Right Needs New Public Intellectuals
In Saturday’s post “Talk Radio Killed Conservativism?” I observed parenthetically that “most of the best analytical blogs are on the center-left” and promised to elaborate. It’s something that has struck me for quite some time (see, for example, February’s “Rational Conservative Blogs“) and that was brought to mind again with two links at Matt Yglesias’ place Thursday.
BRIGHT YOUNG BLOGGERS
First, an Economist piece on the role of public intellectuals exclaims that “a rising generation of bloggers is terrifyingly young and bright: expect to hear more from Ezra Klein, Megan McArdle, Will Wilkinson and Matthew Yglesias.” I’ve met all of them and they’ve all been among my favorite reads for years. With the possible exception of Will, they’re all well to my left.
While somewhat amused by Matt’s observation that, “I think it would be strange if the main qualification for becoming a high-profile public intellectual in the future is that you had to start a personal blog in 2002 or 2003,” he’s got a point. Then again, a lot of us started blogs then and only a handful have reached the level where book deals, prestige magazine gigs, and regular invites to be talking heads on radio and television have ensued.
I’d add that it really helps to have an Ivy League degree and work at a think tank or upscale opinion journal. Only Will went to truly “normal” schools (Northern Iowa, Northern Illinois, and Maryland); Klein went non-Ivy, too, but UCLA is an elite institution.
SMART THINK TANKS
Second, at The Next Right, Jon Henke argues that the Right needs a counterpart to the Center for American Progress.
- They realized that information and ideas already existed, and action – the organization and application of information – was what the Left needed. So they created a Marketing Tank.
- They realized that a think tank was two different organizations – policy (501c3) and communications (501c4) – and those two organizations required structural separation to be most effective.
- They realized the Permanent Campaign was reality, so they built infrastructure to construct the permanent campaign outside of actual campaigns – to ensure the permanent campaign would be both permanent and ideological (rather than merely partisan).
What’s particularly interesting here is that this is an area where the Right had a decades-long head start. While liberals have dominated academic think tanks like Brookings for years, those places are genuinely non-ideological; they’re universities without students and, like those with students, they tend to lean left for a variety of reasons having to do with culture and selection. But conservatives pioneered ideological think tanks like Heritage Foundation and American Enterprise Institute, which brought together extraordinarily talented people to formulate ideas and policies that would be passed on to Republican politicos, lobbying efforts, and so forth.
Yet, we long ago reached a point where those places became more known for carrying the water for their party or for a monolithic, unchanging ideology. Heritage and AEI both still employ very smart people and still do excellent work but they’re seldom cited outside the circles of those already predisposed to agree. Places like CAP and dozen counterparts whose names are less familiar are still treated as serious institutions by the press.
EVOLVING POLICY FOCUS
Part of the reason I’m drawn to the center-left blogs, including those cited above, Kevin Drum, Steve Benen, and others despite disagreeing with them while finding it increasingly difficult to find center-right blogs worth my time is that the former are much more likely to get beyond the debates of the 1980 election. There’s almost no serious analysis of health care reform, urban planning, education, and many other issues that regularly crop up on the best lefty blogs on their conservative counterparts. If we read about those issues at all, they’re framed as if Ronald Reagan were still aspiring to high office: Say No to socialism! Abolish the Department of Education! Government IS the problem!
While traditionalist grand theory is still valuable and worth discussion, it doesn’t work as a blanket response to micro-level issues. And defining conservatism solely by “What would Reagan do?” is a political non-starter in a world that simply looks much different than in did twenty-eight years ago. It would be as if Reagan constantly droned on about the evils of Harry Truman. Time marches on. Debates must, too, in order to be interesting.
So, where are the right-of-center counterparts to Yglesias, Klein, and company? Perhaps the ever-moving James Poulus (now with a mixed bag of co-bloggers)? Pejman Yousefzadeh, perhaps, but his writings are not handily consolidated. All the others who come to mind are my age or older.