The contrast Homans makes between C11 and Big Hollywood is instructive, and tends to confirm my rather jaundiced view of the inverse relationship between success and quality. Essentially, on one site you would find intelligent cultural criticism, and on the other you would find a lot of the cultural whining that seems especially concentrated among actors who have a political grudge with the rest of their own industry. In the former, there would be smart takes on new films by Suderman, for example, and in the latter you get Dirk Benedict complaining about how feminism corrupted the new BSG or Breitbart going off on another one of his insane rants. One site was challenging, the other flatters its audience’s prejudices. Naturally, the second one survives and thrives.*
And as if on cue, National Review’s John Miller chimes in, pointing to NRO’s laughably bad lists of conservative rock songs (Blink 182’s “Stay Together for the Kids” is number 17) and conservative films (300? Really?) as examples of serious right-of-center cultural criticism.
But shoving round cinematic pegs into square conservative holes is not serious cultural engagement – it’s wishful thinking. This, of course, is precisely the approach that Culture11 sought to correct by dealing with the culture as it is, not as NRO thinks it should be.
A few days ago, Conor Friedersdorf tut-tutted conservatives for assuming pop culture is always dominated by liberal subtexts. The flip side to this silly tendency is that conservatives are increasingly desperate to find books, music and film to call their own – witness National Review’s schizophrenic list of the best 25 conservative movies of the past 25 years (Will someone please tell me why 300 made the cut?). If you’re interested in following this absurd premise to its furthest reaches, Lisa Schiffren’s deconstruction of Dr. Seuss is a real treat:
But Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose is a very clear statement about what happens when well-meaning productive types offer a (literal) free ride to those less willing to take responsibility for themselves. It is a hard-core anti-welfare state message. Yertle the Turtle, my personal favorite, is as clear a statement about the evolution of tyranny and it’s costs to the individual as you will find in children’s literature.
I’m trying to imagine how NR would respond to some wayward academic’s criticism of Dr. Seuss’s phallocentric imagery. Sometimes a book is just a book.
Via Tyler Cowen, I see that Daniel Klein and Jason Briggeman, two George Mason economists, have published a paper (pdf) claiming that conservative magazines, including The American Spectator, are not pro-liberty.
They review the records of the Spectator, National Review, The American Enterprise, and the Weekly Standard on pro-liberty stances regarding sex, gambling and drugs. They find that National Review is generally the most pro-liberty on these issues, but that overall all the conservative magazines lean anti-liberty.
Presidents Day invariably sets off another round of competing rankings. Sorting presidents is inherently arbitrary and therefore very fun, but I don’t have time to make a comprehensive list. A few quick thoughts:
- The best presidential biography I’ve read so far is The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt. Edmund Morris is an elegant writer, and the source material is pretty fantastic. Favorite anecdote: A wife showing off her big family under the sign “No race suicide here, Teddy!” at a whistle stop in Montana (or was it Wyoming?).
- I’m baffled by the rise of anti-Lincoln sentiment on some quarters of the Right. Freeing the slaves ought to count for something. Moreover, letting the South go and hoping for the best (voluntary manumission, perhaps?) seems like wishful thinking. I’d also argue that Jim Crow would have been a lot more durable had the South gained independence. Patrick Deneen’s assessment is a bit more balanced.
- Placing Bill Kauffman’s defense of Millard Fillmore alongside John Hood’s entry on the war-mongering James K. Polk was a nice touch. Well done, National Review.
UPDATE: I forgot to tip my hat to William Brafford for this link. His thoughts on the Civil War are also worth reading.
Republicans tend overstate their case when it comes to media bias (there are, of course, a few legitimate complaints), and Jonah Goldberg isn’t helping things when he criticizes this Newsweek article. “Celebratory tone” or not, the story makes a pretty mundane point about the stimulus bill pushing the United States towards European-style social democracy. So mundane, in fact, that Goldberg’s colleague Jim Manzi aired a similar argument last month (“The European Social Welfare State Bill”).
I’m afraid that Jim Geraghty comes off best in this exchange, taking Andrew Sullivan’s eager young things to task for endorsing Obama’s plan to shut down Gitmo. Despite agreeing with Patrick Appel and Chris Bodenner on the merits of the issue, I think their argumentative approach is pretty unpersuasive. If moved to Leavenworth or South Carolina or wherever else, it stands to reason that a few detainee combatants (some of whom are quite dangerous) may escape. This is probably less of a danger than with domestic prisoners – I imagine cultural differences make it difficult for foreign escapees to go to ground – but it’s something worth considering nonetheless.
I know I sound like a broken record, but the way to win these debates is not to deny the real security risks associated with policies that respect the essential dignity of enemy combatants, recognize Americans’ right to not be eavesdropped on by the federal government, or emphasize the importance of certain minimal standards of humane treatment. In much the same way that Geraghty’s colleagues would probably dismiss the pragmatic case for legalizing abortion as less important than the moral implications of murdering innocent fetuses, advocates of humane detainee treatment ought to be able to explain why the moral and judicial rationales for shutting down the legal black hole that is Guantanamo Bay outweigh our opponents’ real (if frequently overblown) practical objections.
UPDATE: I take it all back – the awesome “Con Air” reference wins the day for Team Sullivan.
Victor Davis Hanson:
So a mere two weeks after victory, ‘hope and change’ and ‘a break from the past’ reified into parceling out posts to dozens of Clintonite retreads, plenty of the old requisite Ivy-League law degrees, ample influence from establishment ex-lobbyists, de rigueur Sidwell Friends for the kids, and apparent sudden existential angst and uncertainty over FISA, getting out pronto from Iraq, closing down the Constitution-shredding Gitmo, and overturning the McCarthyite Patriot Act—and all to acclaim and relief from aristocratic Beltway pundits of both parties? So that was all the election was about? Just new faces on the same old, same old? And relief that Treasury, the National Security Advisorship, and Defense will be in the hands of well-known centrists? And at least on national and homeland security it is perhaps not the shadow of Bill Clinton, but of George W. Bush, that now begins to loom large?
I imagine he finds this all very reassuring, but that doesn’t stop him from being absolutely correct.