Sunday, October 13, 2013

So how does Rod Dreher actually practice his beliefs out in the real world?

Brave Sir Roddy stamps his foot and runs away. Takes a powder. Hits the road, Jack. Becomes a late Catholic (or parrot, depending on your species). Bats for the other team in protest.

He explains here:

In a few minutes, I’m going to walk over to the courthouse and vote either Democrat or Libertarian as a protest, which is to say, I’m throwing my vote away to object to the Tea Party. The current crisis in Washington is the last straw.

His very first commenter, sk, wonders how this makes a bit of sense at all:

sk says:   
October 12, 2013 at 1:05 pm   

“Jay Morris is pro-life, pro-gun, and pro-traditional marriage! Jay Morris will lead the fight to build the wall along Mexico and protect our nation’s borders!

… The single most important action facing our Congress is to defund Obamacare.”

I really don’t get what is wrong with these statements, per your own standards. He wants to restrict abortion, he wants to restrict illegal immigration, and he wants to restrict gay marriage. He wants to defund Obamacare. He also believes in the right to bear arms, and supports freedoms related to gun ownership. I feel like I understand pretty clearly where he stands.

Are you expecting him to write a replacement for Obamacare (perhaps his own 3,000 page alternative document)? Are you expecting a freshman congressman to have a plan for rewriting the laws in these five issues? Are you expecting that a freshman congressman that you vote for will have any direct, independent power to do any of these things? You are the political analyst: as you know, freshman congressman basically have the power to vote.

So perhaps you expect each candidate for their first time in national office to understand the legal and bureaucratic outlines of how to genuinely make changes on the five hot button issues of our time, to have written appropriate legislation to say how they would independently change things, and then acknowledge that they actually won’t have the power (due to their inexperience and freshman status) to do any of it?

I’m just not getting your complaint.


Rod feels exactly the same way, then goes on to explain why voting for this Republican candidate is the wrong approach, but voting for the Democrat or Libertarian instead in protest is the right one:

[NFR: For immigration restriction? Me too. But "build a wall along the Mexican border" is unreasonable, and I don't think he really means it. I think he's pandering to anti-immigrant sentiment. And if he does mean it, that's worse, because it's crazy to think we could build a wall that long. Against abortion? Me too. But what is he going to do about it, given the realities of the Supreme Court's rulings? What can be done in the real world? I'd like to know. He doesn't say. Gun ownership? I probably agree with him, but I don't get the level of panic many conservatives have over the issue. On Obamacare, you know what I would like to see? Republican Congressmen talking about how Obamacare can be reformed. For better of for worse, defunding the thing is not going to happen. They're tilting at windmills. I get that he hates Obamacare. That was a respectable position two years ago. Today, though, Obamacare is in place. Continuing to fight its very existence is futile, and dramatically hurting the party. That all these GOP candidates are taking these maximalist positions, despite the political realities on the ground having changed, is very discouraging. It tells me that conservatives who don't like Obamacare are going to lose bigtime because these Tea Party people are unwilling to compromise at all. If it's all-or-nothing, and you lose, then your side gets nothing. -- RD]

See, it works like this. As long as everything is theoretical, whether religion or politics or "culture", Dreher's catch-all term for that vast universe of things he doesn't understand and can't articulate, it's all good. There aren't any consequences in theory, except, of course, only theoretical ones. It's safe and warm in theory, because theory doesn't have to exert and defend itself out in the real world, only real choice and action does. If you're only theoretically a conservative, everyone can still like you, because you haven't actually done anything real to them out in the world through any sort of boots on the ground political action. You haven't taken any less than perfect actions that might get you scorned or laughed at. You can "be" against abortion and your friend's wife, who just had one, will still invite you over for dinner, because you're harmless. You're safe, like your wife or girlfriend's gay guy friend. Better to stay safe, not like those actual real world Republicans whose hands, unlike Pilate's, can never be absolutely, perfectly clean.

Of course, in theory, safe you hasn't actually restricted abortion, or illegal immigration, or gay marriage, or anything else worth doing either, but you are still a hero, because of course you believe in heroism. And you just know that, when exactly the right opportunity presents itself, you'll be that hero you believe in, or that conservative. Because that's how the world works. In theory. And in the 8-year-old mind.

