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Words have failed the Democrats
National Post ^ | September 09 2003 | Robert Fulford

Posted on 09/09/2003 12:49:01 PM PDT by knighthawk

Someone once asked Henry Luce, the most successful American magazine publisher of his day, why most of his editors and writers on Time, Life, and Fortune were Democrats or even socialists. After all, Luce was a Republican and a friend of big business. Why didn't he hire his own? He had his answer ready. "Because," he said, "Republicans can't write."

That was an entirely credible remark in the era of his greatest success, the 1950s. Conservatives were too busy making money to worry about expressing themselves, and the Republicans were known as the stupid party. They spoke in clichés when they spoke at all. Persuasive political commentators were usually liberals. The exceptions, including contributors to William F. Buckley's National Review, were so few that hardly anyone noticed them.

Today, precisely the reverse is true. Whether ruefully or gleefully, nearly everyone who follows American politics has noticed that the best political writers are now usually conservative. Ideology aside, journalistic talent has changed its home address. Style, originality, and the ability to formulate a thought and state it -- these journalistic virtues have become increasingly associated with conservative writers. Canadian journalism also has shifted, but the change here has been less pronounced. Canadians traditionally avoid expressing sharp distinctions in politics and journalism. Besides, we have relatively few outlets for political writing.

In the U.S. the transformation has been astonishing. Conservative magazines, like the Weekly Standard, the National Review, and the American Spectator, are full of urgent prose and lively disputation. By contrast, the Nation, once a commanding voice of left-liberalism, seems to be in mourning for ideals it can barely remember. The New Republic has moved steadily rightward since the 1970s and recently The New Yorker, once reliably liberal, has been sliding gradually toward the right.

Political quarterlies are even more lopsided. The conservatives have half a dozen journals, including The National Interest (on world affairs) and The Public Interest (on social policy) for which there are no liberal equivalents. Among writers there's no contest. The United States has many liberal columnists, but not one of them can compete with Charles Krauthammer, George Will, or Andrew Sullivan. The writers contributing to the conservative comment pages of The Wall Street Journal have far more to say, and say it far better, than the liberals on The New York Times.

To understand how this affects politics, consider the air of pathos that surrounds the Democrats as they stumble toward the 2004 election. They have no significant plans for dealing with what should be their best issues, notably health care, poverty, and education. On Thursday in The New York Times, Matthew Miller of the Center for American Progress suggested that his fellow Democrats have ceded the policy battlefields to the Republicans. Liberals have mislaid their ability to formulate ideas and argue for them.

In a fit of absent-mindedness, Democrats have moved to the right of their traditional position and even to the right of positions that Republicans once held. As Miller put it, "No serious Democratic contender today would endorse Richard Nixon's plans from the early 1970s for universal health coverage and a minimum family income: Nixon's package was far too liberal."

This tendency became clear in 1994 after the defeat of the last great liberal policy offensive, the Clinton health plan. Its failure was, in an important sense, journalistic. It died because Democrats didn't understand it and couldn't explain it. Words failed them. Ever since, they have been terrified of complicated or even slightly radical ideas. Now they have nothing left but enemies: If you believe their rhetoric, the main and perhaps only function of a Democratic politician today is to keep Republicans out of office.

The shift in journalistic thinking goes back to 1972 and George McGovern's presidential campaign. His policies alienated many fellow Democrats, who abandoned the party, argued against its policies, and slowly attracted converts to their new perspective, which eventually acquired the name "neoconservatism."

This development was literary as well as political. Irving Kristol, often called the founder of neoconservatism, came out of magazines heavily focused on literature, notably Commentary and Encounter. Norman Podhoretz, neoconservatism's most eloquent propagandist, first made his reputation as a literary critic. They had learned to value precise statements and clear distinctions; now they came to believe that American liberalism was devoted to blurring distinctions and avoiding clear thought. Some of the new thinking turned on the failure of liberals to support Israel, but more of it formed around attitudes to communism.

