Political Animal


September 21, 2012 1:30 PM Friedersdorf on The Fever

By Ed Kilgore

If you are in the mood for a good jeremiad, check out Conor Friedersdorf’s eloquent tirade at Atlantic today about the contemporary conservative movement’s abandonment of fact-based reasoning, and its tolerance of hucksters and charlatans. When you read this excerpt, keep in mind that Friedersdorf is a right-leaning pundit who is frequently critical of Obama, Democrats and the left:

At minimum, it’s possible to imagine a coalition where sound argument was valued enough to render the most vile ad hominem and the most hair-trigger heretic-shaming beyond the pale. Instead Rush Limbaugh and Erick Erickson remain among the right’s most influential voices. Fox News is movement conservatism’s go-to information source; its big boss, Roger Ailes, profited from airing lunatic conspiracy theories from Glenn Beck that no one can defend, but he hasn’t been discredited. And that’s just the realm of AM radio and cable television….
National Review’s readers have been exposed to the argument that President Obama is allied with our Islamist enemy in a “Grand Jihad” against America; in Forbes, Dinesh D’Souza set forth the thesis that Obama’s every action is explained by a Kenyan anti-colonial ideology that overwhelms all else. I mention those magazines not because they’re worthless, but because both publish good stuff, and employ a lot of talented people who are more than smart enough to see through this nonsense….this madness gets published in venues where David Frum is deemed beyond the pale….
Breitbart.com has spent much of the Obama Administration giving its readers the impression that ACORN, the board of NPR, and the question of whether or not the NAACP is racist are urgent priorities for the right. In doing so, it elevated a young man with a hidden camera who tried to lure a female reporter on a boat, intending to seduce her on hidden video and then humiliate her with the footage. Despite that, the young man remains a hero to many movement conservatives.

You get the idea. Much of Friedersdorf’s anger involves the impact of low standards for conservative discourse on the intra-conservative debate. He’s as concerned about the self-deception (and for some, perpetual silence in the face of lies) of conservatives as much as the effort to deceive others.

Indeed, Friedersdorf’s whole departure point is the speedy abandonment of the kind of healthy, post-defeat debate conservatives needed after 2008. Instead, they rapidly came up with an explanation of their electoral problems that led to an even greater disdain for facts and reason than that which so notably characterized the Bush administration, and ruthlessly imposed it on each other and on the entire Republican Party.

If Republicans lose again on November 6, it will be fascinating to see if anything changes on the Right, or if instead, as so many conservatives have done after every losing GOP election since 1964, they blame the nominee for insufficient ideological rigor and ruthlessness. I’m guessing it will take at least one more sound beating before—to use the president’s hopeful phrase—the “fever breaks.” And if, as occurred in 2010, there’s an intervening conservative victory before the next presidential cycle, this could go on for a good long while.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • j on September 21, 2012 1:37 PM:

    The deputy prime minister in Australia made a speech in Canberra saying the biggest threat to the worlds biggest economy is the cranks and crazies that have taken over the right (the tea party). This is unusual as they rarely comment on US politics.

  • Burr Deming on September 21, 2012 1:48 PM:

    Ed, your thesis is correct as far as it goes. But you presume the GOP departure from reality has been some sort of group decision. I suggest it is technologically based. The home computer is pushing the GOP over the cliff.

  • Rick B on September 21, 2012 1:49 PM:

    The thing that Friedersdorf is ignoring is that the Wall Street collapse four years ago which initiated the Great Recession completely discredited all conservative ideas and reasoning. A conservative politician running for office today has nothing left to base a campaign on other than tribalism, social fear and fundamentalist religion.

    It will be at least a generation and require an entirely new cast of conservative "intellectuals" before America regains something resembling a respectable conservative political set of institutions. The death of the current conservative institutions became quite clear in the Republican Presidential Primary.

    The comparable process of the death of the older conservative institutions after the 1929 Crash and Great Depression took all of the 1930's and was capped off by the great success of the U.S. Government totally controlling American society and economy to win WW II.