Unless, of course, the porridge or the Congressman is not just exactly right, the way you demand they should be. Then you can play your get-out-of-heroism card, because, you know, they're not playing by your rules. Rod's all for the theoretical conservative bowl of porridge, you see. It's just that, just as with the case of his personal Rodist Catholicism, out in the real world where there isn't any theoretical Conservative Party, only Democrats or Republicans, the real world Republicans haven't made the porridge exactly the way Rod would have prepared it in his own theoretical kitchen. Too hot perhaps. Or too cold. Maybe not seasoned to perfection. And what sort of hero eats an imperfect actual porridge? I mean, really? Or remains a communicant in an imperfect Catholic Church? Or votes for a real Republican Congressman over a theoretical conservative one? Or a Democrat?

So the only way for Rod to really register the depths of his developmentally arrested, petulant rejection of the imperfect real adult world that won't conform to his childish, imaginary demands is to vote for that Republican Congressman's Democrat opponent. That'll show them how he wants his porridge. That'll show them all!

Makes perfect sense to me.

Coda: so how did Rod really vote? Only he knows. Hell, he might have even voted Republican, for that very same Congressman he tore apart in his blog post. So what? What difference does it make? As with all things Rod, the important thing here is not what Rod actually did, but what he talked about doing. Oh, not what he talked about doing to further conservatism, or to restrict abortion, or illegal immigration, or gay marriage, or to preserve religious liberty. What he talked about doing that parroted what the Obamacons who pay him want to hear said about their political opponents. About Republican Congressmen running for office.

So maybe Rod Dreher really is a principled, man of action conservative after all - at least when it comes to conserving his own livelihood. When it comes to actually standing and fighting for anything else, though...

Brave Sir Roddy ran away.
Bravely ran away, away.
When real world choice it reared it's head
He bravely turned his tail and fled.
Yes Brave Sir Roddy turned about
He gallantly chickened out.

Bravely taking to his feet
He beat a very brave retreat.
Oh bravest of the brave, Sir Roddy.


  1. Pauli: "…the depths of his developmentally arrested, petulant rejection of the imperfect real adult world that won't conform to his childish, imaginary demands…."

    I can only reiterate what I said elsewhere, "...RD is a mediocre writer, and someone who should not be regarded as any sort of serious thinker.

    As Pikkumatti observed, it does no good whatsoever to take seriously the substance of what Rod says, for the only thing that matters to him is that he is saying it.

    As for RD somehow being a "conservative", I've never been able to figure that one out. I've never been able to figure out why TAC has "conservative" in its title either.

  2. Replies
    1. Oops. Sorry for the misattribution. Unfortunately, Blogspot doesn't allow post-editing comments, other than the cumbersome process of deleting and re-posting.

    2. I just figured out how to modify the template HTML to put the post author name at the top of the post. So it shouldn't be a problem anymore.

      Great first post, Mr. Keith!

    3. Pauli,


      (I promise the next one won't be so long. But with Dreher, where do you end?)


  3. Oh, yeah. Everybody put your hands together for our new Est Quod Est blog author, Keith!

  4. Thoughts on the content. Firstly, although I'm not sure the house tactics on the defunding attempt were well advised I certainly appreciated the stand on principle, and like the commenter pointed out, a freshman rep shouldn't be punished for the strategy. Dreher snorting at it because it represents "tilting at windmills is a laugh riot. As if Crunchy Conservatism is not quixotic. BTW, I'm sure the Libertarian candidates would be totally against shutting down the government (now I'm snorting.)

    Secondly, why is building a border wall unreasonable? Because no country has ever built security fences before, I guess (oh, wait...) The word "unreasonable" is also a knee-slapper coming from a dude who thinks everybody should eat food grown within a 100-mile radius.

    Thirdly, Keith has really nailed it when he points out that while in theory Rod is all about practice, it turns out that in practice Rod is all about theory. I pointed out long ago that while none of my "crunchy" friends were pro-abortion, most of them scorned the pro-life movement as a bunch of embarrassing, icky "fundamentalists" with tastes too unsophisticated for them. Bubba/TMFKS make a similar point in this post.

    It's such a shame that Flannery O'Connor isn't alive today and still writing; if she was, she would capture Dreher's snootiness perfectly in a short story. For all his talk about sacramentality of organic meat and whatnot, it's all a bunch of theory that doesn't translate into anything in the real world. Except maybe that he's sick all the time.

    Finally: I think Janis Joplin summed up the decision process of folks like Rod when she wrote "You know you got it, child, if it makes you feel good." Sure, Rod is foregoing the practical action of voting for the best person in order to make his "larger" theoretical point. But ultimately this is feelings-based thinking like you can read any day on the Daily Kos. When Jonah Goldberg wrote "To the left; here I come," in his take down of Rod 7 years ago, he was prescient.

