Colin Delany Perspective September 4, 2009

Jon Henke Stirs a Storm on the Right (Or, Why I Like Hanging Out with Libertarians)


If you didn’t have a chance to catch Wednesday’s FDH Lounge radio show, they’ll be posting the link soon, and I’ll let you know when you can swing on by the archives ’cause you oughta give it a listen. Host Rick Morris and I talked for at least half an hour, covering everything from Ted Kennedy to conspiracy theories and propaganda to health care policy around the world — all we needed were some robot/zombie references and we’d have hit just about everything of worth in this sweet wide universe.

One thing that made it particularly fun is that Rick and I disagree a ton politically (though we may be closer together on Eagles football), but we can still talk about issues and personalities reasonably and with good humor. In part, I think it’s because Rick is at heart a libertarian, and as long as I’ve known libertarians I’ve enjoyed hanging out with them.

For starters, I’m an independent-minded guy who likes to run his own show, and most libertarians really just want to be left alone to do their thing — they’re the right-wing equivalent of hippies, only with more guns and (usually) better hygiene. Since I’m from Texas and shot my first gun (no doubt bigger than I was) when I was about four years old, I’m fine with the firepower. Plus I’m in general approval of both an occasional bath and a good business startup, so we get along well on that front, too.

Libertarians are generally also unusually intellectually consistent for political people, and they tend not to be shy about calling out other conservatives when necessary. In fact, libertarians can sniff out hypocrisy across the room: they’re not usually the ones losing their moral compass on the Appalachian Trail soon after accusing others of transgressions. In a way, libertarians are purists — a lot of the appeal of libertarian ideas IS their intellectual consistency, and a disproportionate number of the libertarians I’ve known over the years were mathematicians, theoretical scientists and the like.

It shouldn’t be a surprise then that it’s a libertarian, my friend Jon Henke, who’s stirred up a proverbial sh*tstorm among the conspiracy theorists, birthers and random crazies by encouraging Republicans to shun the long-running website World Net Daily. He was pushed over the edge by their write-up of Jerome Corsi’s latest paranoid fantasy (Obama-run concentration camps, no doubt intended for conservative “patriots”), but Jon’s great sin was encouraging skeptical and critical thought about a series of beliefs that some have come to see as true despite all evidence to the contrary. One commenter on Jon’s site summed up his position as “Get off my side! You’re making my side look stupid,” which BTW was about how I felt about the 9/11 conspiracy types and the folks who thought Bush stole Ohio in ’04.

This being the internet, the nasty responses also came fast, including one that illuminated one of the uglier corners of American thought:

Jon,I hope you get a triple case of AIDS the next time you take it up the a**, you f*****g homo. You and your putrid ilk put that Comie n****r in the White House and accidently woke up the silent majority of white, Christain, tax-paying Americans. No longer will the soul of this great nation be intimidated by political correctness. You f****d up buddy and now you have a front row seat to see the newly awakened vanquish the cancer of fascism from this land.

Against stupidity, the gods themselves content in vain! But Jon and his colleagues at TheNextRight are doing their best, though if I were them I might keep an eye out for any creepy vans parked across the street. But their standard is an straightforward one — is an idea or contention true, false or debatable? Alas, as Jon’s colleague Patrick Ruffini points out, in this case “the space between fact and fiction is confused as a litmus test between right and left,” a tendency that afflicts political debate on all sides.

In part, we’re looking at a squabble among a relatively small group of partisan activists, but it’s really a reflection of something much larger and more consequential. The basic question is, who stands for Republicans and for conservatism more broadly? Jon and his colleagues would like to see a conservatism based on intellectual honesty and a set of principles, not on the latest wild claim from some random dude who put two and two together and got twelve. Yes, the conspiracy theorists may help derail Obama’s agenda in the short run, but what monster has been set loose on the countryside in the process?

In any case, even if the libertarian-minded succeed in taking control of the debate on the Right, it still won’t guarantee the long-term success of their ideology: the real world is dangerously messy, and we’ve seen a lot of evidence over the past few decades that perfect ideas don’t always work as planned when they’re applied to actual people (see: markets, free).

But if the Birthers and their ilk do continue to dominate the public face of conservatism, the Right is in big trouble. The “newly awakened” may be able gather enough converts to their side to storm and burn Washington to the ground, but I doubt it (I’ve got insurance anway), and unless they’re outshouted they’re likely to spin the public face of conservatism farther and farther into crazyland. The Republicans are already in danger of becoming a regional (and mostly whites-only) political party; without new, reasonable and unsanctimonious voices they risk withering into something darker and downright vestigial. THAT wouldn’t be healthy for any of us, or for democracy in America itself.

cpd

Back Top