Benjamin Storey & Jenna Silber Storey have a fairly preposterous article in The Weekly Standard about how virtue is awesome and so is John McCain so obviously he’d make a really good president in much the way that we’ve regularly chosen to put honorable and courageous firefighters directly into high political office or something. Will Wilkinson has at it but draws some general conclusions including an analogy between the sophisticated modernist taste of the liberal individualist and the tackiness of the national greatness conservatism. Julian Sanchez thinks Will’s piece is great; Ross Douthat not so much.
I think Will’s a bit off-base here myself, but mostly where he goes astray is in treating Storey & Storey in The Weekly Standard as worth taking so seriously. Ross and Will and Julian are all smart people (albeit chock full ‘o abhorrent ideas), as are many people on the broad right in America, but what they’re missing is that the conservative movement is full of idiots and that’s all we’re seeing here.
Now I’m not saying that people who usually vote Republican are, on average, dumber than are the people who usually vote for Democrats. And I bet an earlier iteration of the conservative movement — the one that came up from nothing and took over the Republican Party and the country, the one that built all the institutions of movement conservatism — was full of bright people. But what we have today is a decadent third generation living in a fairly cushy institutional framework built by their forefathers in which lots of totally unimpressive people with totally unimpressive ideas can nonetheless make nice little lives for themselves. They don’t even need to be hardworking or good at fund-raising or particularly likable. There are smart people availing themselves of the odd dose of wingnut welfare, but the fact of its availability keeps lots of silly people hanging around and lots of bad magazines staying in print. The relatively more meager resources available for someone who wants to be a liberal professionally mean that a higher proportion of the people in that line of work are at least good at something.
So Storey & Storey tell us, I think, much more about the authors and about The Weekly Standard than it does aboutd essence of the case for John McCain. If you took a politician I liked and then got a dumb person to explain what was good about him, he’d give you a dumb answer. Conversely a smart, sophisticated person can make a smart, sophisticated case for a bad politician.