    1. In his pieces against the Republicans Rod says nothing he didn't read someone else saying first elsewhere, about issues he has admitted on multiple recent occasions he doesn't follow and doesn't understand. His repackaging of them as a "protest" ends up being a self-contradictory assault on those "principles" he still tries desperately to convince others he holds, and in the final analysis, the whole throwaway exercise becomes nothing more than just more pointless, argument-free narrative "storytelling"* in support of his Godfather of the moment, as usual with Dreher devoid of any verifiable fact.

      All in all, I was reminded of this campaign for the massed faithful, except that the nutrition of peanuts can be measured.

      People wonder why I focus on this guy. The answer is simple. In and of himself he's only a pathetic, self-contradictory buffoon acting out the sad, necessary consequences of his birth and rearing. In any other American age he would have long ago been consigned by his superior competitors to extolling the virtues of Hush-Puppies to his daily department store customers while fiercely dashing off private screeds in his off hours. But in our age he has become a critical canary in the coal mine, telegraphing to us day in and day out just how far away from even a basic high school grasp of skepticism and critical thinking his followers who populate our universities and our media at large which stills mindlessly turns to him as a voice for whatever he claims to be at the moment have fallen.

      Only in a civilization of similar cultural fluffers can a Rod Dreher succeed to the extent he has, and so, ironically, he has become his own best argument for a Benedict Option for any who may have abandoned all other hope. When you see criticism of Dreher, though, as little and as intermittent as it might be - a Goldberg here, a Pauli there, a Skellmeyer over there - take heart: your civilizational immune system is still functioning.


      *[NFR: All fine points, BUT I WANT STORIES. I'm not going to publish any more comments that are more arguments or observations than stories. -- RD]

    2. "I WANT STORIES, DAMMIT! STORIES!!" Channeling J. Jonah Jameson, I guess, except his public menace number one is the Republican Party rather than Spiderman.

    3. Flannery O'Connor is like the psalmist of the grotesque. She already wrote a story about whatever character you run into.

      In this case, I'd go with "The Enduring Chill."

    4. Shorter Keith: What Dreher does intellectually is known in other contexts as the pigeon drop: the mark is persuaded to give up something of value to secure an even larger reward and walks away with nothing at all. Goldberg, Pauli, et al are the bunco squad.


  5. Pauli: " his take down of Rod 7 years ago..."

    It's been 7 years already? I remember first seeing the Crunchy opus on the new book shelf of the library. I read it and my reaction, as I recall, was "meh" and "he needs editing because he repeats himself too much."

    But somehow I never read Jonah Goldberg's takedown of RD's crunchy book, and indeed Goldberg is very devastating. Thanks for the link, Pauli, because It was very a interesting read.

    Here are a lot of a good quotes from Goldberg, but I'll just give one: "…the basic problem with crunchy conservatism … is that it is narcissistic."

    But I believe Goldberg is a little mistaken when he says at the end that "I think Rod's a conservative… ". For my part, I am not at all convinced that RD is really and substantially anything at all. His writing shows that he is not a serious political thinker. Perhaps, in earlier times, RD would have been described more as a "dandified aesthete".

  6. One thing is consistent about Dreher: when he gets a chance to run away from himself taking responsibility for a position, get out of his way. We've seen this quite a few times now, over the years: homeschooling, Crunchy Conning, supporting Jim Webb for the Senate, the Great Conversion, the move back to Louisiana, and now this.

    Don't get me wrong -- none of those positions are per se wrong, and some in fact are good things for many people. (I'm giving the Democrat votes the benefit of the doubt.) But in Dreher's case, the stated reason for the action is not because he's for something, it is because there is some facet of the other that he is against. And in general, he is opting for something less consequential than his previous position.

    As a result, nothing can ever be Dreher's fault. Even if the Democrat works to enact an evil policy, it's not Dreher's fault -- it is really the Tea Party's fault because they forced him to vote for the Dem as a protest.

    But the protest motivation falls apart over time, doesn't it? The Great Conversion is the best example. At the time, it was all about the Scandal -- we got thousands of shouted words from him about it. But we also got some of the ugly church, bad music, substandard homily critiques along the way. Now we read from him that the preaching was so weak that he couldn't withstand the Scandal, except that wasn't it either -- it was really papal infallibility and Church teachings on contraception.

