Hugh Hewitt's Suspiciously Timed, Phantom 'Conservative Renaissance'

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The pundit claims it's a golden age for conservative thought, but he can't name any specific new ideas we could hope for during a Romney administration.


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Hugh Hewitt is toasting movement conservatism. The law professor and talk-radio host is familiar with the various critiques of his ideological coalition. He was broadcasting during the Bush Administration, the Election 2008 victory of Barack Obama, and the countless "whither conservatism" conferences and panels that followed. As he sees it, however, conservatism is back.

Its intellectuals are responsible for "an explosion of new and important work." President Obama's tenure has brought about "a renaissance in conservative thought and a flowering of the online means of its distribution." If only Mitt Romney is elected, "the outpouring of conservative thought sparked by the past four years of disastrous choices and failed experiments will provide the new president and his administration with a huge burst of creativity and innovation," along with online networks necessary to implement reforms "with great speed."

Disagree? Maybe you're just ignorant of reality.  

"The mainstream media isn't even aware of the sea change. But a couple dozen talk-show hosts and online commentators have bent the opinion curve, again. Twitter empowered the smart, the funny and the quick, and talk radio provided the venue for the new influencers to build then double and triple their reach," Hewitt asserts, lauding conservative magazines, bloggers, podcasts, and book authors. "All of this has been obscured by the woes of the country and the Manhattan-Beltway media elite's swoon over the failed president," he continues. "But the renaissance in conservative thought and influence is already upon us, and just in time."

Do you buy it?

Yeah, me neither. But rather than repeat the many reasons why I find the current incarnation of movement conservatism to be morally and intellectually flawed, I'll focus on the problem with Hewitt's rundown of what's right with it: He doesn't bother naming even a single idea that hasn't gotten its due!

Books by Yuval Levin, Jonah Goldberg, and Arthur Brooks are said to be worthwhile. Various sponsors of Hewitt's radio program are proclaimed innovative. Powerline and Instapundit are cited as blogs that "spread sophisticated critiques of the president and crucial links to overlooked stories."  

And that's it.

The allegedly innovative ideas in these books are never summarized. The allegedly sophisticated critiques of President Obama are never named. The insights at the core of the supposed conservative renaissance are never revealed. The policies Mitt Romney will supposedly implement if elected with a Republican Congress are never specified. 

This goes beyond "Where's the beef?" Where's the soy-based vegetable patty?

There are a lot of sharp, worthwhile conservative thinkers in America. For more than five years, figures as diverse as neoconservative David Frum, the paleocons at The American Conservative, the libertarians at Cato, the right-leaning academics at Outside the Beltway, the unclassifiable Andrew Sullivan, and a diverse cast of characters besides have been determinedly arguing, as I have also been doing, that the conservative movement is too morally compromised and intellectually sloppy -- that reform is a necessary precursor to the right's renewal.

How is it that people who disagree about so much agree on that?

I'd entertain Hewitt's contrary arguments if he had them. Instead he is asking his apparently trusting readers to take this proposition on faith: If Mitt Romney is elected president with a Republican Congress, important reforms -- unspecified, but creative and innovative! -- will be passed and speedily implemented. It's the sort of unfounded faith that gave us the Bush Administration.

Here's a reality check.

Even if Romney is a better choice than Obama -- which is totally possible -- the almost certain result if he's elected is Medicare costs that keep rising, increased Pentagon expenditures, ongoing deficits caused by spending more than is collected in taxes, myriad bills shaped by special interests at the expense of the common good, budget shortfalls and pension crises at the state and local levels, the ongoing threat of terrorism, and the continued weakening of core civil liberties and Madisonian checks and balances on executive power in the name of keeping us safe.

And although talk-radio hosts aren't substantially responsible for this sorry state of affairs, they've surely done conservatism no favors by touting the vibrancy and health of the ideology in the run-up to every election. Wouldn't it be more prudent to declare "the conservative renaissance" after the ostensibly innovative ideas are actually passed into law and prove to be substantive policy successes? It really is astonishing how little the right learned from the Bush years.

Here we go again.

UPDATE: See this followup piece, which includes some of the specific policies that Hewitt is touting.
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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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