Certain intellectuals, having learned from George Orwell and others that hatred of communism is the beginning of political wisdom, awoke to realize that many of their fellow Americans didn't understand that the Soviets were their enemies. As Kristol wrote recently, "The number of intelligent men who could not count the Soviet Union as an enemy, even though this was its own self-definition, was absolutely astonishing." What Kristol and his friends saw all around them was intellectual murkiness produced by a few vaguely understood and largely sentimental ideas about human progress. The neoconservatives set out to bring clarity to American politics, and by their example redefined American journalism.

robert.fulford@utoronto.ca


TOPICS: Editorial; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: democrats; nationalpost; words
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1 posted on 09/09/2003 12:49:02 PM PDT by knighthawk
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To: MizSterious; rebdov; Nix 2; green lantern; BeOSUser; Brad's Gramma; dreadme; Turk2; Squantos; ...
Ping
2 posted on 09/09/2003 12:49:56 PM PDT by knighthawk (Full of power I'm spreading my wings, facing the storm that is gathering near)
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To: knighthawk
I don't think that The New Yorker has moved to the right. It has the same center-left stance journalistically that it has always had, and a contempt-for-Bush editorial stance that is only less conspicuous than that of the New York Times because the house style doesn't allow for as much out-and-out editorializing.
3 posted on 09/09/2003 1:04:24 PM PDT by only1percent
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To: knighthawk
Very good read - thanks for the post.
4 posted on 09/09/2003 1:07:22 PM PDT by TexasNative2000 (You may disagree with me, but I will fight for your right to be in error.)
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To: knighthawk
Interesting insight, to be sure... and quite correct. There is simply no one on the left side of the spectrum that can match prose with the likes of Victor Davis Hanson. Mona Charen or Thomas Sowell and a plethora of others. No commentator can touch Limbaugh and now Hewitt. But, when will we witness a correspondent shift in mainstream journalism or televised broadcasting. There are few major urban newspaper worth the paper their printed on, and even the History and Discovery Channels are mediums for leftists broadcast propoganda. Granted, the American public chooses ideas and thruth on the open market, much like they do any other commodity. But, I would like to think that at some point, even the mainstream media outlets must be concened with the smell of the tripe they are trying to shovel, produced by the ideoligal and intellectual morons that they employ with tremendous zeale.
5 posted on 09/09/2003 1:08:04 PM PDT by Mr.Atos
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To: knighthawk
Ah but the Democrats DO in fact have plans for education, health care, and so on. But they are uncharacteristically silent on these issues because they know socialism is a LOSER!
6 posted on 09/09/2003 1:09:56 PM PDT by thoughtomator (Israel is the canary in the coal mine of Islamofascism)
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To: Mr.Atos
No commentator can touch Limbaugh and now Hewitt.

Well, the left does have Camille Paglia. At least I think the left has her... it's hard to tell sometimes. She's all over the map, I suppose.

But, she's certainly not a rock-solid conservative by any stretch, and yet I enjoy her work because she is a brilliant writer.

I doubt you'd hear a liberal voice admiration for William Buckley on the basis of brilliant prose. And his prose is brilliant.

7 posted on 09/09/2003 1:15:08 PM PDT by TontoKowalski
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To: Allan
Fulford ping.
8 posted on 09/09/2003 1:32:55 PM PDT by keri
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To: knighthawk
Socializing health care IS too "liberal". Moving to the right of it means fighting agaisnt it and I haven't seen any Dems doing that.
9 posted on 09/09/2003 1:33:05 PM PDT by cake_crumb (UN Resolutions = Very Expensive, Very SCRATCHY Toilet Paper)
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To: knighthawk
Today conservatism is largely if not mainly, a product of the much savaged "neo" school. Its made conservatism a creed capable of commanding an electoral majority in American political life. Europe and Canada have nothing like it. If you wonder why American conservatives seem reasonable and cheerful in outlook, its precisely that they aren't their grandfather's "stuffed shirt" conservatism. In the old days, the paleos would have competed to say "NO" no matter what. Today conservatives are more likely to say "YES" and then ask how it can advance the conservative agenda. All of which enrages liberals to no end. There was once a dominant liberal intellectual tradition in this country. A sign of how much the times have changed can be seen in that the Democrats' front-runner, Nikita Dean, isn't running to offer a coherent liberal alternative to President Bush; he's running on pure anger. Yes, Virgina one side has lots of things to say and said them in a way that attracts the American imagination. "Right wing crazies" can to use an Arnoldism, be bold and colorful.
10 posted on 09/09/2003 1:43:59 PM PDT by goldstategop (In Memory Of A Dearly Beloved Friend Who Lives On In My Heart Forever)
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To: goldstategop
" 'Right wing crazies' can to use an Arnoldism, be bold and colorful."

