May 15, 2009

Watcher's council special - who shall lead?

The Watcher of Weasels put out the following question (and explanation) to the rest of the Watcher's council.

I am looking to counter the argument that the movement no longer has big thinkers such as William F. Buckley and as such will lead to its ultimate death. While I believe that the pioneers that paved the way for Ronald Regan are no longer around we can certainly point to people that have the right ideas and people. The problem is that the Republican Party is infiltrated by a bunch of populists that don't believe in their message; distinction being republican party versus conservative movement.

It is also a different time and a different media.

There are certainly thinkers like Dinesh D'Souza, Rush Limbaugh, etc. But who do you put in that list?

Later the Watcher provided a bit more background to his query. He is working on a response to this post by Judge Richard Posner, in which he writes:

My theme is the intellectual decline of conservatism, and it is notable that the policies of the new conservatism are powered largely by emotion and religion and have for the most part weak intellectual groundings. That the policies are weak in conception, have largely failed in execution, and are political flops is therefore unsurprising. The major blows to conservatism, culminating in the election and programs of Obama, have been fourfold: the failure of military force to achieve U.S. foreign policy objectives; the inanity of trying to substitute will for intellect, as in the denial of global warming, the use of religious criteria in the selection of public officials, the neglect of management and expertise in government; a continued preoccupation with abortion; and fiscal incontinence in the form of massive budget deficits, the Medicare drug plan, excessive foreign borrowing, and asset-price inflation.

By the fall of 2008, the face of the Republican Party had become Sarah Palin and Joe the Plumber. Conservative intellectuals had no party.

(But do liberal intellectuals have a party? Howard Dean was effective in returning the Democratic Party to dominance, but it wasn't exactly an intellectual victory.)

Anyway, a number of council members responded (and have given me permission to quote them) so let me list their responses and then add my own thoughts.


I'm assuming we're talking about living individuals.

If you're specifying deep thinkers as opposed to intellectuals( they're not the same thing IMO):

Victor Davis Hansen, Thomas Sowell, Rush Limbaugh, Jonah Goldberg and Ann Coulter.


I love Mark Steyn's writing and he's right about a lot of things, but I disagree with his basic demographic shtick. I recommend a reading of VDH's "Carnage and Culture" for a different take on this. Dr. Krauthammer is brilliant when he's on his game, as is Podhoretz. Some other names I'd throw into the mix are Dennis Prager, David Warren and of course David P. Goldman, AKA "Spengler".

Rhymes with Right:

Personally, I come up with five that could stir some controversy:

1) Bill Bennett 2) Bobby Jindal 3) Victor Davis Hanson 4) Hugh Hewitt 5) Jonah Goldberg

Bookworm Room:

I've tried to put on my list, not just thinkers, but people who can articulate a coherent Republican vision for the masses. So my first choice is going to be controversial. He's not deep, and many find him irritating, but there are few out there who are as good at re-stating a pure Reagan Republicanism in words of one syllable. So, with that caveat, here I go. (And anyone can quote me.)

1. Sean Hannity
2. Mark Levin, who is too angry, but is masterful at articulating what statism is
3. Mark Steyn, the most brilliant writer around, if only more would read him
4. Jonah Goldberg, another brilliant writer who has a clear vision of the Left, although perhaps a slightly less clear vision of the Right
5. Jennifer Rubin, one of the clearest writers around, and someone who shares with Hannity the ability to take complex political ideologies and reduce them to coherent sentences and paragraphs

Wolf Howling:

1. Thomas Sowell - a man of particular importance right now given his Phd in economics - but unfortunately, a man shunned by most of the major publications.

2. Charles Krauthammer - the most eloquent spokesman for the right on t.v. A superb mind. He needs to write some books.

3. Mark Steyn - utterly brilliant, even if he is an undocumented alien

4. Victor Davis Hanson - brilliant and a historian

5. Bill Kristol - Likewise also brilliant - and with his own publication.

What each of these people lack is a vessel to spark debate throughout the base. Each has a niche at the moment and no one is actively trying to reach beyond their niche to the larger Republican party and independents.

Important but not making the list:

1. Bobby Jindal is important, but he is not writing and making himself known to the public at large. You can actually extend that to everyone who is a potential leader of the Republican Party and in elected office at the moment. They are essentially silent in print and not getting their message out to the base. I have yet to read anything by Jindal.

2. Sarah Palin - really like the woman, but she needs to establish her bona fides in the realm of foreign and defense policy. Penning a few articles would go a long way.

