I’d been sure I’d had the final word on Mark Levin, but with Daniel and Richard Spencer [UPDATE: and Clark Stooksbury ] now falling on — and firing across — opposite sides of the Levin fallout, the bizarre-o-meter has jumped into the red zone. Past the closing sequences of Inland Empire , past David Gest’s face, past a world in which Richard Florida, Terry McAuliffe, and Sasha Grey are our heroes of science, politics, and art, the brute fact of the matter is that this Levin thing has legs . How far up do they go? All the way?

Consider Richard’s bottom line:

Whatever our disagreements, I’d take Levin — and puerile Jacksonians like Stacy — over the Crunchies any day of the week.

I imagine Stacy McCain would not be alone among Jacksonians in feeling emasculated, if not quite damned, with such praise. But the madness of this kind of line — out of step, incidentally, with Richard’s resoundingly anti-Straussian piece from a while ago on Nietzsche and Mencken — turns on the uncompromising quality of that word ‘take’. Is it not too attorneylike to say I’d much rather read Rod daily and hear Levin never (as I do), but that I’d rather trust the future of America to a nation of Jacksonians than a nation of Benedictines? When it comes to prospects for isolationism, I’m positively Pocockian: there is, after all, a time to pray and a time to fight , and independence is, in the last analysis, measured by the ability to bear arms and use them. But a nation of Jacksonians would turn troglodytic without any noble Quixotes roaming hill and dale of public opinion, and if Richard has such beef with the latter-day “Medieval troubadour, just visiting our fallen modern world,” he should think long and hard about the relation between the bucolic Languedoc of Tocqueville’s favor and the gai saber of Nietzsche’s.

More to the point, a Republican Party which can’t muster the Rods and the Richards of the world into a functional coalition capable of winning elections and governing well is a Republican Party headed for the rathole. Insult wars like these tend to leave both camps struggling to justify their entire being on the basis of their worst flaws, and I refuse to ‘stand with’ either weakness or childishness. The main problem in America today is that many people right and left find many people on the opposite team and their own to be really contemptible. This awkward fact is exacerbated on the right right now because conservatives are currently out of power and typically tend away from tact. (Conservative infighting is from Mars, liberal infighting is from Venus.)

The great hope of national-greatness, national-security Americanism was that this circle could be squared by fusing the biggest dreams of the right and the left at a site of politics safely un-domestic. Despite the apparent rout of foreign-policy Bushism, this dream is still alive and kicking , and the level of anger directed at our Iraq blunders is a measure most of all of just how badly the dream must be exploited for it to seem fearsome or ugly. The failure of our foreign policy to harmonize the dreams of (liberal) dignity and (conservative) nobility must suggest to us that this project can only proceed at home. This is a task for which the Daniels, Richards, Rods, and Conors of the world are far better suited than the Limbaughs, Coulters, and Gingriches. But all these people, as political commentators, are ultimately useless without virtuous politicians , at all levels of government, virtuous both as politicians and as human beings. Casting the conservative debate in terms of puerility vs. effeminacy — something I see happening not just at Takimag — will lead Republicans away from that lodestar and into the ditch.

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Articles by James Poulos

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