    Which to me means it wasn't any of those things. His history shows that he was simply running to something small and inconsequential, so that he can't feel any sort of responsibility for the result.

    Those who read Dreher's output and take the substance of it seriously are being misled. Whatever he says is the stated reason for his action -- don't believe it. It is just an excuse.

    A case in contrast: We've recently been attending Mass at a parish that was ground zero for the scandal in this diocese -- the bad acts occurred 25 yrs ago or so. The new pastor remarked, in a homily last week, on the vibrancy and tremendous involvement of the parishioners that he had seen since he arrived (e.g., there are 108 alter servers!), making it now one of the most active and committed parishes in the diocese. And in that homily, he thanked the parishioners for their perseverance and faithfulness, implicitly referring to the scandal. Instead of running away, the remaining parishioners took responsibility for reinvigorating the parish -- and are heroes.

    1. Right on. It's really the same as the "third party" delusion. Instead of joining ranks with the people you're closest to politically and try to move that party in the direction you want, to attempt to coerce them from the outside all by yourself with your "little platoon", all the time telling yourself and anyone who will listen that you're trying to "wake up" the people in the party.

      Meanwhile, the party has moved on and is searching for votes elsewhere. You took your ball and went home, but they ran down to the store and bought another ball.

    2. Those who read Dreher's output and take the substance of it seriously are being misled. Whatever he says is the stated reason for his action -- don't believe it. It is just an excuse.

      AMEN. That's what was so pernicious about the TIME piece. So many sincere Catholic readers had no clue who Dreher is and therefore took him at his word when he whined about all he'd endured from the Big Bad Church. They were sincere and honest themselves, so they gave Dreher the benefit of the doubt and assumed he was sincere and honest, too. Whereas he is actually a total fake.

      As I commented over at the TIME thing, I'm reminded of Mary McCarthy's famous take-down of Lillian Hellman: "Every word she writes is a lie, including 'and' and 'the.'"

    3. Diane, this is why I said in an earlier thread that carping about Dreher in comments elsewhere, like here, is not enough, at least for those who have particular interests they need to defend from Dreher's spurious attacks.

      I'll be the first to admit that my own, non-Catholic complaint about Dreher being a general fraud and counterfeiter in the public square in itself doesn't provide enough of a foundation to stand on, although from time to time it might provide useful perspectives.

      But when Dreher says publicly that he isn't Catholic because of Francis-factor-Z in Time magazine, then quotably says elsewhere in the same month that he would not be Catholic because of W, X, and Y predating and having nothing to do with Francis-factor-Z, he's doing nothing but lying in order to smear Francis for other reasons.

      And when people Google the latest news on Francis, if alongside "I'm Still Not Going Back to the Catholic Church" they don't see alternatives like "Why Dreher Is Lying About Why He's Not Going Back to the Catholic Church" right there in the same general search rankings, with calm but rigorous documentation from Dreher's own lips just like in the Goldberg example, then, I hate to say it, but you've found yourself bringing a potato salad to a gun fight. I'm thinking of not just Catholics here on this blog but also Steve Kellmeyer (my apologies for calling him Skellmeyer elsewhere) and that other guy you mentioned one time who has a Catholic blog.

      If you try Googling Dreher-Time-Francis now guess who you get? Barbara Varvara. Not your best witness. If Catholics keep bringing potato salad every time Dreher shows up with a gun, guess who ends up getting Benedict Optioned into silent unimportance in the mass perceptions of non-Catholics at large out there? Not Dreher.

      Dreher's passive-aggressive schtick of going "Take that!/Owww! Why are you beating up poor widdle me for saying take that, you bully?" is so old and overused at this point that it really shouldn't be giving anyone pause about trying to defend themselves from him. If he tries to draw that as a weapon, just pull the bigger one that calls him specifically on using that shallow technique, too. But I just think bringing potato salad isn't going to do it any more unless your goal is to befriend ants.


    4. For the record, Steve Kellmeyer is Catholic.

      You can't really list people who've pwned Dreher without mentioning Mark Levin.

    5. Keith, this blog has been running in one form or another going on 8 years. You're rather late to the party. I think we have all spent enough energy on Dreher. The guy wants to be besties with Andrew Sullivan. No one on the real right or ostensible right (National Review) takes him seriously about anything. He's really not the behemoth you're making him out to be. And any catholic who's looking for reasons to leave the church already has a multitude of reasons to do so, Dreher's Time article is way down on the list. I can't take your alarmism seriously. You're giving Dreher, the successful journalism major, way too much credit.

