to send someone of MJF’s caliber To CPAC is akin to sending a poor man’s Christopher Hitchens to cover all things Vatican. The end result will be amusing, to be sure, but it won’t be honest.
Those of you who understand my perspective know that I am a pro-life Catholic long before I have any fidelity towards being a conservative, much less a Republican.
Of course, this is the way things naturally must be — not because I expect the perfect political party to consist of table-banging Irish-Lebanese Catholics who are uncompromising on life and demand a government that reflects those values at every stage, but because it is the apex of political wisdom to know two things: (1) you’re never going to get your way all the time, and (2) if you want to get some of the things you want, you have to work in coalitions.
Principles are like tools in this regard. Left on the shelf and unused, they look excellent on the shelf as pristine and pure artifacts in a museum. Yet as any good craftsman knows, one must get their tools dirty if they want to put them to practical effect… and it is a poor craftsman indeed who blames their tools.
Fast forward to this weekend’s bacchanalia at CPAC, putatively the conservative rallying point that fetes the Washington D.C. insider set famed more for the hookup culture at the Gaylord Hotel bar and the after-hours parties upstairs. In short, if you’re a social conservative, there is nothing C- about C-PAC, to be sure — just a meat market.
To wit, Jonathan V. Last laments the demise of CPAC and upbraids those critical of The Bulwark‘s decision to send Molly Jong-Last (most decidedly a writer of the left) to cover the farcical gathering of the under-30 and those-striving-to-be:
A few weeks ago I asked Molly Jong-Fast to report from CPAC for The Bulwark. I did this because MJF is a writer with a great eye for absurdity and because CPAC is absurd. And it has been absurd for at least 20 years.
Last isn’t wrong.
For as long as I’ve been in Washington, CPAC was the Creature Cantina of conservatism. It was a joke during the Gingrich Revolution. It was a joke when Mitt Romney went there insisting that he was “severely conservative.” It’s a joke now that the torch has been passed to Charlie Kirk and Seb Gorka and Laura Loomer.
In short, MJF was there to cover the event with all of the seriousness it deserves.
What follows from this remarkable piece isn’t just an apologia for The Bulwark’s coverage of CPAC, but rather a lament over both the state of modern conservatism — or what remains of it — followed by the mindset of totalitarianism that seems to have enveloped the modern Republican Party in its transition from conservatism to nationalism.
Now for the record, Last comments towards the end of his missive that he would gladly take European-style abortion restrictions for a moderately-socialist state. Of course, I would vehemently disagree with such a notion.
As our illustrious Virginia Governor Ralph Northam has explained in quite vivid terms, all abortion is infanticide. Once you admit that the human person can be exterminated, and once you define feminism as a choice between their babies and their futures, the game is up.
Human life is not a bargaining chip, and once it becomes a bargaining chip the socialist worldview — for all its pretense of helping people — exposes itself to a scarcity of resources that only capitalism can provide. At the end of the day, socialism is about two things: the centralization of power and the adjudication of winners and losers. Babies in the womb can hardly speak for themselves much less seize the means of production, ergo they lose out just as surely as any kulak.
Which is what Last perhaps misses in his apologia, because for those of us who still hold to the notion that conservatism’s virtues lie within its preservation of natural rights, to send someone of MJF’s caliber to CPAC — talented a writer as she is — is akin to sending a poor man’s Christopher Hitchens to cover all things Vatican. The end result will be amusing, to be sure, but it won’t be honest.
This is perhaps where Erick Erickson from The Resurgent and Alexandra DeSanctis of National Review have their point. If the mission of Last and those huddled around the redoubt is truly to preserve what is best and true of the conservative movement, surely pointing to the putative sins of Ben Domenech over at The Federalist is no means of elucidating the point.
Of course, there is the old Fr. Richard John Neuhaus argument of the naked public square, one to which I subscribe.
This is where I find myself both in violent agreement and mild disagreement with Last’s coup de main regarding this morning’s detractors. Agreement in as such that I find MJF’s writing to be an addition to the conversation; disagreement in as such that it added one iota to the argument Last includes in an after action report.
The confession towards the end — that Last is willing to broker compromise on abortion — only confesses what detractors had assumed: MJF reflects the thinking of The Bulwark’s editorial staff.
Muddying the waters with Domenech’s sins doesn’t improve this perception one iota. Truth be told, it is one of the more disappointing things to realize about the Virginia digital media landscape to discover that the vast majority of “opinion writing” was bought and paid for — no small wonder why this publication (and your humble writer) must constantly be accused of same.
Yet it has been true on the left for over a decade and only made worse with the arrival of The Virginia Mercury. That VPAP has learned to sell out as well to organizations such as Clean Virginia with their own version of Journolist is a strike against the transparency they claim to champion. Fact of the matter is that Blue Virginia, The Bull Elephant, and yes quite sadly writers and editors of Bearing Drift all were guilty of what Last calls “plagiarism and payola” as I painfully learned — and one has to openly wonder whether PR professionals used such well crafted tools for the sole reason that they worked with the legacy media as well. Quelle suprise?
…and that’s just Virginia, folks.
Thus the finer point of what we are not talking about here is media as information warfare, bought and paid for not for the purpose of informing or even sharing an honest opinion, but rather because outsiders are paying people to influence the masses to a discrete endgame.
If the thesis is correct that media is “bought and paid for” then naturally, folks will be picking up rocks to throw at MJF and The Bulwark for breaking ranks — not for the sin of actually breaking ranks, or even for the sin of breaking orthodoxy — but for no other reason than base and filthy lucre.
Of course, it is difficult to fathom much of this. Transparency helps to some degree, but ultimately the curation of information (and the trustworthiness of the person curating it) is the temporary resolution. Whether readers will care is something else, as Facebook and Google and Twitter all choose to prioritize “good” opinions over “bad” ones with a degree of power that would never be tolerated if it were done from Washington.
Such are the times.
But it does raise an important question. 50 years ago, there was something of conservatism to be conserved. Today — what is left? Too much of it seems to be about power squabbles rather than first principles. Those in control of the sluices of information seem more keen to leverage uninformed masses rather than do the hard work of informing people with thoughtful opinion.
That’s our fault, of course. We tolerate it because we are too rushed to consider facts in context — we would much rather get the facts, form an opinion, and move on. That’s dangerous for society, because first impressions are hard to correct.
If the center truly cannot hold, and if the conservation of the classical liberal order is no longer possible much less practical, then one has to wonder what is actually left? Are we content simply to send witty critics to CPAC and enjoy the final demise of the conservative movement? Or are there diamonds in the carnage that deserve to be rescued? To be re-evaluated? To be found and appreciated in a world that can only think in 140 characters or less?
The Age of Reason yielded to the Age of Emotions quite surprisingly. All it took was a general lack of appreciation for education and a bunch of credentials to make it so. We feel smart, but we’re not educated. Both parties are reduced to feeding their extremes because it is expedient (or more accurately, too afraid to challenge them).
One hates to channel St. Thomas More, but perhaps it’s worth a review:
If we lived in a State where virtue was profitable, common sense would make us good, and greed would make us saintly. And we’d live like animals or angels in the happy land that needs no heroes. But since in fact we see that avarice, anger, envy, pride, sloth, lust and stupidity commonly profit far beyond humility, chastity, fortitude, justice and thought, and have to choose, to be human at all… why then perhaps we must stand fast a little — even at the risk of being heroes.
That is a conservatism worth fighting for in the public square. To hurl ridicule at the ridiculous feels good for a weekend, but it doesn’t advance the cause one bit.