Those who haven’t read M.D. Harmon’s recent column on themainewire.com “What does a conservative writer read?” ought to do so. And those who have read it might consider taking another look for the sake of reflection. Naturally, I liked that part about the Sage of Farmington. Liked it a lot. Read it a dozen times. Read it and you will see why. (It’s about me.)
Half of the six national columnists Harmon favors came to the Right from the Left. Thomas Sowell was once a Marxist; one of those rare Marxists who actually read all three volumes of “Das Kapital.” He took economics courses from Milton Friedman at the University of Chicago, but what moved him to the right was getting a government job.
Michael Barone offers a one-word explanation for his conversion: “Detroit,” where he was born and raised. He served on the staff of Mayor Jerome Cavanaugh, one of the liberal world-savers of yesteryear, gone and forgotten today like John Vliet Lindsay and many others. I first encountered Barone in the 1970s as co-editor of “The Almanac of American Politics.” His liberal bent was obvious but not so obtrusive that it diminished the value of “The Almanac” as a reference work. I have no idea when the full impact of the Detroit disaster turned him to the path of enlightenment.
Charles Krauthammer’s new book, “Things That Matter,” gives an account of his turn to the right. His career with the Carter administration, as speech writer of Fritz Mondale, as an editor of the New Republic and as a columnist for both Time magazine and The Washington Post identify him as an erstwhile liberal in good standing. He explains in his new book that the Democratic Party left him on foreign policy, while he left the Democratic Party on domestic policy. He refers in the first instance to the party’s abandonment of the Truman-Kennedy anti-communist tradition. His own desertion was motivated by the disastrous failures of so many Great Society programs. Analyses by Charles Murray, James Q. Wilson and Heather MacDonald accelerated his conversion. Murray and MacDonald once owned pews in the Liberal Church themselves. Wilson began to identify himself as conservative toward the end of his career. Nothing of his from earlier decades impressed me as anything but social science without any special coloration.
As far as I know, Victor Davis Hanson, Mark Steyn and Jonah Goldberg are, like me, genetic conservatives who never experienced a transition. Norman Podhoretz, a leading neo-conservative, once observed that “Liberals are monolingual; conservative are bilingual.”
Harmon explains this phenomenon in part: “We live in a media culture controlled and populated by liberal sources. One cannot read widely and escape it. Indeed, in order to find conservative writers, one has to do a bit of searching.” Putting this a little differently, while conservatives are constantly exposed to liberal points of view, liberals can live their lives without any direct exposure at all.
I made a practice over my 32 years among the professoriate to ask which conservative author my liberal colleagues found most interesting. A trick question, I didn’t expect them to have read even one. As it happens there was a single exception, but he was a man apart in a dozen other ways — an exception that tests the rule. A number of my conservative colleagues had once been liberals. I never met a liberal who had moved from left to right. Arianna Huffington is the only liberal ex-conservative of national stature. Some liberals may regard her as a major intellectual. Conservatives never did. They thought she was good looking.
Michael Lind, posing as a disillusioned conservative, wrote “Up from Conservatism: Why the Right Is Wrong for America” a few years ago. The man wrote a couple of minor articles for a neo-conservative foreign policy periodical, but his own book reveals that he was, and remains, a faithful admirer of Lyndon Baynes Johnson. Nothing he has to say about conservative books or thinking is familiar to me, and I’ve been a conservative longer that he has been alive. The fact that his bogus conversion has earned him three book deals, editorial positions on Harper’s, the New Republic, and the New Yorker, along with space for articles most of the leading liberal organs of opinion confirms liberal ignorance and lack of curiosity about conservatism.
John Frary of Farmington is a former congressional candidate and retired history professor, a board member of Maine Taxpayers United and publisher of www.fraryhomecompanion.com. Email to firstname.lastname@example.org