FIRST, I was about a month past my tenth birthday when The Beatles appeared on Sullivan, and like every other kid in American I resolved that night to grow my hair and learn to play guitar. As it turned out I wasn't very good at either (the difference is that today I still have a guitar! Boom! I'm here all week!). A year later I heard "Subterranean Homesick Blues" on the radio and decided there might be something more to this stuff, plus I now needed one o' them harmonica holder deals.
And here's my point: by the time I was old enough to drive, rawk had devolved into Grand Funk Railroad shirtless hairtossing crapola, and by the time I was old enough to drive I could call bullshit. And I wasn't particularly smart then, and I'm not particularly smart now. Just bear that in mind as we strap on our goggles and follow David Brooks through yet another speleological crawl through the difference between his fantasy life and...other parts of his fantasy life.
"Modern conservatism began as a movement of dissident intellectuals. Richard Weaver wrote a book called, “Ideas Have Consequences.” Russell Kirk placed Edmund Burke in an American context. William F. Buckley famously said he’d rather be governed by the first 2,000 names in the Boston phone book than by the faculty of Harvard. But he didn’t believe those were the only two options. His entire life was a celebration of urbane values, sophistication and the rigorous and constant application of intellect.
Yes, in pursuit of, if not as a smokescreen for, the class and religious prejudices he'd had since age eight. Look, let's just face it: as a "movement" of "dissident intellectuals" we may charitably say this one went three-and-out. Buckley became famous for an undergraduate screed which blamed his 20th century professors for their insufficient dedication to to Bronze Age superstitions which had been thoroughly debunked, if anyone really cared, in the 19th. He then went on to write eight hundred more. Quote one from memory, please. He used his family's money to become a celebrated salonnière for out-of-work fascists, and he used High Church Latin cognates to become a low comedian. His meditations on race, e.g., have not exactly aged well, and the inheritors of that intellectual yellow rag of his are not exactly the sort of people I'd want defending my intellectual heritage. I suppose opinions vary. The other two are middling academics and fellow proponents of a sort of cultural-academic soixante-neuf enforcement of certain selective recollections of 3rd century A.D. Paulists, with light editing. Would they even be remembered today if they weren't fetish objects for the American Right?
"Driven by a need to engage elite opinion, conservatives tried to build an intellectual counterestablishment with think tanks and magazines. They disdained the ideas of the liberal professoriate, but they did not disdain the idea of a cultivated mind.
Except when it came to voting.
"Ronald Reagan was no intellectual, but he had an earnest faith in ideas and he spent decades working through them. He was rooted in the Midwest, but he also loved Hollywood. And for a time, it seemed the Republican Party would be a broad coalition — small-town values with coastal reach.
Whoa. Y'see, Dave, this is the point in these things, every time, every last motherfucking time, where Mark Farner rips off his shirt and starts playing one of those four-note riffs that's supposed to pass for a guitar solo. You're forty-seven years old. You start in with a tenuous premise at best--that the Name Check Gang of "Conservative" "Intellectualism" produced works which, as a singular achievement in the history of Western Thought, managed to both preclude all disagreement and be roundly ignored by the great majority of academics, with the exception of those actively employed in discovering newer and better reasons why Exxon Mobil, its subsidiaries, and its top executives, should not pay taxes--and, inevitably, you have to tack your old dorm-room Ronald Reagan poster onto its shaky edifice. Give it th' fuck up. I doubt you had one, but even if you did your Foghat teeshirt no longer fits. Give it th' fuck up. Reagan was an affable-appearing dope, and a hired pitchman for the racist crypto-fascist Western lands plutocrats, not the genteel racist crypto-fascists of the National Review. You got took. You made a sophomoric mistake and, like far too many others of your peer group, you were rewarded handsomely provided you refused to grow up. Grow up. This crap is in tatters. Academic parlor revenge-taking on the New Deal turned out, remarkably, not to have ushered in the Second Coming of Edmund Burke, but the Second Helping of Boss Tweed. It frankly strains credulity to accept that you didn't realize this all the time; let's not make it worse by trying to convince us you can't see it even today.
"What had been a disdain for liberal intellectuals slipped into a disdain for the educated class as a whole. The liberals had coastal condescension, so the conservatives developed their own anti-elitism, with mirror-image categories and mirror-image resentments, but with the same corrosive effect.
First of all, Brooks, you weren't shy about spewing this stuff yourself when you thought there was some profit in it. You were pushing the Irrational Bush Hatred line along with the rest of the shills; you slimed Gore and Kerry in their turns, not for their ideas but for their fashion mistakes; now we're supposed to believe you look on your party's anti-intellectual slide with a mixture of rue and befuddlement?
Second, and again, Ronald Reagan was not anti-liberal intellectualism. He was an anti-intellectual, and not of the bright sort. Saying "Darwinism is just a theory" is not anti-liberal; it's just stupid. Yours is the party that celebrated Reagan's celebration of polluters--other than cows and trees--before it denied global climate change. The influence of Christian fundamentalism was greater during the Reagan era than it was in the twelve years after, leading up to George W. Bush. Let's just knock off the pretense that you've been frog-boiled on this one.
"This year could have changed things. The G.O.P. had three urbane presidential candidates. But the class-warfare clichés took control. Rudy Giuliani disdained cosmopolitans at the Republican convention. Mitt Romney gave a speech attacking “eastern elites.” (Mitt Romney!) John McCain picked Sarah Palin.
C'mon, really. Is this supposed to be remarkable in the party that embraced the Real Folks, brush-clearin' cowpoke from Phillips Academy? Did you actually follow the campaign, Dave? Romney changed his political persona to such an extent that we ought to have demanded DNA testing to prove he was the same Mitt Romney who'd been governor of Massachusetts. Giuliani fudged what he could, but his "librul" record in New Yawk was so well established in the "conservative" mind that his campaign figured they couldn't get away with denying everything. You might recall that campaign lasting almost to the moment the first votes were counted. The only thing odd about McCain choosing Palin is...Sarah Palin. It's certainly right in line with the "all my previous comments are up for sale" approach he's taken since 2004.
"Palin is smart, politically skilled, courageous and likable. Her convention and debate performances were impressive. But no American politician plays the class-warfare card as constantly as Palin. Nobody so relentlessly divides the world between the “normal Joe Sixpack American” and the coastal elite.
Because, for one, nobody else has so little to work with. You know what, Brooks? I take it all back. I think somebody bet you a week's pay you wouldn't write a column saying Palin was smart and her debate performance was impressive, and you took it. Which, really, sorta encapsulates the whole "conservative" experience, now that I think about it.