A conservatory of Ldotter blogs.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

A culture of individualism. . .

. . .has taken hold in the Republican Party. And, isn't it strange that this sense of individualism, once considered the very basis of conservatism, is seen as such a threat by its most prominent proponents?

Ross Douthat's piece in today's New York Times, The Republican Reformation, discusses this phenomenon, and covers it about as well as it can be covered in so few words.

However, I think it's premature to label the rise of McCain a reformation or even a rebellion. Rather, I think it's a natural consequence of the proliferation of blogs and other outlets for conservative discussion.

I remember a time not so long ago when, even on sites such as my favorite, Lucianne.com, to disagree with Rush Limbaugh was to run the risk of being cast out of the tribe for heresy. For many years, Limbaugh was seen as The Grand Poobah of conservatism. He's still considered the ultimate standard in the talk radio medium, and rightly so. He owns the market, for all intents and purposes.

But, something happened in 2004 which changed the course of conservatism. We've heard the story countless times, but it's well worth remembering just how much of an impact one man with a computer, sitting at home in his pajamas, can make. The reverberations of that impact are still being felt to this day.

While it would be a mistake to overestimate the influence that blogs per se have had in McCain's ascent, I would submit that the proliferation of blogs has had a cultural effect within the conservative movement that helped to foster McCain's success. While the conservative blogosphere itself is fairly hostile to him, McCain has benefited from its existence.

What the blogosphere has established is that there is room for dissent within the conservative movement, and that everyone isn't simply entitled to merely having an opinion. Conservatives of every stripe are now growing ever more comfortable with developing their own opinions and expressing them. When conservatives see guys like David Frum and Ramesh Ponnuru have vigorous back-and-forths over what direction conservatism should take in order to remain a viable ideology, with neither of them having their credentials called into question, it's only natural to say to ourselves, "OK, well here's what I think about it all, and until you can demonstrate otherwise, it's every bit as valid as what the big guys are saying."

Everyday conservatives now have opportunities to participate in the discussion, rather than simply listen to and read what is being told to them by establishment conservative gatekeepers. Every time they launch their web browsers and set out in search of the latest in conservative thought, they find a broad array of ideas, many of which are in direct conflict with one another. It only makes sense that, over time, people will come to the conclusion that, in spite of what the big-name pundits and media mavens would have them believe, no one has a monopoly on being right.

So, a person might listen to a two or three hours of talk radio and say to themselves, "Well, that was entertaining. But, you know, I read a different opinion the other day that made a lot of sense to me." And, when you have on one hand folks like Ingraham and Hannity fulminating about the dire consequences of having someone like McCain at the top of the ticket, and on the other hand folks like Ramesh Ponnuru and Victor Davis Hanson, whose credentials are every bit as valid, saying something entirely different, a person can hardly be blamed for taking a skeptical view of the armed mob.

The talk show biggies and some conservative activists might want to stand down and consider that the conservative movement they profess to be protecting from the McCains and Huckabees of the world might turn from the Grand Old Party into the Donner Party if they continue to insist on dragging it in a direction in which it's not ready to be led.

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