The American Enterprise Institute says conservatism isn’t dead but “maybe just brain dead”

The brain waves of the American right continue to be erratic, when they are not flat-lining.

What’s more surprising — that a leading conservative scholar would admit that his entire movement may be brain dead or that he thinks the movement’s best hope is … wait for it … Glenn Beck.

Steven F. Hayward is “the F.K. Weyerhaeuser fellow at the American Enterprise Institute” who has, his bio notes, “written biographies of Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan and of Winston Churchill.”

I think it has been obvious for a while that the conservative movement should be renamed the conservative stagnation:

But who would have imagined a leading conservative intellectual like Hayward would make the following damning admission in his concluding paragraph:

The single largest defect of modern conservatism, in my mind, is its insufficient ability to challenge liberalism at the intellectual level, in particular over the meaning and nature of progress.


Of course, if Hayward is what passes for a conservative intellectual these days, then the phrase is obviously little more than an oxymoron, since AEI’s website contains an inane 2004 piece by him titled, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” that repeats a litany of long debunked denier talking points and concludes “global warming theory all but evaporated.”  Or how about his 2003 piece asserting, “Even the lowest of the IPCC’s emissions projections is probably too high, which means that the projections of global warming may be too high as well.”  That last sentence would be true — if you only reversed “low” and “high” [see U.S. media largely ignores latest warning from climate scientists: “Recent observations confirm “¦ the worst-case IPCC scenario trajectories (or even worse) are being realised” “” 1000 ppm”].

But I digress.

Modern conservative has nothing to say about the meaning and nature of progress.  What more proof could there be than the hero Hayward turns to in this Dark Ages for the right wing:

Beck, for one, is revealing that despite the demands of filling hours of airtime every day, it is possible to engage in some real thought. He just might be helping restore the equilibrium between the elite and populist sides of conservatism.

No, Hayward isn’t writing a piece for The Onion.  But he is stuck in the same anti-science, anti-intellectualism that blinds all conservatives.  Remember:

But even outside of the realm of climate, Beck is a pure anti-intellectual wing-nut, as these factoids collected by a CAP intern make clear:

  • Beck stated that he “hates” the families of 9/11 victims because of their “complaining”
  • Beck argued that President Barack Obama hates white people or “white culture”
  • Beck claimed that President Obama and Congress are trying to turn the United States into a “fascist state”
  • Beck joked about killing filmmaker Michael Moore, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi
  • Beck compared this administration’s policies to those of 1930’s Germany and Saddam Hussein-era Iraq
  • Beck refused to debunk myths of FEMA “concentration camps” and governmental slavery
  • Beck claimed that President Obama’s policies are driven by a desire to attain reparations for slavery
  • Beck compared former President Jimmy Carter to Kim Jong-Il, calling Jimmy Carter a “waste of skin”
  • Beck called the father of abducted and murdered American business man Nick Berg a “scumbag”

Yes, the American Enterprise Institute annoints Glenn Beck the new intellectual leader of the conservative movement stagnation.  You can’t make this stuff up.

19 Responses to The American Enterprise Institute says conservatism isn’t dead but “maybe just brain dead”

  1. Hayward’s essay garnered John Casey’s attention as well, over at NonSequitur:

    What got Casey’s attention was Hayward’s claim that, “About the only recent successful title that harkens back to the older intellectual style [of conservatism] is Jonah Goldberg’s ‘Liberal Fascism’ …”

    While Goldberg is no Glenn Beck (insofar as he’s not as willfully given over to infantile pandering to the basest elements of his audience), Goldberg is not exactly good for anything in a Logic or Critical Thinking class other than a good round of laughter.

