To the extent there is a species of Republican the very left leaning blogosphere approves of, it usually sounds something like this: pro immigration reform and eager to take to task the xenophobic strands of the anti immigration argument; libertarian on gay marriage; skeptical of the Tea Party influence on the modern right; dismissive of government shutdown threats; and independent enough to call out a conservative favorite like Rand Paul when he puts a secessionist sympathizer on the federal payroll.
That happens to also be a point by point account of the opinions of the Washington Post’s Republican blogger Jennifer Rubin, and it explains why she has taken her share of shots from the right (Erick Erickson has famously said that she has “nothing in common with conservatives other than hating terrorists”). But the fact that she is something of a punching bag within the left’s online community is a mystery to me and I suspect a lot of others who actually read her work. And the broadside she just absorbed from the Post’s former ombudsman is even more bizarre, when its principal claim is that she is a serial recycler of “every silly right wing theory to come down the pike.”
An odd charge, given her relatively centrist views, and the frequency with which she expresses them: albeit a common one based on any random perusal of the comments on her blog. Putting the ex ombudsman aside (there is no politics like intra office politics) the “Rubin is far right” charge seems to typify one of two scenarios: either a classic case of the messenger overwhelming the message or, alternatively, a pretty fair reading of the abuse any card carrying conservative faces in the volleying that passes for ideological debate circa the Obama era.
Given that most of Rubin’s online critics probably could not pick her out of a lineup (her only steady television presence is the lightly watched MSNBC roundtable Chuck Todd hosts) and allowing that the author of a three year old column is hardly a long-running bête noire of the left, I’ll opt for theory 2: whatever the precise shade of her ideology, Rubin still wears the c-label as opposed to branding herself a moderate, occupies the most prominent online conservative niche in a liberal leaning paper, and those red flags alone have made her a target. So much so that no matter how many times she deviates from right wing orthodoxy, the credit has been sparse from people who make a habit of dismissing that orthodoxy and claim to value “adults” who break ranks with it.
And that’s the most salient aspect of why a blog dustup over a nationally unknown pundit is worthy of examination: it’s a smallish but telling piece of evidence of how liberalism circa 2013 practices its own form of insularity and narrowness, and how the left exists within the same kind of ideological bubble the right is alleged to live inside. The result is a sense of mission about liberal causes that makes it hard to see conservatism in any form as a serious intellectual rival or a sensibility worth understanding. How can it be, when the left assumes that to be a conservative is to be a one percent coddling, gay hating, war on women waging, vote suppressing, science denying kind of clown.
Never mind that the supposedly monolithic right is almost Baptist like in its proliferation of rival doctrinal camps. Never mind that George W. Bush tightened more financial regulations than Bill Clinton; that even an eloquent gay advocate like Frank Bruni initially questioned the wisdom of a federal judicial overturn of traditional marriage laws; that the GOP social issue de jour, banning of abortions after 20 weeks, is the position a growing plurality of Americans hold. Never mind that a liberal icon named John Paul Stevens blessed voter ID laws during his Supreme Court tenure, or that the fact of human influenced climate change can be accepted without co-signing the Obama Administration’s aggressiveness on regulating carbon emissions.
Notwithstanding any of those stubborn facts, the left’s vision of right and wrong (and smart and dumb) thoroughly monopolizes the mainstream press, and the lion’s share of social media. Its dominance, of course, has generated a parallel universe on the Fox News Channel, with its own convictions and suspicions about the other side. But the presence of a Fox does not change the reality that in the most credentialed and prestigious media circles, denigrating conservatism is the last socially acceptable prejudice; and the rightwing counter to that contempt is still confined to one TV channel and a shrinking pool of radio stations.
In a more thoughtful environment, conservatism would not be framed as a (suspect) identity but sorted into more and less responsible viewpoints. Rubin’s centrism on every front rank domestic agenda item would be celebrated as proof that the post Bush/Romney GOP is having a pretty robust conversation with itself. And any principled critic of conservative extremism would see the virtue of having that extremism challenged from within the right. But an ideological prism that sees a Jennifer Rubin as a wingnut is not exactly rooting for conservatism to reform: it’s holding out for a liberal rout.