The recent dust-up between David Frum and Rush Limbaugh leaves me cold. The very fact that we’re even paying attention to this tiff is evidence of the utter bankruptcy of Movement conservatism. It’s become a cliche to bemoan the slide conservatism has taken down the wrong side of the bell curve… to remind people that we once listened to debates between Rothbard and Buckley, Ropke and Hayek, Von Kuenhelt-Leddihn and Molnar. Now we lift our heads from Help Wanted pages to track the feud between a Machiavellian warmongering speechwriter from Canada, and an unprincipled Republican publicist shock-jock. Neither one is addressing the critical issues, since both have been on the wrong side of them; each was a shill for Bush’s policies and Bush’s war. Listening to them argue is like sitting in a Paris cafe in May 1944 watching a catfight among the Vichyites over the details of the Dreyfus case.
I’d like to see this argument settled. Preferably at dawn, in an IHOP parking lot near Pentagon City, with chainsaws. Better yet, let’s arrange a steel-cage Sumo match, fought to the death.
Of course Frum is more repulsive, more condescending and dishonest. But he never pretended to be anything else. No one watching Frum’s career at any point since college has any excuse for being surprised that he’s now trying to turn the Republicans into a bunch of mid-70s “wet” Tories. Limbaugh, on the other hand, for all his manifest character flaws, at least once acted as a populist. He supported Buchanan’s insurgency in 1992, and could easily have continued to succeed without selling out to the ideological neutralizers who ran the RNC. Indeed, it would have boosted his audience and given his show an ongoing “edge” if he’d been willing to go on criticizing party orthodoxy—and take on issues like immigration, outsourcing, and affirmative action. Instead, Rush let himself be bought by overnight stays in the White House, schmoozing expeditions with the likes of Karl Rove, and shallow partisan arguments. Now he’s on the defensive, having presided over the ruin of a movement, and the utter victory of our enemies. Frum did the same thing, of course, but he at least had the smarts to jump ship, and find himself a cozy berth on Obama’s U-boat. All hail to the prince of the Vichy-Cons!
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