Hayward Op-Ed: Is Conservatism Brain-Dead? I hope not.

October 3rd, 2009

Very interesting WaPo Op-Ed by Steven Hayward (H/T Volokh).

During the glory days of the conservative movement, from its ascent in the 1960s and ’70s to its success in Ronald Reagan’s era, there was a balance between the intellectuals, such as Buckley and Milton Friedman, and the activists, such as Phyllis Schlafly and Paul Weyrich, the leader of the New Right. The conservative political movement, for all its infighting, has always drawn deeply from the conservative intellectual movement, and this mix of populism and elitism troubled neither side.

Today, however, the conservative movement has been thrown off balance, with the populists dominating and the intellectuals retreating and struggling to come up with new ideas. The leading conservative figures of our time are now drawn from mass media, from talk radio and cable news. We’ve traded in Buckley for Beck, Kristol for Coulter, and conservatism has been reduced to sound bites.

President Obama has done conservatives a great favor, delivering CPR to the movement with his program of government gigantism, but this resuscitation should not be confused with a return to political or intellectual health. The brain waves of the American right continue to be erratic, when they are not flat-lining.

I’ve had a problem with most of the traditional right wing pundits for years. From Coulter to Malkin to Beck, I find myself agreeing with them on a really really abstract level on some issues, but when I see the means they use to persuade, I just get turned off. Earlier in my youth, I was a total talk radio junkie. But as I grew up, I found it tougher and tougher to listen to it, a few hosts excepted. Cable news and radio, by definition appeal to people who lack a deep understanding of the issue, and need to get their news chopped up and regurgitated. I still enjoy listening to Rush, Levin to a lesser extent, and Hannity once in a while. But I would definitely like to see a resurgence in the intellectual contributions of classical liberal thought in the mainstream media. Am I hopeful of seeing one? Not really. Why? Because I believe in capitalism. As long as Coulter and Malkin top the best sellers list, these pundits will keep putting out this pap.