What's Happening in Conservatism?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, Richard Brookhiser, senior editor of the National Review and author of Right Time, Right Place: Coming of Age with William F. Buckley Jr. and the Conservative Movement, weighed in on Republican politics and the Right's guiding philosophies.

Climate change-up

Most of the pieces are in place for the Republican nomination contest, and by now it's clear that the conservative ideological landscape is not the same as it was in 2008, or at any time under George W. Bush. Enthusiasm for military intervention is waning and many candidates find themselves running from policies they and other members of the party once embraced.

In the last election, for example, John McCain proposed cap-and-trade legislation to combat global warming. Now, both "cap-and-trade" and "global warming" are four-letter words on the right. Richard Brookhiser chalked the shift up to increased skepticism about climate change science, as well as higher energy bills resulting from efforts to rein in carbon dioxide.

Conservatives have seen with alarm their efforts to use global warming as an instrument of industrial policy and reshaping industrial policy, imposing regimes of taxes and regulations to try and settle this worldwide. That's the kind of thing that tends to align conservatives.

Romney vs. Romneycare

No candidate has more to run from than Mitt Romney, who instituted a health care overhaul while governor of Massachusetts that looks a lot like the legislation signed by President Obama. Brookhiser conceded that he doesn't know how Romney could overcome that liability.

Poor Romney, that's the millstone around him. He's a very attractive candidate in a lot of ways, but he kind of looks like the John the Baptist of the Obama health care plan. How he deals with that will be an interesting tale.

But Brookhiser also said he could envision a scenario in which Mitt could untangle Romneycare and Obamacare.

Romneycare, however good or bad it was, that was just in Massachusetts, and now we have it in all 50 states. The dimensions of the problem are very different; it's not just the politics of it, it's the scope and the affect on the entire country.

Combat fatigue

In perhaps the biggest pendulum shift from the last decade, conservatives are increasingly exhausted by wars in the Middle East. Thirst for retaliation in Afghanistan and preemption in Iraq have given way to anxiety over Libya. Is this a real sea change, or are conservatives only enthusiastic about wars when their president is in the White House?

Richard Brookhiser admitted uncertainty among the conservative base, but stressed that the Bush wars were of greater strategic significance than the conflict in Libya. Moving forward, he said, it's the big picture for the Middle East that we need to think about, not just the dictator of the day.

Is this a war to be won by improving or changing political culture in Middle East?...Conservatives have to look at that and see how would you affect such a thing, what are steps toward it, how do you go about doing this? Or is it the way to go at all?...You can't advance on all fronts at once. You have to see which ones are the most important ones, and you have to pick your battles. We need a lot more strategic thinking about that.


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Comments [19]

tony from b-town

@ Worker Bee

I hear you, but I wonder if the reason for such an extreme reaction by the left is simply because of the following...

Aside from the reality Bernard Goldberg perceives, the media is centrist at best and most importantly, devoid of facts for the most part. Most of the general or even niche media is controlled by the right (Murdock > fox news, Zuckerman>daily news etc.) So I guess when someone gets on npr/wnyc perpetuating false information on issues that have been settled, it's a bit hard to swallow and tiring.

For example, the pretext for the Iraq war (i.e., wmd's) was a lie, tax cuts on the super rich doesn't shape up, etc...

Jun. 21 2011 12:35 PM
JT from LI

@Harvey Bernstein
That's the one complaint I have whenever Brian has a conservative guest on. He never challenges them on their claims no matter how wrong they are. I don't know if it's in the contract since they're usually on to plug a book, not talk politics. On conservative shows they constantly cut off and talk over anyone that disagrees with the party line. Brian doesn't have to be a jerk about it, but he could call them out on it.

Jun. 21 2011 12:03 PM
Worker Bee from Manhattan


I certainly didn't agree with a lot of what he said - but I'm not a conservative and I don't read the National Review. But it never ceases to amaze me how much liberal hate speech lights up these boards every time a conservative guest is on the show. It's really offensive and the double standard is appalling - it's ok to be hateful as long as your for the left.

And all of this while Brian Lehrer's excellent moderating is taking place. He sets the standard for civil discourse - I only wish his listeners would follow it.

Jun. 21 2011 12:00 PM
JT from LI

@Worker Bee
The left is very willing to criticize it's own. Conservatives are the ones that toe the party line ALL the time. So Brookhiser and the rest of the conservatives are getting the same treatment someone from the left would get if they were guests on the show.

