Good Friday Morning! A happy trail’s farewell to CNN+, which is folding after not lasting even a month. CNN dumped hundreds of millions of dollars into building CNN+, and it folded faster than Kim Kardashian’s first wedding. Rumors abound that CNN’s new ownership will start purging the roster as the debacle gets wrapped up.
Variety’s exclusive report says its unclear where the CNN+ talent will go:
It remains unclear if CNN intends to keep on board some of its flashy new hires, which, in addition to Wallace, include Kasie Hunt, formerly of NBC News, and Audie Cornish, the NPR veteran. Some talent deals, according to one person familiar with the matter, were not contingent on working for CNN+, and included the ability to contribute to CNN’s broader array of properties. Indeed, some CNN+ talent hires will be considered for TV or digital opportunities, according to two people familiar with the venture. One of these people suggested that if no spot is found for them, the company has indicated it could be willing to pay out their contracts. Meanwhile, Warner Bros. Discovery has lifted a hiring freeze that was in place at CNN, according to one person familiar with the matter, which may open positions for CNN+ staffers.
One of the potential CNN names facing an ax could be Brian Stelter, who mocked Netflix for losing subscribers and falling in stock price only a few days ago. The move is part of CNN getting folded into a broader company with Discovery, Warner Bros, and HBO. It will be interesting to see how Discovery rebuilds CNN in the coming months.
This week, I will go over some issues I have with conservative commentators trying to limit what conservatism contains. Check out my CI columns below. One of them goes through the latest data that says we’re heading into a global famine. 2020 was the year of pandemic, 2021 was the year of inflation, and 2022 is the year of war and famine.
Where you can find me this week
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[04/18/2022] OLC, Biden open new phase of judicial nomination fights – Conservative Institute
[04/22/2022] The signs of a systemic global famine have arrived – Conservative Institute
The tension between ideas and reality.
I have a friend from law school; perhaps a friend is far too strong of a word—an acquaintance from law school. When we met, she had conservative-libertarian leanings on all topics, but none of us considered her that bright on a given topic. And then, at some point, she leaped off the bridge into insanity and flew to the far left. None of us understood it then, and none get it now.
The point is when people are flying all over the place and stay uninformed on the same topics, that says more about them than the principles or subject. I’m not saying I’m the same person then as I way now, or even the same person as when I started writing professionally. People change and develop, hopefully becoming wiser in the process.
It’s annoying to hear people like my friend, or pundits, who glory in their arrogant illiteracy. A case in point is a writer I’ve had to stop reading for precisely these reasons: David French. He tweeted the following:
It’s time to stop using the word “conservative” to broadly describe the right or the Republican Party. It fits some individuals (and I’ll use it then), but it increasingly doesn’t fit the institution, and it definitely doesn’t fit much of the right.
He made this statement over the debate about Florida removing Disney’s special tax status over opposition to new Florida laws over curriculum in schools. Essentially, French wants to define Ron DeSantis and anyone defending Florida as non-conservatives.
I don’t care if you agree or disagree with Florida or DeSantis on this (I’m sympathetic to it). What Florida is doing is so clearly within the conservative wheelhouse you’d have to be aggressively illiterate on history to make French’s statement.
One of the best histories of the conservative intellectual movement is George H. Nash’s book, “The Conservative Intellectual Movement, since 1945.” This book profoundly impacted me in college and laid out all the various strands of conservatism. The first edition ended in 1976, just before the rise of Reagan. In this respect, it’s an excellent primer because the fault lines in conservatism are fully developed. I plan to delve into Matthew Continetti’s latest book, “The Right,” which is a continuation and expounding on the history of Nash.
You have to remember: Republicans voted Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan into office. Those are three radically different Presidents representing different sides of the Republican Party. Nixon and Reagan both won landslides and had distinct governing approaches.
What you learn from Nash and other historians of American conservativism is the impact that British conservatism had on them. One of my favorites from that bunch of British politicians and thinkers is Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. He was the favorite PM of Queen Victoria, a British dandy, the sole Jewish PM in UK history, and a fiction author.
