First and last refuge of moral cowards

In a typical Friday WaPo summary of current conservative rhetoric – “The Last Refuge of a Liberal” – Charles Krauthammer demonstrates why he is so widely revered among the faithful:  At the moment of decision, he will shamelessly and pugnaciously reinforce complacency, bravely take up the cause of cowardice, and adopt any argument, no matter how contemptibly inane, for the sake of expressing contempt.

Here’s how Dr. Krauthammer defines the “ugly sight” of “liberalism under siege” in four short paragraphs – deploying a mode of obfuscation and misdirection that conservatives from the lowliest internet commenter to the dean of rightwing intellectuals cling to like so many Pit Bulls clinging to soup-bones.

— Resistance to the vast expansion of government power, intrusiveness and debt, as represented by the Tea Party movement? Why, racist resentment toward a black president.

— Disgust and alarm with the federal government’s unwillingness to curb illegal immigration, as crystallized in the Arizona law? Nativism.

— Opposition to the most radical redefinition of marriage in human history, as expressed in Proposition 8 in California? Homophobia.

— Opposition to a 15-story Islamic center and mosque near Ground Zero? Islamophobia.

Does Krauthammer actually deny that racism, nativism, homophobia, and Islamophobia figure in those four “oppositions”?  Of course not, because he knows that to do so would be laughable.  But has anyone been saying that every person in opposition is a red-in-the-face, spittle-spewing full-time bigot?  Does everyone who has ever uttered a bigoted remark, laughed at or told  a bigoted joke, experienced or sympathized with a xenophobic impulse deserve to have scarlet letter “B”‘s tattooed on either cheek, both sets?  No one starts out with such absurd assumptions.

Meanwhile, the stubborn refusal  to confront lesser real world charges effectively concedes them.  Therefore, the real meaning of Dr. Krauthammer’s argument, of the argument that he and all the lesser tools of the rightwing ideological apparatus have been making all Summer, is not that racism, nativism, homophobia, and Islamophobia are non-existent on the right.  His argument can only be that, to whatever extent they do exist, they are unimportant, but, like virtually every other “mainstream” and “sober” conservative pundit of any note, Krauthammer is not intellectually brave enough to take this or any other position on the realities of rightwing populism openly. The issue must simply be bypassed rhetorically – because even to acknowledge it, even to make the slightest concession, would call for an honest and open accounting.

Is the new populist right driven by bigotry on any level and to any extent?  If so, then how much would be too much?  Is there any “down side,” short- or long-term, to ignoring where not encouraging and elevating the worst elements in American political and social life?  Answering such questions, even recognizing the the potential relevance of such questions, would in turn force the right either to separate itself from the popular wellsprings of its support, or to confess that it knows full well what it’s doing.

The price of sheer denial to the right is its own moral and intellectual hollowing out.  A man like Krauthammer – or like Bill Kristol, or Rich Lowry, or the other shirking guardians of American conservatism’s intellectual self-respect – surely must know that they are merely playing roles, have exchanged credibility for pragmatic cretinism – that is, for self-interested opportunism, the first and last refuge of moral cowards.  They advance a depiction of the broad left that in itself amounts to a stereotype, and defines conservatism and liberalism both as political bigotries, deformations of the mind and spirit facing each other across a divide that can no longer be crossed by reason.

10 comments on “First and last refuge of moral cowards

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  1. Perhaps it’s time to advance the work of people making the good arguments, rather than beat up on the extremists.

    Who is making a reasonable argument about the need for reforming our immigration policies and practices so that they’re not going to result in some states being overrun by Okies or other undesirables?
    How did California become so full of armed and deranged zealots that they spilled over into Idaho and Montana and challenged the writ of the authorities there for years?

    Perhaps it’s even more useful to point out that we have no set of agreed-upon ideas about how to reform our immigration problems in the southwest and it’s not simply bigotry, nativism, cowardice or political expediency that’s behind this stuff.

  2. Thanks for the link, miguel. Here’s Taranto’s conclusion – to me, it suggests “sophistry for middle schoolers”:

    Yet the oiks’ vision of themselves as an intellectual aristocracy violates the first American principle ever articulated: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal . . .”

    This cannot be reconciled with the elitist notion that most men are economically insecure bitter clinging intolerant bigots who need to be governed by an educated elite. Marxism Lite is not only false; it is, according to the American creed, self-evidently false. That is why the liberal elite finds Americans revolting.

    Taranto doesn’t seem to understand what that “all men are created equal” thing was, and wasn’t, about. The second idea – the “elitist notion” – generally describes how many in the founding generation, Jefferson included, came to view the challenge they were up against designing a government. When the polls are running against conservatives on whatever pet issue, they suddenly remember the dangers of “majority faction” and the other corruptions that popular democracy, and human beings in general, are vulneerable to… and Madison ascends in their political firmament.

    If I have some time later, I may turn this into a follow-up post.

  3. The world is not neat. Former Vice President Cheney and former First Lady Laura Bush support gay marriage. President Obama has said nothing since the latest court ruling. He also hasn’t ended DADT, which he could do unilaterally.

  4. Yes, but he puts the likes of Kevin Jennings, whose only qualification is promotion of ‘unorthodox’ sexual practices, proscribed by most codes of conduct, he has the EPA investigate the banning of lead bullets, because they are toxic, to circumvent the second amendments, he
    like the Clinton administration before them, facilitates the franchise for felons, but those who have given their full measure of devotion, he
    skimps on the enforcement of their law, he schemes at imposing essentially ‘air taxes’ on the full gamet of our economic transaction.

  5. “Does Krauthammer actually deny that racism, nativism, homophobia, and Islamophobia figure in. . .”

    Does MacLeod actually deny that paraplegicphobia figures in. . .

  6. “No one starts out with such absurd assumptions.”

    You’re absolutely right. No one starts out with those assumptions. Rather, they start out with the intention of using any and all rhetorical weapons regardless of reasonableness, appropriateness, truth or applicability.

    As you have in this post.

  7. ” We have gone through the looking class, here people,” and cracked
    our skull, gotten some blood loss, there is no other way to understand
    that kind of thinking. This administration has sought to stigmatize any opposition to it, as race, gender and ethnicity based, while pushing
    initiatives that ‘fundamentally transform’ this nation not for the better.

    I think Krauthammer for all his wisdom, he beats a dozen pundits easily, still underestimated what we were facing, and what structures
    has been put in place, that will not be easy to dislodge

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