The way movement conservatism's ideological enforcers go about discrediting dissidents really is something. The blatant inconsistencies and lack of self-awareness never cease to amaze me.
Erick Erickson begins his latest salvo by asserting that the recent chatter about conservative reform is problematic, because "the people talking about reform are in Washington and New York, the two places least likely to lead any version of conservative reform." Does he really think that? Fox News, one of his employers, is run out of New York, as is National Review, the most successful publication in the history of conservative reform (and City Journal, a more recent success). RedState, his online home, is owned by Eagle Publishing, headquartered at One Massachusetts Avenue, Washington, D.C. Down the street is the Heritage Foundation, which "remains the indispensable organization within the conservative movement," according to Erickson.
It isn't that I put any particular faith in most of those organizations*. But Erickson does. So notice his little game. If Ross Douthat or Ramesh Ponnuru or his target today, Josh Barro, is cited as "a conservative reformer," he dusts off the trusty anti-northeast rhetoric and deploys it against them.
But when Erickson has allies in New York and Washington? Let's return to Erickson's thoughts on the Heritage Foundation as an example:
The Heritage Foundation set the stage for Ronald Reagan. Without Heritage, no doubt Reagan could have won. But Reagan's ideas and policies were incubated in the Heritage Foundation.
Heritage was the foundation of the Reagan Revolution.
Unlike many leaders in the conservative movement, Ed Feulner has actually led all the way. He did not pass off his role to be just a figure head. He has been engaged. He kept and is keeping conservatism alive well past Reagan, through reading a lie off George H. W. Bush's lips, through Bill Clinton's triangulation, even to now during this superficial revival of American liberalism in politics and popular culture. Like a monk preserving knowledge in the dark ages in a monestary, Ed Feulner turned the Heritage Foundation into a monastery of conservatism making sure the timeless principles of Burke and Kirk and Hayek and Reagan found the intellectual footing to advance philosophy into policy and policy into politics.
More importantly, Ed Feulner did it right. He has not left without making sure his organization could stand without him. In doing so, he made probably the boldest move since his founding -- aligning an organization many, including myself, have criticized in the past decade as becoming too aligned with the GOP at the expense of conservatism itself and stumbling on health care policy, with the grassroots of the conservative movement. It is a near phoenix like move.
It appears that when Erickson is allied with you or your organization, residence in D.C. or New York is no obstacle to helping reform conservatism, even if you're much more a part of the D.C. establishment than young pundits whose northeastern location renders them ideologically unclean.
Geography isn't the only reason Erickson would have us ignore Barro:
Barro has never had a job in responsible policymaking or politics of any kind. He has worked no campaigns. He has answered to no constituency. He has enacted no ideas into policy, ever. He is a wholly inexperienced nitpicker and scold of the sort that Theodore Roosevelt admonished us -- rightly -- to ignore as pitiable and irrelevant. And the sad part is that he's just the latest in a long line of 'those cold and timid souls.
I don't know that the resume sketch is accurate, but notice the strangeness of the critique. One minute, it's inside-the-Beltway types who are worthless. The next, it's disqualifying to have never had a job in policymaking. And how consistently does Erickson employ the latter standard? "The way I see it, Rush Limbaugh is a fighter," he wrote just last month in a post touting his supposed value to the Tea Party's reform efforts. There are standards to disqualify pundits Erickson disagrees with, and very different standards for the pundits Erickson regards as allies.
Those of us outside Washington and New York should not think ourselves superior to them because of geography or biography. But we should all recognize that the DC-NY corridor of conservative thinkers have a steep hill to climb these days. The public, regardless of party, loathes Washington and the elites. Merely by virtue of geography, many of them are tainted.
Thus they must try harder to connect to the real world.
It's that "those of us outside Washington and New York" that really gets me. Erickson doesn't live in Washington or New York, but is much more implicated in the conservative establishment in the northeast than Barro, for goodness sake; and much more of a media elite himself, with his regular gig on Fox News. That isn't where Erickson started, of course; and it's convenient for him to maintain the fiction that he is still an outsider relative to a 28-year-old editor at Business Insider. Barro is, in fact, going to rise in influence and prominence, given his intellectual honesty and smarts. Perhaps then Erickson can accurately attack him as more elite.
The tactic described in this post is one you'll often see deployed against heterodox reformers.
Don't ever fall for it.
There are actually a few things elsewhere in Erickson's post that are insightful, per usual. He's kind of like the Ron Artest of political analysis. Some moments he gives you solid defense. Other times he charges into the stands and starts throwing punches that make him look bad later.
Barro's response points out all the factual inaccuracies that result.
*I like City Journal a lot.