  2. Jim Prall says:

    Hi Joe.
    Interesting admission from Hayward. What has me stumped is how we got stuck in the Senate, with all 40 GOP Senators evidently prepared to back a filibuster on essentially any substantial Democratic bill – health care or climate policy. I keep reading that you need 60 votes to stop a filibuster, and the Democrats are tantalizingly close to that point (Al Franken finally seated and Mass. agreeing to appoint a successor to Ted Kennedy) – yet we still have gridlock. People keep talking about the need for bipartisan cooperation, but the GOP has locked in with the wingnut fringe positions shouted by Beck and Limbaugh.
    What really disgusts me is how someone like John McCain can co-sponsor a cap-and-trade proposal a few years ago in McCain-Lieberman, and appear to ‘get it’ on climate, yet he shows no signs of being willing to break a GOP filibuster against any Senate climate bill. His agreeing to Sarah Palin as running mate was quite a contradiction.
    A further problem is weakness within the Democratic Senate caucus on readiness to act on climate change. If even one or two Democratic senators break ranks to protect coal interests, e.g., the threat of filibuster comes back and nothing gets done.
    So the conservative ‘movement’ is stagnant, unable to put together a decent argument against climate policy (though plenty of great spin), and the Democrats are at or around the level of super-majority in the Senate, yet the CW is that the Senate won’t enact anything like cap-and-trade this year.

  3. Greg Robie says:

    But you can try to understand it differently.

    Joe, I still feel that Jonathan Haidt and his modeling regarding morality offers a more productive framework for understanding the differences between blue/red “thinking” as it applies to “progress.” The social concept of “progress” is as much a feeling about social movement toward greater moral integrity as it is a matter of individual intellectual rigor. The dynamic of motivated reasoning suggests that strongly held parochial sureties have a high probability of being non-rational.

    While such non-rationality is generally more obvious when conceived to be the practice of an “other,” to trust that such an observation means that the observed behavior is therefore _just_ an issue for that “other” is a bit of hubris. Due to the fact that neuropeptides are shared communication tools for our neurological, endocrine and immune system, simple mathematics, and accepting the existence of adaptive diversity among homo sapiens, says there are 3 factorial, or 6, possible ways of prioritizing the awareness of these three systems and their response to the presence of a neuropeptide. Factor into this math that we have something like 19 of these peptides, and that there are both conscious and unconscious facets to our psychology and sociology, and the result is a limited understanding of intellectual prowess that has a high probability of rapidly becomes functional buffoonery when engaged in via social isolation—such as our blue/red divide enables (and the blogosphere amplifies).

    It can feel good to lampoon an “other” but, and particularly for liberal morality that values “harm-care” and “fairness-reciprocity” above the other three metrics humanity access to feel moral (“in-group loyalty,” “authority-respect,” and “purity-sanctity”), any “points” garnered through such behavior are likely not worth the trust lost; the damage done to the social fabric. IMHO, effectively addressing AGW requires group cohesion. History warns us that social experiments in prohibition have proven to be counter productive to the desired ends.

    Anyway, from my perspective, another way of perceiving the ridiculed “red” behavior of this post is to see it as a heart-felt effort to preserve/be loyal to the “in group”/nation; to respect the authority of that group/sub-group; and be pure/a true believer in the in-group’s meme—and an example of what it is like to live with a more complex understanding of morality than that shared by liberals. To the degree such is a valid perception, attacking another’s morality, regardless of how justified it may feel within ones own moral perspective, such is not a rational strategy for effecting sustainable social change.

    [JR: I don’t view this post as lampooning — quite the reverse. I view it as very straight news reporting. If that qualifies as ridicule for a group that even centrist reporters label nihilistic, well, that is what is needed. I am not attacking another’s morality. Again, quite the reverse. It is now crystal clear that the right wing has dedicated itself to humanities self-destruction. My focus is not — nor has it ever been — to move the immovable.]

  4. mike roddy says:

    The conservative movement never had much in the way intellectual content. The various smooth talkers that they’ve put forth over the years, from William Buckley to George Will, are airheads themselves when you scratch a little deeper. Buckley was an apologist for segregation, and Will is a true blue global warming denier.

    Foaming at the mouth wingnuts like Beck are very much in the tradition. Birthers and deniers were preceded by those who pondered preemptive nuclear strikes, and fought Medicare and the Clean Air Act. Behind the scenes, of course, are far right members of the moneyed class.

    The ultra rich on the far right have no intellectual ability, and not because they are inbred royals. Thinking requires effort, and when you live surrounded by servants you become quite soft and lazy. This activity is best delegated to “think tanks” like AEI and CEI. Kind of like subcontracting the military to a bunch of psycho killers and born again Christians. Wait a minute, we already did that (Blackwater).

