A recurring theme in conservatism is a nostalgia for the good old days. What happened to the good old days when conservatives were high-toned philosophers like Bill Buckley and Irving Kristol?
David Klinghoffer's piece in the Los Angeles Times is just the latest in the genre. He deplores the new generation of conservatives like the "potty-mouthed Internet entrepreneur Andrew Breitbart".
Liberals have an identical nostalgia. Not for the good old days when The New Republic and Herbert Croly bestrode the world like a colossus, but when conservatives were gentlemanly and consensual--like Bill Buckley.
Iowahawk David Burge delightfully burlesques the high-toned conservative brigade in the persona of T. Coddington Van Vorhees VII. who is always getting together with his pals "Dame Peggy Noonan" and the two Davids, Brooks and Frum, to grumble snobbishly about the rubes taking over the movement.
I never seem to hear of liberals deploring their potty-mouthed publicists. They seem to be quite happy letting the philosophers get on with philosophizing and the street fighters get on with their hand-to-hand verbal combat.
Why don't the liberals tut-tut about the low-rent liberals, from the MSNBC ranters like Keith Olbermann to the racist Reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton?
There was a time when liberals were exclusively high-toned. That was in the days of the Progressive Era, that flourished presidentially from Theodore Roosevelt (R) to Woodrow Wilson (D). But in the 1920s the Progressives went out of favor with the American voters. It was the genius of Franklin Roosevelt to create a coalition of the high-minded Progressives and the street-fighting big city machines in the Democratic Party and call it liberalism.
However they were presented to the American people, all Democratic presidents since FDR except Jimmy Carter have been frank products of political machines. Truman came from the Prendergast machine, Kennedy from the Boston Irish Mafia, Johnson from the solid Democratic South, Clinton from an Arkansas machine that he turned into a personal political machine, and Obama, the perfumed product of the Chicago machine.
These machine politicians have understand that there are always plenty of high-toned publicists ready to perfume the air around them with high-toned words. Behind the propaganda, they get on with the job of wheeling and dealing, holding their friends close and their enemies closer, and looting the public fisc.
In my view, the last few years have seen a breakout in the power of the low-rent conservatives. The unexpected eruption of the Tea Party movement is canonical. It's the power of the Internet synergizing with genuine political bottom-up rebellion.
It is telling that the Democrats all thought the Tea Parties were a put-up job, "astroturf" organized by Republican political operatives. In fact, the Republican establishment was just as surprised by the Tea Parties as anyone else, and not a little afraid of the movement.
Conservatism will never be exclusively high toned again, so the Van Vorhees chaps had better get out the air freshener.