Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Conservative inreach and conservative outreach

Given the popular response which has greeted my last two posts on Charles Krauthammer but more broadly on conservative voices in general, I'm going to wrap up this effort by offering two basic categories within which conservative principles get promulgated, catechismal inreach to the faithful and missionary or diplomatic outreach to the faithless yet to be converted.

Obviously, if your conservative sway in the world is already powerful enough to secure your practical, real life conservative interests, all you need are the voices of the former category to keep everyone true to the principled mission. If not, if what you find yourself actually living in is a practical world of principled hope over practical conservative experience, you pretty obviously need recruits and converts from the not-yet-conservative outside to make that practically effective conservative majority a reality.

At the top of the list of conservative voices of conservative inreach I myself would have to put Rush Limbaugh, with a radio audience consistently faithful enough to date to have enabled him to produce for his efforts an impressive $370MM net worth.

From my previous posts I think it's reasonably obvious that I put Charles Krauthammer in the latter category of those conservatives more effective in swaying those not yet firmly within the conservative fold, if at the same time not considered to exhibit the same fidelity to conservative principles as a Rush Limbaugh. I would put George Will firmly in this second category as well.

But in the real world these categories don't break into a brightly separate either/or: conservative voices will more or less rally the faithful internally while more or less swaying the faithless externally, the latter often dependent on to what extent they are first able to even reach them.

At this point I'll turn the post over to commenters to list and discuss if they want to which conservatives fall where along my spectrum from mostly conservative inreach to mostly conservative outreach, and which, if any, do the best job of bridging both categories, and why.


  1. I largely agree with this assessment, Keith, but it should be noted that Limbaugh does make converts from the "unwashed" -- i.e., those who don't realize they are conservative, or those who haven't been paying attention to how liberal things have gotten. A lot of this occurs when college kids graduate and leave the incubation chamber of academia.

    I thought Rush's hostility to Romney was damaging in the 2012 primary season and it was Ann Coulter -- who is generally seen as a total hardcore conservative choir preacher -- who was supporting Mitt and pointing out that he was "conservative enough". I snarkily blogged about this at the time. I realize that linking to this might uncover some old wounds, but it might be beneficial at this point to revisit the conversation.

    Also--I do think that some of the anti-immigration rhetoric needs to be toned down and more wisely dealt with. The proper way for the house to deal with the ridiculous senate bill is to write their own non-ridiculous one and send it up. The Republican Party gets smeared by the media as being the party that "doesn't care", but that is no reason to give up caring.

  2. "Conservative outreach" is not possible in this environment, where character assassination is the order of the day. See Sarah Palin.

  3. Myself, I don't think it's necessary to abandon one's principles to reach out to potential converts -- you can and probably should modulate your tone (which is why I wouldn't be surprised if Levin made more converts in print than on the radio) but never your core principles.


    There's an analogy to be made between constitutionalism and Christianity, though I should make clear at the outset that the differences between the gospel and politics are vast. As a political philosophy, conservatism (classical liberalism) is only a parital philosophy of life, it is BY NO MEANS utopian or eschatological, and I could argue that its foundational, enlightement-based principles are rooted in assumptions that aren't always compatible with Christian dogma. (Another time.)

    The analogy, however, is based on the observation that the Apostle who expressed a willingness to "be all things to all people" in order to convert some (I Cor 9:22) is the same guy who pronounced a solemn curse on anyone who would preach a different gospel message, including himself or even an angel (Gal 1:8-9).

    Suppose someone proposed that Christianity is split between an inreach group and an outreach group -- the theologically conservative evangelicals and the (ha-ha) moderates in the mainline churches. Such a distinction would miss three very important facts.

    1) Doctrinally, the two groups are truly distinct. They're not just different coverings for the same basic beliefs, as the mainline leadership has largely abandoned the authority of Scripture, the claim of the miraculous, and the exclusivity of Christ.

    2) The evangelicals are growing while the mainline churches are cratering, suggesting that you attract converts with bold colors and bright-line distinctions, not by compromising on everything that sets you apart.

    (It's a tough balance to maintain, being "in" the world but not "of" the world, but Christians have to strive to maintain that balance. That's part of Jesus point in Matthew 5, that we must maintain the saltiness that makes us distinctive but must not hide our light from the rest of the world.)

    3) For many, the mainline churches innoculate members from orthodoxy: they don't eventually transition to theologically sterner stuff, because they don't think they need to. They have the liturgy and the sense of community -- and they have these things without the ostracism that comes with a more radical commitment -- and they think that's all they need.

    That last point is where my mind really connects back to this idea of moderately conservative political outreach.

    You could describe that camp in any number of ways, to capture the fact/perception that their "fidelity" to conservative principles is suspect:

    - They're managerial progressives who think the Left's radical progressives are reckless, as if we could survive our fiscal and moral bankruptcy if we approach the cliff slowly enough.

    - They're "fiscally conservative but socially liberal" as if a developed society can offset the collapse of the family with only a moderate welfare state.

    - They fit the bill for that infamous phrase, tax collectors for the welfare state.

    If one is convinced -- as I am -- that these sort of half-steps are insufficient, then it's a very bad outcome to have this sort of position rebranded as conservative, as people like Rove seem intent on doing.

    In staking out this moderate mush as the farthest right of what's politically possibly and socially acceptible, we exclude most of the conservative base, AND we neuter the principles that we so desperately need.

  4. I don't know that I'd put Krauthammer in the category of "conservative outreach", because of his tone.
    When he disagrees, he does so harshly, which isn't prone to win many converts.

    Those attributes don't do much for conservative "inreach" either, when his targets are nominally on the same side. Krauthammer doesn't tone it down much when he disagrees with fellow conservatives (e.g., the Tea Party wing gets some pretty good shots from him). Ann Coulter is the same, only turned up to 11 -- her diatribes against those not willing to jump on the Romney bandwagon soon enough were vicious. I wouldn't be surprised if that attitude caused more than a few Tea Partiers to say "F you" and stay home in the last election.

    Pauli's right that Rush does quite a bit of outreach, and I'd venture to guess he accomplishes more of it than Krauthammer does.

    I think a better example of the conservative "outreach" group would be Bill Kristol. His tone with those he disagrees with doesn't come with nearly the vinegar of Dr. K.

    1. I like Kristol and the rest of the Weekly Standard dudes. The are definitely in the "Dennis Miller camp"; Miller calls WS the best conservative magazine. If you ever listen to the Dennis Miller show, you can get a good taste of what I would consider good conservative outreach. Plus he is hilarious. I really wish our local station WHK would bring him back....

  5. The notion that Bill Kristol could convert anyone to anything is preposterous. He is the quintessential mandarin who came to his position because of pedigree. Conversion to conservatism happens now in spite of the media, not because of it.