Jun. 21 2011 11:56 AM
Harvey Bernstein from Westchester, NY

One additional comment on "Cooking the Books". For Brian, who surely knows better, to let that slide is beyond fair; beyond objective; beyond reason. Brookheiser comes on to flog his book and his questionable ideas. The least Brian can do is stop for a minute and say: "Wait up, Rick, there was no 'cooking the books'. Fairness stops when people lie.

Jun. 21 2011 11:54 AM
Tony from b-town

@ worker bee...
Correct. But you have to admit, that guy was a hack at best or at least delusional.

Jun. 21 2011 11:53 AM
Worker Bee from Manhattan

Dear liberal and progressive WNYC listeners -

NPR, WNYC and community supported radio are not specifically or exclusively for you. Lots of people listen with lots of different views. Not all of us are progressives and not all of us are full of hate. Check yourselves.

Jun. 21 2011 11:49 AM
Taher from Croton on Hudson

Brian I wish you’d bring in some people who really understand the Muslim world, the Middle East, North Africa and Asia, and who understand America’s 60 year
engagement that has lead to an absolute collapse of a foreign policy. That nothing is same any more. Instead you bring a guy who talks “US speak.” The Soviets had “Soviet Speak.” The same old same old nonsense.

Jun. 21 2011 11:48 AM
Taher from Croton on Hudson

Yes, “a 30 year War,” till America goes bankrupt and becomes a third rate nation with mass poverty.

Jun. 21 2011 11:45 AM
Jeff from NYC

Your guest just referred to the "scandal" of climate scientists "cooking the books," a claim that was thoroughly debunked upon investigation. Is willful ignorance and the spreading of false information part of the New Conservatism?

Jun. 21 2011 11:44 AM
Scott from Lower Manhattan

On global warming, could you let Mr. Brookhiser know that he's entitled to his opinions, but he's not entitled to his own facts. One of his claims was that after the East Anglia scandal, we learned that the climate scientists were cooking the books. Every inquiry has cleared the scientists of wrongdoing. There are unquestionable facts that can be interpreted in different ways, but there is no justification to the claim that the scientists were "cooking the books."

Jun. 21 2011 11:44 AM
JT from LI

Those scientists were not "cooking the books" to make their data work. Conservatives are very good at creating a myth (i.e. lying) and sticking to it no matter how much data there is to contradict them. I'm sure in 10 years all children in conservative families will talk about how Paul Revere rode his horse while ringing a bell and shooting warning shots to warn the British.

Jun. 21 2011 11:42 AM
Jeff Mikkelson from Manhattan

Your guest just referred to the "scandal" of climate scientists "cooking the books," a claim that was thoroughly debunked upon investigation. Is willful ignorance and the spreading of false information part of the New Conservatism?

Jun. 21 2011 11:41 AM
The Truth from Becky

It was ignorant enough to coin the term obamacare...but obamneycare...more ignorant if that's possible...Brian you are the biggest culprit!

Jun. 21 2011 11:40 AM
LL from UWS

As George Bush, Sr. explained, the Republican philosophy is to move money UP and to the RIGHT.

Jun. 21 2011 11:37 AM
Nathaniel from Manhattan

Conservatives in Buckley's era use to debate "if Negroes had a right to public accommodation, How was this issue resolved among conservatives or is does this issues still get their panties and cinched up??

Jun. 21 2011 11:36 AM
LL from UWS

The majority of Americans are "Liberal" but the media is owned overwhelmingly by Conservatives.

As Molly Ivins said, it's not right vs. left who is UP and who is DOWN.

Only a small segment of Americans is UP.

Jun. 21 2011 11:35 AM

The majority of the American people are conservative by temperament. That is, they believe in principle in individual rights and responsibilities versus collectivism, which was mostly imported at the turn of the last century with Eastern European and southern European immigrants whose experiences in Europe which had led them to believe in socialist rubrics and credo of collectivism. It took the Great Depression for some of these ideas to permeate into American consciousness, but has never been popular, and generally goes against the grain of most veteran Americans.

Jun. 21 2011 11:28 AM
Gerald Fnord from Palos Verdes, CA

Cultural traditionalists
Business-centric babbitts

All that seems to unite them is that their efforts help to keep the most privileged enjoying their privileges under the cover of 'freedom', variously defined (e.g., the Scholastic obedience-to-God-is-"real"-freedom vs Randroid utter selfishness)---but the difference don't matter so long as it allows the heaping-up of goods with the help of the State and society that denies any major responsibilities thereto in return---as if even the hardest work and the brightest mind could achieve wealth in the State of Nature.

Jun. 21 2011 11:15 AM

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