  5. Bob Wallace says:

    I’d highly recommend a read of “The Making of Glenn Beck”.

    Knowing Beck’s background (a radio guy looking for a paycheck) lets one understand that Beck has no background in politics or political theory. He’s just a guy who found a niche in which he can do a 2000s version of morning zoo radio around political themes on TV and get a lot of attention.

    That Beck is one of the current leading Republican “thinkers” is a clear sign that the Republicans have exhausted their ideas and now have to fall back and regroup, to find a new perspective.

  6. BBHY says:

    Rachel Maddow did a great explanation of the filibuster on one of her shows. Filibusters used to be quite a rare thing. Seems that years ago the Senate changed the rules, instead of having to actually filibuster, now just the threat of a filibuster is enough to stop a bill from coming to a vote.

    So, since there is no need to camp out, stand up and talk for hours and hours, just threaten to do that, the number of real filibusters has shrunk to almost nothing while the number of faux filibusters has increased to the point where now it is almost every bill. (Except punishing ACORN).

    Maybe they need to change back to the old rule.

  7. the conservative movement would not be as brain dead if the rest of that movement were as smart as beck and not only be able to predict the future, but even convey it to people as if it’s already happened!

    that must be why hayward chose beck.

    By the way, to say that Beck is engaging in some real thought, when Beck is one of the most profoundly misinformed (and misleading) people in America, is a little frightening. It makes one wonder how well informed hayward is, or if, driven by ideology,he can’t think straight.

    Clearly, by said op ed, it is a pretty strong combination of both.

  8. paulm says:

    Americans just doing their own thing. Never minding the world burning.

    US climate bill not likely this year, says Obama adviser
    Carol Browner’s bleak view deepens concerns negotiations will fail to produce meaningful agreement in Copenhagen

    [JR: You got suckered by bad reporting, just like the Guardian!]

  9. Don Parrish says:

    I am a republican and am embarassed by the fact that we now appear to be led by these talking heads. Where have all the statesman gone somewhere somebody has to bring it together put on the media bullet proof vest and do something meaningful instead of throwing rocks like all we seem to do today. The government can’t be all things to all people so wake up and know you are going to do without some of what you feel entitled to as an American because we all can’t afford it. Look at California: going bankrupt
    and probably won’t be alone. I hate the thought but other countries with their billions of people are going to take the lead and only intend to use us as the police force and ask any city what their largest budget item is? The police force and how do they pay for it? They tax. Since our policies have sent all the high value business offshore who is left to pick up the bill? Look at the failed attempt of the most corrupt city in the US to host the 2016 games pulling out all the stops shows what the rest of the world thinks they laugh at us and we give them plenty of opportunities. We must get a grip on sustainable it doesn’t mean you can only consume and not give back. We are only burning equity in everything. More entitlements are not the answer however that is how people get elected and that is the fatal flaw in our democracy.

  10. Jeff Huggins says:

    Just A Little Itsy-Bitsy Thing

    That “single largest defect” passage is amazing, truly amazing.

    For some context, a few quotes . . .

    “Perfection of means and confusion of goals seem, in my opinion, to characterize our age.” (Albert Einstein)

    “… and it has to be concluded that the greatest source of harm to man is man.” (Cicero)

    “Some people would rather die than think; and many do.” (Bertrand Russell)

    “It is all too evident that our moral thinking simply has not been able to keep pace with the speed of scientific advancement.” (Tenzin Gyatso, The Dalai Lama)

    “Health is the first requisite after morality” (Thomas Jefferson)

    “The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them.” (Albert Einstein)

    I think that writer (whoever he was) ought to examine the situation he points out, if he’s able. It sounds like he’s characterizing his matter as being aimless. Is being aimless a small defect, these days? And what if such aimlessness is actually harmful and dangerous? Is aimlessness wise?

    I think I’d rather agree with Albert Einstein, Bertrand Russell, and Thomas Jefferson.