    I'd like to thank the hated Captcha for the more readable phrases. At least now they are all on the screen rather than being letters cut off so that only the tops or bottoms show.

  • Doug on September 21, 2012 1:54 PM:

    As all the GOP's current policies themselves are based on what one "believes" rather than what IS, including the ones Mr. Friedersdorf supports, why is he so upset?
    The "true believers" are not merely those followers of Beck, Limbaugh et al; they also include all those "sensible" people at the NR and elsewhere that Mr. Freidersdorf thinks SHOULD be listened to. To which I reply: Why? I cannot recall a single "conservative" position/policy that was backed by reason and/or facts, which forces conservatives to try and back up their position by referring to its' being "moral" or "good for you" without explaining HOW.
    The only value I've ever seen for ANY "conservative" position is that, in order to rebut it, one must be well-versed in what the non-conservative policy is and what it aims to accomplish. By forcing us to KNOW the facts about what we're proposing and how those facts apply to that particular situation, conservatives provide their only redeeming feature.
    That and the jobs they create for humorists...

  • Quaker in a Basement on September 21, 2012 1:59 PM:

    If Republicans lose again on November 6, it will be fascinating to see if anything changes on the Right, or if instead, as so many conservatives have done after every losing GOP election since 1964, they blame the nominee for insufficient ideological rigor and ruthlessness.

    If Republicans lose again? When Republicans lose again on November 6, I shall relish the taste of sweet, sweet wingnut tears.

  • Mitch on September 21, 2012 2:05 PM:

    Stuff like this gives me hope. Not that the GOP will become sane (it is far too late for that), but that it will be torn asunder by divisions between the somewhat-more-realistic branch, and the theocratic/reactionary branch and the plutocratic manipulators of those who have no interest in reality at all. Personally I would love nothing more than to have reasonable Republicans in the government like Ike back in the day, for example.

    Now, if the media (or enough voices within it) could bother to point out that Obama is NOT a radical left-wing zealot, and has - to the contrary - reached out to the GOP at every single opportunity, only to have his hand slapped and his face spit upon (metaphorically) by those who care more about their political party than the health of the nation, then some good might actually be accomplished.

    Instead the media is dominated by the insanity and lies of Limbaugh, Beck and the rest of that Brotherhood of Evil Mutants (sorry if that insults mutants). And their words carry further because they are so loud, because they are so shocking that Big Media gives them undue attention in the hopes of driving up ratings and selling more ad space.

    But this kind of stuff sure makes me feel better about the future.

  • c u n d gulag on September 21, 2012 2:17 PM:

    You don't build a billion dollar echo chamber and start to want to listen to new voices.

    The Republicans will continue to dance like trained monkey's to the the hard right's tunes.

    Like old dogs, old monkey's and old elephants can't be taught new tricks.

    Not unless you beat them within an inch of their lives - and even then, they STILL might not learn.

  • RepublicanPointOfView on September 21, 2012 2:27 PM:

    Ed, your thesis is incorrect.

    Our bases do not reject science and facts, per se. They believe and they know that belief is a much sounder basis for 'knowledge' than science or facts. And, as long as our bases continue in this direction, we of the funding wing of the party are very happy to tell them what to believe.

  • paul on September 21, 2012 2:33 PM:

    Friedersdorf, WHO HAS BEEN LIVING ON MARS FOR THE PAST 20 YEARS, suddenly returned and noticed that fact-free demagogues have captured his party? Somehow I think that his complaint is more about the fact the being a fact-free ranter is no longer the slam-dunk winning strategy it was. With a side order of "If these highly-publicized liars lose, maybe I can get closer to the top of the pile."

  • Daniel Kim on September 21, 2012 2:57 PM:

    The article ends on a rather weak note:
    "For some, the resulting improvements [brought by rejecting hucksters] would be enough to make the GOP preferable to the Democrats.

    "As yet, I say to hell with them both."

    In comments for the article, several readers noted the closing to be strange.