    6. I'd wager that precisely no one is googling "Dreher Time Francis" except you.

    7. "the bad acts occurred 25 yrs ago or so"

      then it's only the same parish geographically.

    8. then it's only the same parish geographically

      I guess I don't know what you mean by that, kathleen.

      Yes, the clergy are long gone (and have turned over a couple more times since). But outside of that, I'd say that it is accurate to say that it is the same parish.

      This is a pretty stable part of town. (E.g., our neighbors watched our house being built in 1967.) So there are a good number of parishioners that have persevered through those many years.

      Not to mention that the litigation and Dallas Morning News sensationalism (of which Dreher was a cheerleader) occurred much more recently, say within the past ten years. So there are even more parishioners who suffered through that time period, even if they weren't around during the time of the incidents.

      Sure there has been mobility. But IMO the pastor's acknowledgement of the parishioners' perseverance and faithfulness was well-deserved. They could have run away, Dreher-style, but instead they continued to build the parish.

    9. Come on. It's very very clear what I mean by only "the same geographically". I'm sure many of the parishioners around at the time of the abuse did run away. This happened at every parish in the country during the 70s 80s and 90s, probably especially at parishes affected by abuse. But you really have no way of discerning how the parish was affected by the abuse, do you? You weren't there. The current priests weren't there. And the people who were there who left aren't there to tell you what it was like or how bad it got. You're largely in a new set of people, so it's all very well to congratulate yourselves, but you didn't live through it.

      At the risk of sounding Dreherrian, there were some fairly odd events that happened at my parish during the 70s, that, shall we say, take on a different hue post-2002. Basically I'm not convinced that every case of clerical abuse was uncovered. The catholic church had, and continues to have, a lot of serious problems. Dreher is also a ninny. I am capable of holding both those ideas in my head at the same time.

    10. Come to think of it, if I had access to priests who were at my parish during the 70s and 80s, i would have a whole host of questions to ask them. I seriously doubt I would get straight answers. But I do remember that as a young altar girl I got frozen out by the priests except for one, and that struck me as odd at the time, since most people are pretty darn nice to ten year old girls. But the priests at my parish were noticeably not interested. They enjoyed the company of the altar boys a great deal however. Some other stuff happened I won't discuss. I'd wager not every parish affected by abuse has the official designation as such.

    11. funnily enough, my experience of the 70s mirrors the experience at my current parish, where the priest can't get enough of the company of young males and says hello to my son at every opportunity, while ignoring my daughter utterly.

    12. waiting for TMFKS to chime in and say my husband should beat the priest up...

  7. Oengus echoes Pikkumati, saying "it does no good whatsoever to take seriously the substance of what Rod says, for the only thing that matters to him is that he is saying it."

    Why should we take Dreher's writing seriously? He doesn't.

    The way I would put it is that Rod Dreher and I conflict very strongly because he takes himself more seriously than I do, and I take his writing more seriously than he does.


    Fun facts:

    The Great Wall of China was started nearly 3,000 years ago, and it's over 13,000 miles of impressive stone fortifications.

    The U.S.-Mexico border is less than 2,000 miles long.


    One could pick apart his pseudo-heroic position on any topic, but I think the key point is that he thinks Morris is "pandering to anti-immigrant sentiment." It's a new version of a VERY old riff.

    For taking the EXACT same position as Dreher, he once (repeatedly) wrote that it is "a pretty fair accusation" to say that the GOP is appealing to "anti-gay prejudice", and to "the fear and loathing of gay people."

    Surely there are people who hold good positions for bad reasons, and their reasoning should be corrected whenever possible, but Dreher is not and has never been interested in improving the arguments of those who would be his allies.

    He just wants to make sure that everyone knows that he's not one of THOSE kinds of people, that his matching positions are held for much more noble reasons.

    He's one of the "honorable conservatives," and he wants to be esteemed as such, even if that means slandering everyone else.

  8. Pauli, I would say that the "delusion" of a third party is understandable if one has concluded that the GOP leadership is more willing to negotiate with its political adversaries than to represent its base. The first step ought to be to try to clean house, but especially with the RNC rules they passed last year (controversially), it seems more likely that we'll need to build a new house instead.

    But that's perspective of the Tea Party and other constitutionalist conservatives, not treacherous fools like Brooks, Frum, and the wannabe Dreher.