  11. Brent says:

    When the Republicans got into bed with Christian fundamentalists, conservatism was ruined. Faith was substituted for logic, science, and reason. Conservatives used to stand for defensible ideals, but faith has brought them to irrationality, and now we see Boehner, Bachman, Beck, et al. regularly make inane arguments.

  12. K Nockels says:

    It appears that the Republicans have degenerated into mass fobeism, they seem to fear everything these days and can’t find any other way to deal with that fear but HATE! The greatest fear that they have I think is money it seems to drive them to hate anything they think means they will not be in control of the money. Fashism,socialism,raceism, feels like McCartheryism to me. Also the worse bunch of losers on the planet, fear of not being in control. Grow-up

  13. paulm says:

    I should have clarified that as GOPs.

    But we are all getting a bit disillusioned with the seemingly lack of pace. I guess there is a bit of panic in the air in some camps. This is probably not a good thing, but it may also not be a bad thing.

  14. paulm says:

    worth a watch…the audience were laughing uncomfortably…

    Bill Maher Slams GOP Climate Change Skeptics: They’re “So Stupid They Make Me Question Evolution” (VIDEO)
    Read more at:

  15. Cait says:

    The trouble is, reading the post and the intellectual backslapping in the comments, it’s all very well congratulating ourselves on being intellectual liberals, the torch bearers for the long march toward civilisation (etc, etc) but meanwhile, this so called confused right wing has:

    -Re-employed backroom asttack dogs to spread not even lies, but uncomfortable truthes from prominent (particularly black) liberals’ pasts in order to paint them as dangerous idealogues today
    -In the spirit of the way they absolutely would not let President clinton go, they are standing on Obama for purely ideaological reasons and absolutely will not stop, until (if) he can be declared a lame duck, achieve nothing President
    -The Republican politicians seem to (from an outsiders’ view) let the non-party-allied right wingers be the public face of the right wing, thus averting any criticism, so your Becks etc get to snarl, yelp and drool all over their juicy tidbits that they have absolute faith will sit well with a – let’s not forget – large % of the US population, who are unthinking, or stupid, or racist, or have suffered a great deal in unemployment and are ready to just about blame anybody…

    Look at how the Dems have ballsed up the health bill, under the relentless barrage of lies and negativity from the right. Come on, guys, do I need to spell out how the US prep for Copenhagen is now looking from over the pond in the UK?

    What I’m saying is – don’t be fooled into crowing that we’re cleverer, therefore we win. We don’t. Because at heart we’re not self interested short termist profit obsessed er… not terribly nice people. Everything remains a fight.

    [JR: Don’t misrepresent my post.]

  16. JJ says:

    Sam Tanenhaus, I think, has nailed it. The problem is that the anti-communists weren’t conservatives, but radicals:

    This was one of the best speeches I’ve heard on modern politics:

    Remember this from Naiomi Oreske’s talk?

  17. VA says:

    When the Republicans got into bed with Christian fundamentalists, conservatism was ruined. Faith was substituted for logic, science, and reason. Conservatives used to stand for defensible ideals, but faith has brought them to irrationality, and now we see Boehner, Bachman, Beck, et al. regularly make inane arguments.

  18. SecularAnimist says:

    What is called ‘conservatism’ in America today is a corporate-sponsored, corporate-scripted, focus-group-tested, teleprompted cult whose purpose is to create a legion of mental-slave Ditto-Heads who will do whatever they are told to do, say whatever they are told to say, and think whatever they are told to think, by paid professional multi-millionaire liars — as long as it is branded ‘conservative’. If Rush Limbaugh says that the moon is made of green cheese, then within 24 hours, every so-called ‘conservative’ in the USA will be obediently saying the moon is made of green cheese. The only real content of the fake, phony pseudo-ideology of modern American ‘conservatism’ is hatred of ‘liberals’ just as the only real content of the pseudo-ideology of mid-1930s German brownshirts was hatred of “Jews”.

  19. Cait says:

    Just replying to Joe:

    In the first line, I talked about the comments, not the post. Although the language used that surrounds the well chosen and clear facts of the case is… very crowd pleasing, can I say, gently?

    I hope you get that my point is, it’s complacency against them that will kill the civilisation / saving civilisation project. And you’re just about the antithesis of complacent, obviously.