Lib­er­als no longer ca­pa­ble of in­tel­li­gent dis­course

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

While in­spect­ing the body politic, one en­coun­ters one clear sign that lib­er­al­ism is dead. It is the con­di­tion of our po­lit­i­cal dis­course. Po­lite com­men­ta­tors note that the di­a­logue is “ran­corous.” Some say toxic. Ac­tu­ally, it is worse than that. It is nonex­is­tent. From the right, from the so­phis­ti­cated right, there is an at­tempt to en­gage the lib­er­als. Bud­get Chair­man Paul Ryan, Wis­con­sin Repub­li­can, just did it by pre­sent­ing a bud­get that cried out for in­tel­li­gent re­sponse. Pres­i­dent Obama’s re­sponse was to in­vite Mr. Ryan to sit in the front row for Mr. Obama’s “fis­cal pol­icy” speech at Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity. There, Mr. Obama heaped scorn on an as­ton­ished Mr. Ryan and his work. He did not even men­tion Mr. Ryan’s name. This is what Mr. Obama calls an “adult” de­bate?

From the rest of the lib­er­als there gen­er­ally is si­lence. They prat­tle on about Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin, but they pay al­most no heed to the think tanks on the right, to their jour­nals of opin­ion or to the writers and fig­ures of heft. The lib­er­als are dead.

There are the zom­bies out there — well-known politi­cians such as Al Gore — or writers such as New York Times colum­nist Paul Krug­man who howls about the Her­itage Foun­da­tion while fudg­ing that think tank’s find­ings or about the afore­men­tioned Mr. Ryan. But there is no one ca­pa­ble of en­gag­ing the se­ri­ous con­ser­va­tives. None even tries. Their idea of di­a­logue amounts to hurl­ing lines fit for a bumper sticker — “I am a cit­i­zen of the world” or “War is not the an­swer.” Or per­haps they hurl a slur — con­ser­va­tives are “ex­treme,” though by now, the con­ser­va­tives have been around for decades and run­ning the coun­try more fre­quently than not: the Rea­gan and Bush ad­min­is­tra­tions and the Gingrich Congress. Have the lib­er­als not no­ticed this? As I say, lib­er­al­ism is dead.

This has not al­ways been the case. There was a time when lib­er­als — say, Daniel Pa­trick Moyni­han — en­gaged con­ser­va­tives bril­liantly. They knew what con­ser­va­tives thought. They even could find el­e­ments of con­ser­va­tive thought that they dis­agreed with with­out dis­fig­ur­ing that thought and pounc­ing on the re­sul­tant red her­ring. This is not the way it is to­day. There has been a change in the po­lit­i­cally charged au­di­ence in this great repub­lic.

It is not in the vi­tu­per­a­tion. The vi­tu­per­a­tion has al­ways been out there. Some­times it has been de­li­cious. As early as the pres­i­dency of Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton, in­vec­tive was elo­quent of the po­lit­i­cal bad blood be- tween the con­tend­ing fac­tions. In look­ing for a sec­re­tary of state to re­place Ed­mund Ran­dolph, Wash­ing­ton was turned down by five can­di­dates; the last, Ru­fus King, ex­plained to Wash­ing­ton’s agent, Alexan­der Hamil­ton, that he had re­jected the of­fer be­cause of “the foul and ven­omous shafts of calumny” then be­ing heaved at pub­lic ser­vants. Wash­ing­ton was dis­par­aged as a monar­chist, Hamil­ton as a lackey. Things have not im­proved in the pub­lic dis­course since then.

Yet now, some­thing is dif­fer­ent. I blame the lib­er­als. They do not en­gage their ad­ver­saries. They have been able to avoid do­ing so be­cause they have con­trolled the pub­lic me­dia, the Kul­tursmog. The smog re­ported their grotes­queries with the ut­most se­ri­ous­ness. Thus, if you were vis­it­ing from a for­eign coun­try, you might think Glenn Beck to be a ma­jor force in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics and you might be gravely fright­ened of Mr. Beck and of Fox News. But Mr. Beck is only an en­ter­tainer, and he is leav­ing Fox News — some say un­der duress. Sarah Palin and her whole fam­ily might sound like the Mar­cos fam­ily of the Philip­pines, but she is from Alaska and out of of­fice.

Or take the re­cent im­broglio be­tween Mr. Krug­man and the Her­itage Foun­da­tion.

Her­itage re­cently ran Mr. Ryan’s num­bers through a per­fectly main­stream, non­po­lit­i­cal, eco­nomic model, the U.S. Macroe­co­nomic Model de­vel­oped by Global In­sight. Mr. Krug­man re­sponded in a New York Times col­umn by im­pugn­ing Her­itage’s in­tegrity, claim­ing Her­itage used a model that would force the con­clu­sions that Her­itage wanted. Her­itage’s Bill Beach called out Mr. Krug­man in an open letter. Not a peep of re­sponse from Mr. Krug­man. As I say, lib­er­al­ism is dead, but its nigh-unto-to­tal­i­tar­ian con­trol of me­dia has ended. Fox News, talk ra­dio and the In­ter­net have ar­rived. Raise a toast to free speech.

R. Em­mett Tyrrell Jr. is founder and edi­tor-in-chief of the Amer­i­can Spec­ta­tor.

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