Life may be too short to unwind everything Ron Radosh distorts in his PJ Media blog post on Monday. In it, he purported to recap both Charles Krauthammer’s recent appearance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and my NRO column from last weekend, which examined that appearance in the context of mainstream Republican enthusiasm for the federal welfare state.
I need to say that again: mainstream Republican enthusiasm for the welfare state.
The emphasis is warranted because Ron provides readers with the following synopsis of my position: “McCarthy says no mainstream Republican accepts” the “centralized welfare state” that began with “the Progressive Era of Woodrow Wilson followed by FDR’s New Deal” (emphasis added). Of course, that is exactly the opposite of what I said. Ron evidently missed not only the column’s main point – viz., that the mainstream of the Republican Party fully accepts the centralized welfare state – but also its headline, which announces in bold black letters, “The Republican Embrace of the Welfare State,” followed by the sub-heading, “The establishment GOP has accepted progressivism’s central premise.”
There is a salient distinction between Republicans and conservatives. That was the upshot of my argument, which follows up on the theme from the previous weekend’s column: Mainstream Republicans are sympathetic to President Obama’s case for a massive, centralized welfare state; mainstream conservatives favor the Tea Party’s emphasis on individual liberty and limited government – which, contrary to Ron’s apparent misconception, is hostile not to humane, transparent welfare programs but to the insatiable, Washington-centered imposture that is devouring the prosperity of present and future generations of Americans. That is the rift on the Right.
Ron is similarly sloppy throughout. In this post, I address the hash he makes of my Krauthammer-Stewart critique. This weekend, I will have more to say about Ron’s fanciful depiction of Social Security as a bona fide retirement insurance program – which parrots a Roosevelt administration fairy tale that even its authors abandoned three-quarters of a century ago when forced to justify the program in Supreme Court litigation. I’ll also discuss Ron’s misstatement of my position on welfare.
Like Ron, I value “serious and respectful” debate, and have generally managed to keep things civil through 30 years of mixing it up with some fairly strident characters: aggressive lawyers, government officials, journalists, talk-show hosts, academics, Islamic-supremacists, etc. I might nevertheless be more receptive to Ron’s Dale Carnegie lecture if he were a better practitioner of what he preaches. I have not commented on this but, since he brings up the subject of civility, I am still taken aback by the tone of his review of Diana West’s American Betrayal … and I cringed upon learning that, in the midst of the nasty cross-fire that it ignited, he sent Diana a giddy email taunt when another commentator, Conrad Black, published a similarly intemperate review. To be clear, I am not talking about substantive merit here – I happen to disagree with Ron and Conrad about Diana’s book, but that is neither here nor there (I’ll have more to say about it soon). I am talking about peer-to-peer civility. Even in the context of Ron’s post about my column, the “serious and respectful” twaddle is just a set-up for branding my argument as “a child’s temper tantrum.” “Serious and respectful” starts to seem a lot like “agrees with Ron.”
That said, we can certainly stipulate that Charles Krauthammer is a charming, consummate gentleman, and that his discourse with the reciprocally gracious Jon Stewart was a model of civility. I fail to see the relevance, however, since my quarrel had nothing to do with the tenor of the Krauthammer-Stewart dialogue. Nor with the forum in which it took place. Ron claims I “chastise[d]” Dr. K for appearing on The Daily Show. I did no such thing. While I’ve not been on that program, I’ve appeared on more left-leaning media broadcasts and in more debates at left-leaning universities than I can count. It is a good thing for conservatives, especially compelling conservatives like Charles Krauthammer, to engage progressives in settings where they meet good faith interlocutors (as Stewart, whom I don’t know, seems to be), or where there is an open-minded (even if left-leaning) audience that might be moved by conservative arguments.