3. Rush Limbaugh - He is critically important, and I agree with him probably 80% of the time, but he is an entertainer first. He is important, but its tough to fill 3 hours a day without slipping into occasional bombast.

4. Ann Coulter - I agree with her when I listen to her, but she is essentially a shock jock with some of her commentary - calling John Edwards a faggot for instance - was so unnecessarily inflammatory that I have ceased spending my geld on her books, etc.

5. Mark Levin - close but not on the level of the top 5 yet. He would make a good supreme court nominee.

I don't necessarily have 5, but I think that Wolf Howling makes an important point about the choices not necessarily having wide appeal. HIs point about Bill Kristol having a publication is important too.

1) The first name that occurred to me was Jonah Goldberg. He can be serious or funny and has enough knowledge of pop culture to appeal to a wide audience. And he has a publication even if it is electronic.

2) Bobby Jindal actually has something to his credit that the average politician doesn't have: a success. (He fixed Louisiana's health care system.) For an example of his thinking see here. His problem is his social conservatism that will drive away some potential supporters. And unfortunately his response to the State of the Union speech did not go over well.

3) Bret Schundler. Who? A three term mayor of Jersey City who failed to get to the next level politically. I wish he was creating a paper trail or giving speeches explaining his theory of governing. But his second inaugural looked pretty good. I wish that he'd update his website.

4) Natan Sharansky. No he's not American but his thoughts on freedom have made some converts. The Left will never forgive him and he's never shown political acumen and he has left Israeli politics for the friendly confines of a think tank. But surely an ex-dissident has some things worth saying about freedom as a (conservative) value.

5) My mystery intellectual. There needs to be someone from the world of business who can make the case that economic freedom is an essential freedom. Especially now as the government is aiming to take control of even greater portions of the public sector, we need an effective spokesman to make the case for economic freedom. Maybe someone like T. J. Rodgers, (.pdf) CEO of Cypress Semiconductor. Then again, maybe not Rodgers.

UPDATE: Mere Rhetoric:

As a matter of domestic politics, I think that the essential
conservative gamble is on the empirical tenacity and normative value of
institutions. As a matter of foreign policy, it obviously has to do with
the irreducibility of power and antagonism. So in no particular order:

Richard Perle
Mark Steyn
Norman Podhoretz
Charles Krauthammer
John Derbyshire

Posted by SoccerDad at May 15, 2009 12:46 AM
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Lee Harris, The Suicide of Reason; Civilization and its Enemies.
i think less in terms of right and left -- the "left" is so far from sane basic principles as to be a parody right now, that the "right" now has to defend the basic "liberal" principles of freedom and civic polities.

Posted by: rlandes at May 15, 2009 4:41 AM

"By the fall of 2008, the face of the Republican Party had become Sarah Palin and Joe the Plumber. Conservative intellectuals had no party".
I'm really tired of the mockery of Sarah Palin. It's bad enough the media created this false image of her as stupid, but why are some conservatives going along with it? Posner is a jackass.

Posted by: Laura at May 15, 2009 12:07 PM

A great group of folks. I was gone most of yesterday until late last night and missed out on this thread.

I think it's important when talking about who shall lead the Republicans (or hopefully more precisely Conservatives). Many of those mentioned are true Conservatives, leading already with their thoughts and writings, but they won't be of any help if we don't have some folks like them running for political office.

Too often lately we have been stuck with politicians who are more like Democrats than Republicans and all the great thinkers and great writers in the world won't matter without someone to lead in the political arena.

Just my quick thoughts.

Posted by: Debbie at May 15, 2009 12:11 PM

A couple of other names that haven't been mentioned:

1) Charles Murray - nobody supports their argument with reams of data better than Murray.

2) Zo (Alphonzo Rachel) - best communicator for conservative ideas in the video age.

Posted by: MattB at May 16, 2009 12:06 PM

Your assertion that intellectual conservatives don't have a party is way off the mark: The party is called the "Libertarian Party." Small government, fiscal responsibility, states' rights, and strong defense (albeit not wasted by being spead all over trying to police the world) - it's all there. The heavy emphasis on the constitution and separation of church and state is probably a big turn off for supposed conservatives who are only opposed to spending on social programs but who love spending endless amounts on war and prisons and whose idea of small government is government that doesn't tell you how to run you business but has an expanded role telling you how to run your personal life (ie which drugs are ok, like alcohol and tobacco and which aren't, like pot and acid; who to marry; what to watch on tv; what you can see in the movie theatre, et cetera....)

Posted by: construcivecritic at May 16, 2009 1:56 PM
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