Lament for Republican Intellectuals

Rush Limbaugh is no Ayn Rand

On January 13, 1978, notable Conservative intellectual and founder of the National Review William F. Buckley Jr. took on then Gov. Ronald Reagan about the pair of treaties that would divorce the United States from her control over the Panama Canal Zone. I have always been a fan of both Buckley and President Reagan (despite their faults), but I had never seen this particular debate until last night. Anyone familiar with either of them will no doubt be aware of how charming, amiable, and smart the two of them are, but Buckley stood out during the debate as the more erudite and the more intellectually rigorous.

This got me thinking about who among modern conservatives inherited Buckley’s mantle after his death in 2008. George Will is the obvious candidate. He is smart, largely impartial, and has a jovial style that reminds conservatives that it’s okay to take themselves less seriously. I also get the impression that Will see’s himself in this same light. But Will lacks the polysyllabic, ten-dollar-words Buckley is famous (or infamous) for. This is not a trite distinction.

But who else on the Right can claim Buckley’s intellectual inheritance? I don’t think anyone can. This has left the Right in a state of intellectual absence. There are few Republicans who can articulate positions and think through problems as clearly as Buckley, or even the much maligned Barry Goldwater. Rush Limbaugh is no Ayn Rand.

The left doesn’t seem to have this problem. They have Gore Vidal, the late Christopher Hitchens, Noam Chomsky, Ta-Nehisi Coates and others. Despite the many sins of the intellectual left, the fact remains that even the most capable of Right-wing thinkers, including my love Rand Paul, can’t stand up to the rhetorical challenge alone posed by people like Chomsky and Vidal. Perhaps this situation can be best explained by the fact that the left seems to have conquered the Académie, but I think the bigger issue is that conservatives no longer want intellectualism- and, without demand, the supply has simply dried up.

Look at Ted Cruz. Many on the right call Sen. Cruz an conservative intellectual heavy-weight, but I often find myself wishing he would make more thorough arguments rather than spending time trying to make himself seem like an “every-man”. Trying to appeal to the audience’s emotional senses is not the mark of true intellectualism. When a conservative does try to elevate the conversation, they are often maligned. This is not necessarily a new phenomenon. Daniel Patrick Moynihan was often the target of anti-intellectualism when he ran for Senate in 1976 (Moynihan’s Republican opponent, William F. Buckley’s older brother James,  often derisively referred to Moynihan as “Prof. Moynihan”). During the Republican primary race in 2007, Ron Paul was mocked for talking about the books he likes to read.

If sensible conservatives really want their party back from Trump’s vulgar populism, they have to start emulating Buckley and Will, not Bannon and Rush.

Where We Can Work with Trump

You’d think we’d be used to sleeping with the enemy by now, but even though there are several issues that can bring us on board the Trump Train, many of us feel a natural revulsion to racist, misogynistic, and nationalistic rhetoric. But let me make an argument to you: we can work with this guy.

As a good friend pointed out to me recently, we libertarians have to really take what we can get when it comes to federal politics. Gary Johnson’s lack luster performance during the last election means that over the next four years at least, we libertarians are going to have to make some strange ideological bedfellows. You’d think we’d be used to sleeping with the enemy by now, but even though there are several issues that can bring us on board the Trump Train, many of us feel a natural revulsion to racist, misogynistic, and nationalistic rhetoric. But let me make an argument to you: we can work with this guy.

Yesterday the President met with 12 of the nation’s most powerful CEO’s (including Elon Musk and Marillyn Hewson) to discuss his vision for the American economy. The whole opening speech he gives is worth a listen, but I’d like to zero in a several key points. First, I think it should be mentioned that meeting with corporations in this way smacks of corporate Fascism, but perhaps it’s not such a maniacal move. Many of these companies are more powerful than some nations, and so it makes sense in that context to meet with these CEO’s as the President might meet with foreign dignitaries.

There are two things the President said that really stroke my Capitalism boner. First he said that we are going to “cut taxes massively”. Of course libertarians jump at the opportunity to cut taxes but the obvious question that leaps to mind is “cut taxes for whom?” As long as he’s cutting taxes, I’m happy. But he stipulated that he wanted to cut taxes for the middle class as well as for business. If he can get the House to go along with him on this (and why wouldn’t they?), then I wholeheartedly welcome a major tax cut. Sure it will balloon the debt, but it’s unlikely that we were going anywhere on that front anyway.

Secondly, the President said that we were going to reduce the number of regulations “by 75%, maybe more.” And went on to say that if companies had their choice, they’d choose lower regulations over lower taxes every-time. He’s probably right on that account. We’ve seen a massive reduction in economic regulation before, during the Reagan administration, and it produced what is sometimes derisively called the “Reagan-Thatcher Economic Miracle”. I’m not saying that these policies were perfect then or will be perfect now, but what I am saying is that cutting regulations and taxes by as much as the President is promising is something that gives libertarians wet-dreams.

Of course, none of this is going to make me go out and buy a bunch of MAGA gear, and it’s also not going to soften my attitude towards the White Nationalist movement, but I’m personally reserving a lot of my criticisms of the administration until I’m convinced none of the above is actually going to happen. We’ll see. But I’m hopeful.