The War of Ideas

Jon Chait takes the chance to revisit the subject of conservatives perpetually proclaiming themselves to be winning the war of ideas:

These days, of course, the Republican Party has been routed and conservatives are beset by panic and gloom. You'd think this would, at minimum, give us a small respite from boasts about the right's victory in the War of Ideas. But no. They're still at it. The new line, put forward by the likes of Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby and Hoover Institution fellow Peter Berkowitz, is that conservatives are more intellectually serious because they're having deep debates over first principles, while liberals enforce stultifying conformity. As Jacoby puts it, "[T]he right churns with serious disputes over policy and principle, while the left marches mostly in lockstep." Berkowitz bemoans "the absence on the left of debate or dissent," which he attributes in part to liberals being "blinded by rage at the Bush administration." [...]

Third, it's certainly true that conservatives today are more divided than liberals about whether the Iraq war has been a fiasco. I simply disagree about what this fact tells us. Conservatives see their split on this proposition as evidence of intellectual acuity. I see it as evidence that roughly half of all conservatives are barking mad. On last year's National Review cruise, as Johann Hari reported in these pages, Norman Podhoretz called the war "an amazing success" and insisted that "it couldn't have gone better." To believe this, you have to believe it was worth 3,500 American military deaths, many times that number wounded, tens or hundreds of thousands of Iraqi deaths, and hundreds of billions of dollars to convert a brutal secular Sunni thugocracy into what may be, in a best-case scenario, a somewhat less brutal, but far more theocratic, Shia thugocracy. Maybe it's the blind Bush hatred talking, but I'm not terribly embarrassed that liberals are united in rejecting this notion.

See also Chait's longer essay on the subject of ideas which combines this sort of quality mockery with more of a positive case about how the political system actually operates.