The Evangelical Outpost vs. The National Review

Joe Carter at The Evangelical Outpost is quarrelling with The National Review about their conservative credentials. This is kind of a family fight for me, because I’ve got a lot of respect for Joe and for the National Review.

Joe’s argument is that the National Review isn’t socially conservative enough, that it essentially has become libertarian. I’ve heard a number of times, not only from Joe but also from other sources that NR (especially National Review Online) is insufficiently hardline against gay marriage.

I’ve been reading National Review for quite some time, and I have to say my sympathies lie with them. In the article linked above, Joe responds to responses by NR in The Corner, NRO’s blog. I think Ramesh Ponnuru nails it, though. The National Review has been, and continues to be, the best ally that the conservative community has. The Weekly Standard has its great points too, but there’s really no substitute for NR.

It seems to me that one thing that weakens the social conservatives’ viewpoint to a considerable degree (and I am one, BTW), is that religion is just too involved in their presentation of issues. Now before anyone blows a gasket, note that I said it’s too involved in the presentation of issues, not the formulation of issues. Religion has a great deal to do with the source of everyone’s viewpoints, but if the religious language is the only way one knows how to communicate that viewpoint, then one will be relegated to preaching to the choir, and nobody else will care what one has to say.

NR has studiously avoided this pitfall, even though many (most? all?) of its writers are strongly religious in one way or another. NR seeks to communicate with the world at large, and that means communicating positions in terms of practical consequences, natural law values and the like, not in terms of religion. This means that they’re going to be a little bit bigger Big Tent on some issues like gay marriage than some folks like Joe (and I) would like, but before we criticize, I think we have to (a) recognize that despite this tendency, the vast majority of NR messaging on these issues has been just what we’d look for, and (b), just as Ramesh Ponnuru said, we need to learn who our friends are and who our enemies are.

Joe’s response really strikes me as perfectionism. In order for someone to wear the badge ‘conservative’, there’s an ever-widening list of criteria that one has to follow, and only those who perfectly match up will earn the title, which will necessarily be a smaller and smaller list of people.

Joe says:

Joe:This reminds me of the Democratic party’s attitude toward minority voters, “You don’t like what we stand for? Fine. Where else are you gonna go?” I can’t speak for all social cons but you’ll find me over at The Weekly Standard.

Ramesh:But leaving those things aside, there is no denying that the critics have a real difference of opinion with the magazine. That difference concerns the magazine’s editorial line less than its editorial policy. Should we refuse to publish articles that dissent from aspects of social conservatism? I don’t think that is a question that conservative principles can by themselves answer.

Joe:If “dissenting from aspects of social conservatism” means promoting p*rnography, then yes, I think that question can be answered by conservative principles. And the answer is that p*rn is incompatible with conservatism.

Ramesh:Nor can I say I have any great answer to the question. In general, I would say that we should not devote scarce space to articles that make arguments against our own positions positions when those arguments are made well and often elsewhere.

Joe:Oh? Has there been a dearth of articles supporting p*rn lately?

I think Joe’s kind of missing the point here. In the first case, Ramesh is not saying that you either have to agree with NR or go away. He’s saying that even when we disagree in some areas, that doesn’t mean we become enemies, which is basically what Joe is saying when he says that because NR doesn’t toe Joe’s line, they no longer qualify as conservatives. And in the second case, Ramesh is actually _agreeing_ with Joe that maybe running the objectionable piece (the one apparently supporting pornography) wasn’t a great idea, and Joe still goes after him.

Then there’s this:

Round III — Kathryn Jean Lopez

KJL:But it also, I think, challenges us a to take into account diverse opinion on the right more than scarce space might allow in Dead Tree, and, even, at times, to print something like that Siepp piece, which I don’t agree with—Playboy has contributed to a whole host of evils—because it does attract some new readers.

Joe:Finally, someone has the audacity to admit the truth. NRO didn’t run the piece because it was a worthy article deserving of attention; they didn’t run it because it added to the cultural conversation; they didn’t run it because it was thought-provoking. They published it because it would “attract some new readers.”

I don’t mean to toot my own horn but…did I call it or what?*

KJL:I don’t think that’s necessarily selling out.

Joe:Yes, Ms. Lopez, it is. But, heh, whatever helps you sleep at night.

KJL:Presumably—and, again, I’ve read e-mails to support this—those folks come back and get to hear our arguments on cloning and abortion and the family, the Iraq war, the idiocy of Howard Dean, the holes in the Clark record, etc. And sometimes they’ll hate our arguments, but often they’ll let us know. And, in the end, we’re all often better for it.

Joe:I get it. Defending p*rn is just the gateway drug to get them in the door. Then NRO can hook them on some hardcore conservatism! Yeah, that’s the ticket!

KJL:I wanna make sure we educate the choir, but I also want to evangelize. We might have to show a little leg sometimes to do that.

Joe:If “showing some leg” will help the evangelization efforts why not just go all the way. Why not have a full-spread layout of Ann Coulter? Or maybe show some topless shots of the girls at Hillsdale College?

Now you’re just being cute, Joe. “Show a little leg” is a metaphor. It’s the diverse opinions Lopez is referring to- surely you know that? How many things have you done, Joe, just to build readership? More than one, I’m pretty sure. One might even suspect that this discussion itself is ‘showing some leg’ since they’re agreeing with you about more than they’re disagreeing with you.

There’s a difference between a blog that is written by one guy and a site that hosts lots of different articles. By definition, the one will have uniformity of opinion (unless you’re a schizophrenic) and the other willl have diversity. Who decides how much diversity? Who decides when a site has sold out?

There is also a difference between a free blog like the Evangelical Outpost and a for-profit business like The National Review. Joe, you’re free to be as perfectionistic and idealistic as you like, but in the profit-making world, attracting readers is business, not selling out.

I disagree with NR, and NRO, frequently. But I disagree with virtually everyone at some time or another, as I suspect Joe does as well. But we have to be really careful about defining our “acceptable viewpoint” box so small that it only holds ourselves.

16 Be not righteous over much; neither make thyself over wise: why shouldest thou destroy thyself? Ecclesiastes 7:16

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