  • hornblower on September 21, 2012 3:05 PM:

    Let's see, high standard for conservative discourse would be Podhoretz, Buckley, Bozell, Buchanan, Clair Booth Luce, Murray, Auh2o, and Kilpatrick. Beck, Limbaugh, Coulter, Palin et al are their heirs. They say the same things with a different vocabulary.

  • TCinLA on September 21, 2012 3:11 PM:

    It's going to take thumpings in 2012, 2016 and 2020, after which the GOP will have gone the way of the Whigs.

    We should remember that after the breakup of the Whigs, the then-new Republican Party was composed of ex-Whigs, former Know-Nothings and Anti-Masons, and the Aboltionists. So the half of the party that is wacko (today's version of the Know-Nothings, aka the neo-Confederates, and the Anti-Masons, aka the conspiracy whackjobs) have always been part of the party.

  • bluestatedon on September 21, 2012 3:22 PM:

    When your party is dominatedófrom the base all the way up to the topóby people who believe that Adam and Eve had vegetarian dinosaurs for neighbors in the Garden of Eden 5,000 years ago, there is literally no possibility of the kind of change that Friedersdorf is asking for. The Republican Party is a theocratic party run by people who have overtly rejected not just the 21st Century but the 19th and 20th centuries as well. The GOP will continue to shrink into an ever-nuttier, ever-whiter, ever-smaller regional party of Christianist cranks, reactionary Catholics, white supremacists, loony tenthers, sovereign citizens, southern secessionists, with the party functions funded by enormously wealthy wingnuts like the Kochs and Sheldon Adelson. It will eventually split apart into its various crazy factions, but that's probably a couple of decades off.

  • Peter C on September 21, 2012 3:27 PM:

    I can't shake the feeling that if the Republicans were winning, Mr. Friedersdorf would not be upset about the hucksterism of the conservative movement. Republicans only reflect about the morality of THEIR actions when weeping into their beers amid the ashes of the catastrophes they've caused. In the heady days when the con is working, noting penetrates the sunny self-delusion of their own infallibility.

  • Guscat on September 21, 2012 3:53 PM:

    The Iraq War and Wall Street collapse thoroughly discredited both the main foreign and domestic policy ideas of the Right they've held for at least the last 30 years, it was like say when Khrushchev denounced Stalin meets the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Right could either radically overhaul their ideas or they could deny reality. It's much easier to deny reality which is what they've done. There is no reason to think they will be as sane if they lose than they are now. Think of how angry they were when Clinton beat them in 1996, that will be how they'll act over Obama if he wins.

  • Frank Wilhoit on September 21, 2012 5:21 PM:

    The Republican Party cannot "lose" on 6 Nov. Even if the Democratic Party wins the White House and both houses of Congress, the Republican Party will still control the country through the propaganda machine, as it has, without even a day's break, since approximately 1979.

  • JM917 on September 21, 2012 5:28 PM:

    @ TCinLA:

    My preferred scenario is for the current GOP to go the way, not of the Whigs, but of the Federalists, post-1800. When Jefferson (and let's not forget Aaron Burr) thwacked the Federalists in 1800 and John Adams left town between days so as not to have to witness Jefferson's inauguration, the Federalists were left with little else in Washington except the federal judiciary, headed of course by John Marshall. The Federalists judges survived an attempted purge of the federal bench by the Jeffersonians (and that was a good thing from the standpoint of preserving the separation of powers and the independent judiciary, plus Marshall proved indispensible as chief justice). But as early as 1804 the Federalists were practically wiped out as a national political party, and they survived mainly in New England as a sour-grapes party of regional grievances. Politicians who wanted to make a national impact increasingly aligned with the Democratic Republicans, which in turn split into several major factions. The Federalists made their last stand in 1812-1815, protesting against the War of 1812 (which was unpopular in New England, for regional economic reasons), and some of them came close to treason and secession before the war was over. The last sad remnants of the party made their final stand in the election of 1820, in which James Monroe was reelected virtually unanimously in the EC.

