. To try to group the two together strikes me as intellectually dishonest.
- Bartlett also writes that, “For the record, no one has been more correct in his analysis and prescriptions for the economy’s problems than Paul Krugman.” If you believe that, please email me. I’ve been in touch with the Crown Prince of Nigeria, who has $2o million that he needs to deposit into your bank account. In fact, the Austrian school of economics has done a great deal of work to show that Krugman’s beloved monetary stimulus and government spending do nothing to cure depressions, but only make the economy worse and more prone to boom-bust volatility.
- Strangely enough, given Bartlett’s new-found embrace of Keynesian economics, he also denounces President Bush’s Medicare expansion. I guess that’s the life of a maverick.