Around the time he entered Parliament, the UK was experiencing the upheavals of expanding the right to vote, the early shoots of capitalism, industrialism, and a post-Napoleon world. The organizing principles of the political parties fluctuated as early conservatism emerged. PM Robert Peel laid out an early tract of “conservativism” called the Tamworth Manifesto.
Disraeli thought this was severely lacking and attacked Peel and that form of conservatism head-on (the Disraeli attacks on Peel would form the basis for his great clash with his political nemesis William Gladstone and rip apart British political parties for the rest of the century). Here’s what Disraeli wrote in one of his Young England novels (the language is early Victorian), “Coningsby“:
The Tamworth Manifesto of 1834 was an attempt to construct a party without principles; its basis therefore was necessarily Latitudinarianism; and its inevitable consequence has been Political Infidelity.
At an epoch of political perplexity and social alarm, the confederation was convenient, and was calculated by aggregation to encourage the timid and confused. But when the perturbation was a little subsided, and men began to inquire why they were banded together, the difficulty of defining their purpose proved that the league, however respectable, was not a party. The leaders indeed might profit by their eminent position to obtain power for their individual gratification, but it was impossible to secure their followers that which, after all, must be the great recompense of a political party, the putting in practice of their opinions; for they had none.
There was indeed a considerable shouting about what they called Conservative principles; but the awkward question naturally arose, what will you conserve? The prerogatives of the Crown, provided they are not exercised; the independence of the House of Lords, provided it is not asserted; the Ecclesiastical estate, provided it is regulated by a commission of laymen. Everything, in short, that is established, as long as it is a phrase and not a fact.
In the meantime, while forms and phrases are religiously cherished in order to make the semblance of a creed, the rule of practice is to bend to the passion or combination of the hour. Conservatism assumes in theory that everything established should be maintained; but adopts in practice that everything that is established is indefensible. To reconcile this theory and this practice, they produce what they call ‘the best bargain;’ some arrangement which has no principle and no purpose, except to obtain a temporary lull of agitation, until the mind of the Conservatives, without a guide and without an aim, distracted, tempted, and bewildered, is prepared for another arrangement, equally statesmanlike with the preceding one.
Conservatism was an attempt to carry on affairs by substituting the fulfilment of the duties of office for the performance of the functions of government; and to maintain this negative system by the mere influence of property, reputable private conduct, and what are called good connections. Conservatism discards Prescription, shrinks from Principle, disavows Progress; having rejected all respect for Antiquity, it offers no redress for the Present, and makes no preparation for the Future.
It is obvious that for a time, under favourable circumstances, such a confederation might succeed; but it is equally clear, that on the arrival of one of those critical conjunctures that will periodically occur in all states, and which such an unimpassioned system is even calculated ultimately to create, all power of resistance will be wanting: the barren curse of political infidelity will paralyse all action; and the Conservative Constitution will be discovered to be a Caput Mortuum.
Disraeli could be describing people like David French today. There are no organizing principles, no great legislative plan, just an agreement that nothing can occur. That cannot be conservatism because it’s not conserving anything. It’s attempting to maintain a status quo that disagrees with everything but changes nothing.
Disraeli called it latitudinarianism, which is a reference to a moderate sect of Protestanism from his time, “they believed that adhering to very specific doctrines, liturgical practices, and church organizational forms, as did the Puritans, was not necessary and could be harmful: ‘The sense that one had special instructions from God made individuals less amenable to moderation and compromise, or to reason itself.’ Thus, the latitudinarians supported a broad-based Protestantism.”
In modern terms, we’d put them in the same boat as Joel Osteen or some other moderate kind of Christianity with little interaction with the real world.
Returning to politics, the insight of Disraeli is that conservatism is a question. What are you conserving? The answer to that question determines what kind of conservative you are in the world. For instance, over the 20th Century, the right was a loose coalition of around six different answers to this question. That list included: Pro-business lobbyists, the religious right, anti-communists (who would become neo-cons), populists, libertarians, and traditionalists.
