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December 16, 2004

The Old Vig

It's true that sunshine is the best policy. Terri Gross had a difficult time, often sounding incredulous, as she interviewed Richard Viguerie on her NPR radio show.

She tried to zing the old codger several times, even though he didn't come off very sophisticated, I would grant that he knows the difference between a homosexual and activists for the gay rights agenda. It's difficult to suspend the disbelief that most Americans don't particularly like gays or gay politics when you're talking in the today's mainstream media. But you can't really credit Vigurie for being sophisticated *and* candid. He's candid, and for that one can be grateful, but he's not a face for tv or a voice for radio. This is understandable - let Ralph Reed do that kind of stuff.

Then again, I think the dodges that Reed and some others have taken are too clever by half. You really need to drag out the rednecks and tell Blue-Americans in plain language that they have reasonable opposition.

I think Vig's problem, which gives me problems, is that he overstates the influence of his brand of conservatism. So it's a little difficult, given the lack of specifics he could reasonably state int he course of the interview whether he fits firmly into a Paleoconservative suit, although that seems clear. Whereas I am a neoconservative, vis a vis Wilsonian foreign power, actively engaged in the creation of stable global free markets and evangelical libertarianism with big government (military + diplomatic + commercial) backbone, Vig clearly longs for mythical good old days when everyone was a 'Judeo-Christian' and bread cost a nickel. I think it is patently true that most moderates and liberals are unable to disaggregate Viguerie's brand of conservatism from mine, nor make sense of our common bonds.

Viguerie didn't get deeply technical into the mechanics of his grass roots revolution of which Rove is clearly the full heir. Nor do I believe that listeners to the interview would grasp how important it is to understand how marginal / critical is the evangelical edge the Republican Party has gained. But what he said was clear. Over 20 odd years, 'conservatives' went from getting 45% to about 53%. What was new were the evangelical Christians - people who were always in our backyard, just not so actively enfranchised.

That Viguerie is not whole-heartedly behind W. demonstrates the discombobulation between conservatives and Republicans. It was CIA Bush who straightened up Reagan's budget deficit mess while trying to be as Teflon. He couldn't swing the deception but nobody cared because the smart money was happy that the deficits were getting cleaned up. Just as there were a lot of happy Wall Streeters during Clinton's career.

I'm the kind of marketeer who aims to profit no matter what the tax burden. There will always be winners under every regime. So it's odd that Vig is still playing to the middle class who like the *ideology* of tax reduction and small government but are not as likely to materially benefit as us crafty bastards at the top of the capitalist food chain. 'My tax attorney can beat up your (lack of a) tax attorney' is the name of the game no matter who occupies the Oval. It not yet clear that Republicans are carrying the torch for Vig's brand of conservatives and this is patently obvious when you look at budgets passed by Republican vs Democrat congresses. It's basically a tie.

But Vig was right on target in confirming the conspiracy of manufactured consent. If you are a liberal and have a difficult time understanding what the righties are saying when they say 'liberal media' all you have to know is that they are asserting the same thing that Chomsky is asserting about America's ecology of thought. And the discomfort of finding out the realness of cats like Viguerie is exactly the price we pay for having a more porous and decentralized mediasphere. Just as the audience of "Will and Grace" can't bear the thought that some Americans use phrases like 'homosexual agenda', discomfort with the realness of your heretofore unknown neighbors is the name of the game. Clearly those against gay marriage are uncomfortable with Will and Grace.

Vig's take on the Culture War is totally Paleo, and I think he's off his nut on this matter, not in substance but in tactics. Elected office is not a cultural bully pulpit. Everything that is wrong with the 'government sponsored political correctness' is precisely wrong with his activism to put enough fundamentalist friendly public servants into office. If you want the Church to be more central in the lives of Americans, you do it in Church, not in the Courts, the Congress, nor the White House. This is the basic error of Viguerie's brand of populism. The ends may be laudable, but the means poke a hole in the Constitution. I happen to believe that such efforts will be futile - this country is already too pluralist and multicultural to ever 'return to Judeo-Christian values'. But what Paleos like Vig don't understand like Neos like GWBush and I do understand is that despite a world dotted with AQ Jihadists, most of the non-'Judeo Christians' and totally in synch with freedom, democracy and free markets. That's why they keep coming here. But it's not the kind of experience a man Vig's age would know. I'm confident that he can't pronounce half the names in the American white collar workforce - he doesn't know what it's like to live like I do - in a truly global education & labor market.

It's absolutely true that this is what happened today at work. We had a potluck. For lunch I had pizza, spanish rice, eggrolls, taro cake, and a bowl of chili. Somebody had set up a karaoke machine and on it was playing Adam Sandler's take on a Hanukka song. The guy in front of me was Korean, next to him was Chinese. To my right were two Indians, on my left was a latino and an Irish looking cat. A black woman and a blonde woman were organizing folks to wrap Christmas presents (donated Wal-Mart) for local kids. I missed the Thai glass noodles and the vegetarian lasagna, they came after I finished. The Chinese guy and the Indian woman were making jokes to each other about leaving food on their plates, because people in the other's country were starving. This kind of thing happens every day in my America.

What Viguerie does understand is the power of alternative media and the opening up of many channels of news and communications. Mike Krempasky can be proud that his campaign in the blogosphere has influenced Vig enough to mention it many times in the interview. Even though I'm not one to advertise, its that kind of grass roots exchange that makes the difference and I've seen blogads for Vig's book several places.

On the whole, I think Vig's lessons are simple but that those who are not conservative take the margins for the center. Viguerie is caught up in Republican success but clearly wants more from his corner of the conservosphere. I expect and hope that he won't get his way in the Culture Wars, which should not be waged through the law, but his brand of populism may bring such matters standing as a matter of course. Interesting resolutions lie ahead.

Posted by mbowen at December 16, 2004 07:36 AM

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But doesn't Richard Viguerie represent that portion of Republicans who live closer to Norman, OK than LA?

There are many parts of the country that do not have the diversity you can experience in California and that's where 'Judeo-Christian values' group live. I'll give you these homogeneous areas are shrinking, but they do exist.

Posted by: EG at December 16, 2004 08:50 AM