The title of this post is part of the title of an article Rick Perlstein wrote for The New Republic: “What is Conservative Culture? Mass Martyr” is the full title (and you can read it if you register). Although I no longer agree with its politics, TNR is, I think, one of the last honest liberal publications. Indeed, during the Clinton era, it was generous in its disapproval of much of which Clinton did, which I think points to a certain even-handed intellectualism. That’s why I found Perlstein’s article so discordant — it’s silly.
Perlstein claims to be seeking a core conservative culture. If I read the muddled article correctly, he’s claiming that conservatism is all about (a) paranoia and (b) getting back at liberals. These two powerful forces are sufficient to unite huge swaths of America, from white collar to blue, religious to atheist libertarian, passionate to pragmatic.
Perlstein doesn’t seem to find it at all peculiar that those two negative emotions could create such a (yes, I’m going to say it) big tent. Frankly, it seems to me that Perlstein would do better to figure out why Republicans do appeal to such a broad demographic. It’s a cop-out to say it’s for the pleasure of sticking out a series of collective conservative tongues at the liberals. When you have this type of reach without the media’s help (although Perlstein says, without providing any support, that the media is being coopted by conservatives), you’ve got a lot more than paranoia and oneupmanship at work.