National Review magazine has published an excellent and comprehensive response to New York Times Book Editor Sam Tanenhaus's dishonest smear of conservative thought in a cover story for The New Republic. The article by National Review contributors Ramesh Ponnuru and Jonah Goldberg appears in the March 25 issue.
After first explaining that for the left, "The explanation for conservatives’ opposition to President Obama and his agenda must be found not in our ideas but in our pathologies," they argue:
Thus many liberals seem to have convinced themselves that we resist Obama’s agenda because he is black. It is a theory that does not depend on evidence. Liberals read elaborations of the theory not to understand the world around them but to feel the warm glow of moral superiority.
It is a glow that suffuses the long cover story Sam Tanenhaus, the editor of the New York Times Book Review, recently wrote for The New Republic. Titled “Original Sin: Why the GOP Is and Will Continue to Be the Party of White People,” Tanenhaus’s essay purports to show that Republicans’ crippling weakness among non-whites ultimately has its roots in the infatuation of conservative intellectuals with -- John C. Calhoun. Yes, the antebellum politician best known for his defense of slavery as a “positive good” is, on Tanenhaus’s telling, the real founder of the conservative movement: “When the intellectual authors of the modern right created its doctrines in the 1950s, they drew on nineteenth-century political thought, borrowing explicitly from the great apologists for slavery, above all, the intellectually fierce South Carolinian John C. Calhoun.”
Now Tanenhaus doesn’t want you to think he is saying that today’s conservatives are just a bunch of racists. Certainly not. He is up to something much more subtle than that. “This is not to say conservatives today share Calhoun’s ideas about race. It is to say instead that the Calhoun revival, based on his complex theories of constitutional democracy, became the justification for conservative politicians to resist, ignore, or even overturn the will of the electoral majority.” With that to-be-sure throat-clearing out of the way, Tanenhaus continues with an essay that makes sense only as an attempt to identify racism as the core of conservatism.
Rarely has slander been so tedious.
After explaining how "Tanenhaus wildly overstates Calhoun’s status in the early years of National Review," NR eviscerated Tanenhaus's more recent political slime jobs.
Tanenhaus predictably recycles a slander of Ronald Reagan that has a long history on the left, writing that “in 1980, he flew directly from the nominating convention to Philadelphia, Mississippi -- where three civil rights workers had been slain in 1964.” It is true that Reagan traveled to a county fair outside Philadelphia as he sought to win what was then a swing state. It is also true that the next day he addressed the Urban League in New York. The idea that Reagan was trying to signal his solidarity with lynchers is simply an ugly partisan invention.
Tanenhaus’s analysis continues to metastasize when he gets to the contemporary scene. When Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan talk about the toll of familial instability, especially among black Americans, they are echoing Calhoun. (No word on whether Bill Clinton and Barack Obama are neo-Confederates of some stripe for making similar points.)
Tanenhaus authored in 2009 a slim screed of anti-conservative wishful thinking, "The Death of
Conservatism," making the same rotten arguments and didn't betray much interest in what real conservatives actually think, as opposed to his prejudices. Supporters of limited government and free markets were dismissed as either fringe or (his favorite word) "revanchist," a French Revolution term standing in for "reactionary."
Times Watch roundly criticized Tanenhaus's story when it came out in February, calling it a "convoluted historical analogy with dark hints of conservatives embracing a 'Lost Cause' or Jim Crow."
-- Clay Waters is Editor of the MRC's TimesWatch site.