Each group answered, “What are we conserving?” in a different fashion. Ronald Reagan’s brilliance was forming the fusionist movement, which coalesced around free markets, anti-communism, and strong defense with opposition to the Soviet Union gluing all these contingent parts together brilliantly. The collapse of the USSR eliminated the glue of fusionism (though it had one last gasp with George W. Bush; terrorism unsuccessfully tried to replace communism as a glue).
I’ve touched on this topic before, so I won’t go down the full path. But what is maddening when reading French is that he asserts that only he recognizes “true conservatism” and nothing outside his minuscule definition fits. This assertion is patently wrong.
What’s happened on the elite/punditry right is a new answer to “what do we conserve?” French, Jonah Goldberg, and others assert their goal is to conserve the “ideas” of conservatism. I respect Goldberg more in this endeavor because he sees himself in a particular vein of the National Review history (Goldberg’s “Liberal Fascism” is great, but it riffs off themes explored by one of his predecessors at National Review, Erik Von Kuehnelt-Leddihin, who wrote in 1991 “Leftism Revisited: From De Sade and Marx to Hitler and Pol Pot“).
French asserts that those conserving the ideology of 1980s-1990s conservatism are the only true conservatism (an ideology he now rejects). But what they’ve done in elevating ideas in this manner is create a new tension.
A person conserving ideals will create tension with a person trying to preserve more traditional notions of the state, family, society, or equivalent. We’re in a geopolitical contest with Europe, Russia, and China. If you’re elevating and conserving ideas, you necessarily place things like state and country below those ideals in the middle of a geopolitical crisis.
If you place the preservation of the United States, preparing economically for war and conflict with Russia and China, or protecting traditional or religious notions of family, you will necessarily see a person elevating ideas utterly useless. They count angels on a pinhead while the world burns.
The Florida vs. Disney flap is a cultural crosspoint where everything intersects. French is fretting about ideals and norms getting trashed. Other conservatives see Disney playing footsie with China (a geopolitical foe) and attacking legislation that aims to protect family on traditional grounds. Playing hardball with Disney also answers the beating the right has felt as corporations push woke capitalism (a case in point this week was the Washington Post trying to doxx an Orthodox Jew for running the Libs of TikTok account, which only reposts public social media videos).
There is a fundamental tension here. You can either elevate ideas above all or get involved in the project of politics to change things. French holds to the old evangelical view that politics is inherently dirty and sinful. Anyone trying to cut deals or make the world better is immoral.
I’ve written here many times: the central organizing ideas of conservatism from the 1980s are gone. Conservatism has to conserve something new because we’re not in conflict with the USSR, communism, or the sole economic superpower in the world. Multinational corporations have shifted into political action. China-Russia-Iran have formed a political axis against the United States. We’re emerging from a pandemic, and the global economy is flashing recessionary red lights.
There are genuine issues that need addressing. I fall on the side of conserving real things like the United States. That introduces unpleasant decisions, but that’s part of statesmanship. The world isn’t governed at the top end of Platonic Ideals, it’s messy, and there are consequences for every idea believed and action taken.
That doesn’t mean you throw your ideals out the window. It just means there’s a time and place to discuss ideas and a time and place for legislating. We need leadership in a moment where it is severely lacking.
Links of the week
Newly-Released Documents Shed Light on Government-Funded Research Into Worm Holes, Anti-Gravity and Invisibility Cloaks: A tranche of documents released to Motherboard through FOIA show the research priorities of the secretive Advanced Aerospace Weapons Systems Application Program. – Anna Merlan, Vice
What @LibsOfTikTok exposed: Pedophilia, sex liberation for kids — these were not innocent teachers – Bill Zeiser, Spectator
Twitter Thread(s) of the week
Satire of the week
18 things that lasted longer than CNN+ – Babylon Bee
Thanks for reading!