...John McCain's choice was not a fluke, or a senior moment, or an act of desperation. It was the result of a long campaign by influential conservative intellectuals to find a young, populist leader to whom they might hitch their wagons in the future.It's true: the Weekly Standard and National Review have lost credibility. After engineering one of the worst political blunders in recent memory, they jettisoned anyone who dared utter dissent and, perhaps as a result, their evaluation of the election has yet to rise above the level of "the media did it."
And not just any intellectuals. It was the editors of National Review and the Weekly Standard, magazines that present themselves as heirs to the sophisticated conservatism of William F. Buckley and the bookish seriousness of the New York neoconservatives. After the campaign for Sarah Palin, those intellectual traditions may now be pronounced officially dead.
Other voices, however, have been much more introspective. While National Review and the Weekly Standard were busy papering over old ideas with new slogans, the internet allowed for a new crop of conservative thinkers to grow up in parallel, and some times in concert, with traditional print sources. I understand why Andrew Sullivan might say, "the reconstruction of conservatism will require a generation's work," but I think that some intellectuals--Ross Douthat, David Brooks, Kathleen Parker and Sullivan himself, just to name a few--have already done a lot of the heavy lifting.
I actually worry about the opposite problem. Every day, on-line, serious strategy is being seriously debated by a group of talented, young conservatives. I read them not because I agree with them--I don't share Ross Douthat's ideas about abortion or pornography, nor do I like Sullivan's positions on the flat tax or affirmative action--but I appreciate their seriousness, their reasoning and their writing. Where is the rigorous, intelligent discussion, played out in real time over the internet, that is closer to my politics?
When Lilla writes about his early encounters with conservatives, I empathize.
Conservative politics mattered less to me than the sober comportment of conservative intellectuals at that time; I admired their maturity and seriousness, their historical perspective, their sense of proportion. In a country susceptible to political hucksters and demagogues, they studied the passions of democratic life without succumbing to them.To maintain not only power but the intellectual foundation from which it stems, progressives will need an equally vibrant new crop of public thinkers thinking publicly. Without it, our victory may be short-lived.