LOL..yep. Though the left in the US and the rest of the world still consider us "the stupid party".

11 posted on 09/09/2003 1:47:53 PM PDT by cake_crumb (UN Resolutions = Very Expensive, Very SCRATCHY Toilet Paper)
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To: knighthawk
The neoconservatives set out to bring clarity to American politics, and by their example redefined American journalism commentary.
Allow journalism to self-define as the pseudo-objective reporters of every inkling of a need for improvement in American social infastructure--the anticonservatives.

Not all commentators are conservative, but those who are not are becoming ridiculous.


12 posted on 09/09/2003 2:18:05 PM PDT by conservatism_IS_compassion (The everyday blessings of God are great--they just don't make "good copy.")
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To: Thud
ping
13 posted on 09/09/2003 3:11:41 PM PDT by Dark Wing
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To: knighthawk
Hatred of communism is the beginning of political wisdom

bump

14 posted on 09/09/2003 3:49:40 PM PDT by tophat9000 (Free Republic ..You have to support, things we don't support, to get our support.... goofy isnít it?)
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To: knighthawk
In a fit of absent-mindedness, Democrats have moved to the right of their traditional position and even to the right of positions that Republicans once held. As Miller put it, "No serious Democratic contender today would endorse Richard Nixon's plans from the early 1970s for universal health coverage and a minimum family income: Nixon's package was far too liberal."

It was defeated by a coalition of conservative Republicans and liberal DemocRATS. The Republicans were against socialized medicine, and the DemocRATS thought they could get an even more left wing medical program with a future DemocRAT president.

15 posted on 09/09/2003 5:05:10 PM PDT by Paleo Conservative (Do not remove this tag under penalty of law.)
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To: knighthawk
Sounds right to me:

If you believe their rhetoric, the main and perhaps only function of a Democratic politician today is to keep Republicans out of office.

16 posted on 09/09/2003 8:56:24 PM PDT by GOPJ
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To: Mr.Atos
Don't forget Mark Steyn. If there were a half dozen more like him, this country would always vote Republican.
17 posted on 09/09/2003 9:04:57 PM PDT by Democratshavenobrains
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To: TontoKowalski
I doubt you'd hear a liberal voice admiration for William Buckley on the basis of brilliant prose. And his prose is brilliant.

Hmm. I find Buckley's writings (or at least his columns) rather disjointed with poor conclusions as if he had dictated them to someone and never given them a second thought.

His earlier work was much better, IMHO.

18 posted on 09/09/2003 10:21:46 PM PDT by GulliverSwift
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To: knighthawk
Before Reagan liberals actually thought that they had won the debate as to which direction the country should move. Since the eighties, many Americans have seen the failure of outright liberalism. Has anyone read defenses of school busing lately by any lib columnist lately? How about bi-lingualism? Are they claiming that reinstituting the death penalty leads to higher crime and murder rates? How about getting tough with commies will make the Soviet Union go ballistic? Cutting taxes will shrink the economy?

Liberalism has been tried and found wanting. Actually it's been found to disastrous. It is revealing that the top Dem candidate is the one that appeals to the angry, leftist wing of the donkey party. All the old hippies and all the freshly-minted leftists out of college support Dean...in short all the old losers and all the liberal university ignoramuses.

Good conservative journalists have certainly helped hold the wolf of liberalism at bay. But liberalism's own inherent destructive illogic and anti-American character have helped also.

19 posted on 09/10/2003 2:47:33 AM PDT by driftless ( For life-long happiness, learn how to play the accordion.)
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To: only1percent
Their contempt for Bush was epitomized in a cover I saw of The New Yorker last year. I can't remember it exactly, but it's theme was something to do with how-stupid-is-Bush. I'm sure most of the NYer readers are of the upper west-side, elite, liberal stripe who sneer at conservatives and think the world ends at the other side of the Hudson River. The smug, pompous, condescending view that NYer readers have of everyone else is typical of most liberals. Their view was and is : we have all the answers, you pathetic, ignorant, middle-class worms, do what we tell you, and don't ask questions.
20 posted on 09/10/2003 3:03:27 AM PDT by driftless ( For life-long happiness, learn how to play the accordion.)
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