    The Whigs arose only the the 1830s to counter the Jacksonian Democrats, for complicated reasons not to be gone into here.

    I'd love to see the present-day GOP get so thoroughly smashed and discredited by ca. 2020 that the party itself disappears as a coherent organization, with ALL respectable and half-way intelligent national politicians regrouping into the Democratic Party--which THEN could (and would) split into a Social Democratic mildly leftist party and a center-right moderate conservative party. Let the crazies continue their madness in a party all their own, running such masterminds as Palin, Cain, and Akin for national office.

    The Whigs collapsed in the 1850 because they could no longer retain political coherence in the face of the nation itself starting to break up over slavery. That isn't going to happen to the present-day Republicans, for there is no such clear-cut sectional dividing line. The Federalist collapse is a better model for what I hope will happen: like today's Republicans, the Federalists became far too ideologically extreme, trying to stand athwart history (here I'm paraphrasing Bill Buckley) and trying to stop democratic governance itself from emerging. The nation as a whole simply outgrew the Federalist anti-democratic way of thinking. If, as Obama says he hopes, "the fever breaks," the 99% will come to their senses and realize that the Republican Party represents nothing but the 1% oligarchy that is increasingly demanding the end of one-person-one-vote self-rule.

  • Peter Principle on September 21, 2012 9:21 PM:

    It may actually be a lot harder now for a defeated GOP to tack left than it was after the moderates took control back from the Goldwater Brigades post 1964.

    Not only is the party more monochromatic -- literally as well as ideologically -- these days, but the polarization of the electorate along demographic lines offers them less hope of peeling off disaffected Democrats. If they couldn't do it this year, with an unemployment rate above 8%, when will they?

    My secret fear is that the GOP is actually going to become even more radicalized and deranged as the political fundamentals continue to move against it. Which is fine, in the short run, if it helps elect Democrats.

    But what happens when events (economic, social, or foreign) move against a Democratic incumbent in a really big way (as they inevitably will one of these elections), and an unreconstructed GOP conservative wacko -- or an utterly amoral, opportunistic monster posing as an unreconstucted wacko -- manages to defy the demographic odds and win?

    President Santorum, anyone?

  • Rick B on September 22, 2012 9:17 AM:


    I'd also like to see the collapse of the Federalists as the pattern the conservative Republicans would follow after their defeat, but the Federalists did not have the massive long term institutional presence in place that the modern Republican Party and conservatives have. Also, in 1800 the very idea of a political party was considered bad by a large part of the American political establishment.

    Today the Republicans will break into institutional parts which will be looking to ally themselves with others who can help them achieve their goals. The evangelicals and dominionists are not going away. Neither will the Roman Catholic bishops (largely different from the RC laity.) They will merely change their forms of evangelicism. The same is true for the money Republicans. Then there are the many NeoCons who have built their entire careers around extremist foreign policy. They will mostly retreat to their institutes (Hudson Institute, AEI, Stanford Institute, etc.) and try to attach themselves to some other political entity much like sick remoras finding new sharks to ride.

    I completely agree that if and when the conservative Republicans collapse then the Democratic Party will split into its conservative and liberal wings. As it is the current two parties are the insane and crazy party (Republicans) on one side and everyone else who wants to see rational government allied against the crazies into the Democratic Party. The near-term collapse of the crazy Republican Party may still be too much to hope for, though. FOX and Rush still will be working to keep them alive if nothing else and the evangelicals will remain opposed to the twentieth century and later with its urban industrial-based society.

  • Blue Girl on September 22, 2012 9:38 AM:

    Rick B, I agree wholeheartedly. I have been saying for three or four years at least that the GOP is destined to become a rump regional entity and the Democratic party will become a centrist party with the truly liberal wing splitting off and merging with (probably) the Greens and allowing a truly leftist party to arise in this country.

  • Ed Thibodeau on September 22, 2012 1:00 PM:

    I don't remember where I read it, but the thought stuck with me. The GOP won't seriously address their direction until they lose Texas or Georgia in a presidential election.