Recommended Reading (1) - Kevin Mattson
The title states the theme - conservatives have fancied themselves rebellious, rising against the allegedly hegemonic liberalism of American politics. Mattson is charitable, he views this self-image as a paradox rather than as a symptom of what Richard Hofstadter would call paranoid fantasies. And Mattson leaves under-stated what seems to me to be obvious fact - since the 1950s, the American right has been consistently wrong. It is a feature of American amnesia, for instance, that when William F. Buckley recently died we were treated to much fawning comment from the the press when, instead, and rightly, we ought to have been reminded that, among other things, the pompous windbag supported Joe McCarthy and opposed the civil rights movement. Mattson offers readers a litany of similarly disastrous and despicable political stances running up through the current inanities being peddled by Bill Kristol, John Podhoretz, Adam Bellow and other beneficiaries of conservative nepotism. (Didn't I read somewhere lately that blind Bill is claiming we've won the war in Iraq?) Ultimately, what seems to bother Mattson is the aggressive, obnoxious style of conservative intellectuals. He does not like that they are zealots. What bothers me is the policies they push. The problem is not that they are uncivil, the problem is that they are not just consistently wrong, but demonstrably and dangerously so.
Mattson would respond, no doubt, that vituperative, extreme style is a necessary platform for wildly ideological politics. Maybe. The problem is that the reasonableness he counsels in his conclusion is no match for the willingness of ideologues to yell slogans. What I think is crucial here is to shift the terms of assessment from virtues like civility to consequences. Mattson comes close on this. What liberals and the left need to press - and press hard - are the consequences for politics (both discourse and policy) of the right-wing propensity to advocate mindlessly retrograde policies at full volume. I do not think the liberals have it in them to do that. Mattson does. Perhaps that is where we most disagree.