Monday, April 04, 2005

The Decadence of the Right

I have argued that the religious right overreached in the Terri Schiavo case—but that is just a symptom of a general smug complacency on the part of conservative politicians and commentators, who have been so emboldened by recent election victories that they are openly revealing the ugliest parts of their agenda. Worse, they are also devoting less energy toward the work of convincing those who disagree with them.

A good case study is this column by Mark Steyn, whose has almost always had interesting things to say, despite a somewhat undisciplined style that relies too much on humor. Here, however, all of the vices of his writing are on display: the lapses into long, pointless, strained attempts at mean-spirited humor, used to support an argument that is a wildly implausible caricature of his opponents' views.

The only worthwhile point in this piece is at the very end, just before Steyn finishes with the grand rhetorical flourish of making fun of Ted Kennedy for being fat. He says that "these days most of the intellectual debate is within the right." That is not true yet—but it could be, if a pro-liberty "secular right" can find the ideological confidence necessary to oppose the pervasive influence of religious right.

"Party of Let's Pretend," Mark Steyn, Washington Times, 4/4/05

"Once you get used to designating living, breathing bodies as 'nonhuman entities,' it's easy to bandy them ever more carelessly—as they do in the eminently progressive Netherlands, where their relaxed attitude to pot and prostitution led to a relaxed attitude to euthanasia which looks like relaxing the Dutch people right out of business. It's all done quietly over there—no fuss, no publicity; you go in to hospital with a heavy cold and you're carried out by the handles.... In Holland, you can taste a cookie without signing a legal waiver, and, if you get food poisoning, the doctor will discreetly euthanize you to spare your family the trauma of waiting six hours for an available stomach pump....

"The Republicans did the right thing here, and they won't be punished for it by the electors. As with abortion, this is an issue where the public will move slowly but steadily toward the conservative position: Terri Schiavo's court-ordered death will not be without meaning. As to 'crack-ups,' that's only a neurotic way of saying these days most of the intellectual debate is within the right. If, like the Democrats, all you've got are lockstep litmus-tests on race and abortion and all the rest, what's to crack up over? You just lose elections every two years, but carry on insisting, as Ted Kennedy does, that you're still the majority party. Ted's a large majority just by himself these days, but it's still not enough."