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You know I actually kind of agree with this

May 16, 2010

“The right,” Friedersdorf wrote, “has a problem with narrative.”

This wasn’t entirely conservatives’ fault, he wrote—the story of, say, a destitute family’s eviction from its apartment made for better copy than the explanation of why rent control was a bad idea from a societal perspective. But conservative writers, he argued, had themselves to blame, too. They were bad at telling stories. Operating forever in the shadow of National Review founder William F. Buckley Jr., they had spent half a century honing their rhetorical chops on the romantic notion that an argument, framed eloquently and forcefully enough, could change the course of history. Worse, these arguments tended to be advanced in right-wing publications that made little effort to attract a general audience, devolving into an exercise of limited interest to anyone not already locked inside the echo chamber.

Friedersdorf had a different idea in mind. “I’m not sure another Buckley’s what we really need,” he wrote. “Instead, I’d prefer another Tom Wolfe, or better yet a dozen. As his generation’s conservative commentators railed against The Great Society, insisting its urban anti-poverty programs encouraged radicalism, bred dependence on the welfare state, and ignored the root causes of unemployment, Mr. Wolfe did something different: reporting.” Wolfe had gone to the conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein’s cocktail party, watched Park Avenue’s finest flatter themselves by sharing hors d’oeurves with Black Panthers, and wrote about it in scathing detail, first in New York magazine—the cover featured three white socialites in glittery cocktail dresses with raised fists—and later in Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers.

I see Friedersdorf’s name mentioned occassionally, usually by The Other McCain and at Ace of Spades. in derisive tones, but I have never knowingly read anything by or about him before., so I was a little surprised to find myself agreeing with him. He is right though, it’s much easier to tell the story from the left’s perspective when that story is about a couple going bankrupt to pay for cancer treatment, or a family in DC feeling scared because of the heavily armed drug dealer down the block. When people read those stories they don’t care about moral hazard or foundational freedoms, they see a wrong that needs to be corrected. That is where the right falls down, not in making it’s arguments. Most people don’t care about the arguments they care about the stories.

The Other McCain disagrees, while discussing a related story, arguing that the point isn’t to be accessible but to win elections. He misses the point when he says that. To win elections conservatism has to be accessible. McCain also misses the point on PA-12 which he attempts to tie in with this story –

I certainly agree, and have witnessed this phenomenon first-hand. I’ve been amazed at the difficulty in the past few weeks of getting conservatives to pay attention to the PA-12 special election. Here is a chance to take a seat away from Nancy Pelosi — to give the Democrats a good punch in the nose — and yet it hasn’t gotten nearly the kind of attention that Scott Brown got four months ago.

Some of us were discussing this Friday evening in Pennsylvania, and various explanations were offered. OK, it’s a congressional election — one of 435 seats — as opposed to a Senate seat. And there is not the kind “41st vote” factor here, as there was in Massachusetts in January. Neverthless, PA-12 is the only actually election (i.e., not just a primary) on Tuesday, and you’d think conservative New Media would be fired up and focused. But they’re not, at least not like they were in January.

There are a few reasons for that I think and one of them is that there isn’t a compelling story. This is just another GOP / Dem slugfest. Nothing special about it. The Brown election had an unknown going for the Kennedy seat, and possibly stopping a (relatively) new and popular President’s agenda in it’s track. That generated interest. It also generated disappointment. Brown wasn’t able to kill Health Care Reform and his votes since then have been upsetting to many. The compelling story died, and with it interest in elections like PA-12. (Actually the story started to die with Hoffman in NY, but that’s another issue.)


The London School of Economics is now offering a Bachelors in Economics online. Total cost $5000. Harvard is offering a Bachelors in Liberal Arts online cost $32000. Which is the better deal? (Stumbled across this last night from

10 Comments leave one →
  1. smitty permalink
    May 16, 2010 1:20 pm

    If by ‘bad at telling stories’, you mean ‘do a lousy job of manipulating emotions when convincing people to discard sovereignty’, you’re correct.
    Here’s a conservative story that had me bawling aloud.

    • jenn1964 permalink*
      May 16, 2010 3:28 pm

      No, I mean putting a human face on what a conservative government would mean. The liberals excel at doing that, we don’t, and it is one reason why we lose the media war.

      I like you Smitty and I want to give your ideas a fair chance but a quick way to lose me is to trot out the individual sovereignty line. Individual sovereignty is simply code for individual anarchy (one of the individual sovereignty heroes is Murray Rothbard who describes himself as an individual anarchist) and that is the farthest thing from what the Founders had in mind. One of the cornerstones of the Declaration was Locke’s second treatise in which he specifically disavowed the idea that the individual is paramount over society. If you want to argue that we surrender to many freedoms, I’m with you there, but for society to function some freedoms have to be surrendered and the founders knew that. There is a quote from one of them if I can find it about some surrendering a few freedoms so all can enjoy the greatest freedom. That is the antithesis of the individual sovereignity movement.

      • xbradtc permalink
        May 16, 2010 8:49 pm

        Amen, sister. One of my pet peeves is when the left claims I’m against all government. No. Of course not. How could I have willingly served the same government if I didn’t recognize the legitimacy of it?

        What I do believe we need is an understanding that the role of the federal government is and should be limited, both as a Constitutional and a practical matter.

        How do we tell that story in a compelling manner? I dunno. But I would hope that there are people smarter than me out there that can.

        The immediate reaction to the BP spill in the gulf is a call for more regulation. But the fact is, it is an already regulated industry. And like so many other industries, there are so many regulations, the oversight agencies cannot possibly do effective inspections of all those regulated activities. And the jobs they do, they do poorly.

        How do we frame the story as one showing the benefits of a conservative approach, vice one showing dead pelicans?

      • jenn1964 permalink*
        May 16, 2010 11:20 pm

        That’s exactly what I mean. It’s easy to show tragedy and make it into some sort of call to action. It’s hard to go the other way.

  2. Portlandic permalink
    May 17, 2010 2:35 pm

    Appropot of nothing above:

  3. May 18, 2010 3:32 pm

    I mean putting a human face on what a conservative government would mean. The liberals excel at doing that, we don’t, and it is one reason why we lose the media war.

    I agree.

    I like you Smitty and I want to give your ideas a fair chance but a quick way to lose me is to trot out the individual sovereignty line. Individual sovereignty is simply code for individual anarchy

    I disagree. Absent individual sovereignty, you lose 2 fundamental arguments. First, everything starts with the right to life. You have a right to live just as I do. Since we have a right to life, it logically follows that we have the right to protect our life and to own things. Every argument boils down to these 2 things. Healthcare for example, not only violates your ability to protect your own life, but it also requires the theft of your property.

    Second, if rights don’t preexist government, in other words are inalienable, then what argument do we have against anything government does or wants to do? After all, absent individual sovereignty, what right do we have to oppose them?

  4. May 18, 2010 3:36 pm

    Oh, almost forgot … Learn economics for a fraction of the cost.

    Or just search their archives, almost every important economics book is available free via pdf.


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