The "nice conservative" act is just that
I briefly mentioned at alicublog the other day that David French was joining the New York Times. Like some of the other poor devils who pay attention to these things, I was grimly amused that the alleged flagship of the “liberal media” was hiring yet another rightwinger. But there’s more to it than that.
Prestige media hires are a niche subject anyway, but there are not a few guys out there saying things like “You don’t need to always agree with David French to be grateful he’s been invited to be an articulate, thoughtful voice in the media space of the New York Times.” The reason guys like that say things like that, I think, is because they’ve become convinced that conservatism isn’t the problem — it’s those awful Trump people, they’re so crude, so ham-handed, so uncivilized, and since French is (on the surface) anti-Trump, they feel he can be part of the conservative redemption, and when that’s all straightened out the two sides can mix it up like on “The West Wing” without any hard feelings or risk to the Republic.
You can see how it would be easy to believe this if you don’t actually know what French is, and only see how much the dumbest conservatives hate him because he opposes their beloved Trump, and because he won’t go full bull-goose for the latest MAGA fads like, for example, the Twitter Files. French’s gentle affect and constant, plaintive pleas for comity could give the uninitiated the idea that he is an actual example of that rara avis, the Sensible Moderate.
You can surprise these people by pointing out, as I have done before, that French is as much a theocrat as any ranting evangel:
I have followed French’s career at National Review for years and will just quickly tell you that he’s not only against gay marriage, he’s also against Griswold v Connecticut, the decision that invalidated laws against contraception (“Is there a single legal doctrine that can stand against the quest for personal sexual fulfillment?” French thundered); that he denounced the widespread mourning of Prince’s death on the grounds that “Prince was ultimately just another talented and decadent voice in a hedonistic culture... notable mainly because he was particularly effective at communicating that decadence to an eager and willing audience”; that he has compared Kim Davis, that crazy clerk who refused to sign gay marriage licenses, to “men like Martin Luther, John Calvin, and John Knox — the men who first put the ‘protest’ in ‘Protestant’…”
Also, French has signed the virulently anti-LGBT Nashville Statement, and he says of trans people, “while I strive to treat every person I encounter with dignity and respect” — wait for it — “I don’t use preferred pronouns because their use is a form of assent to a system of belief to which I don’t subscribe” — which is rather like saying “sorry, it’s against my religion not to call you ‘fuckface.’” He hates the very idea of Black Lives Matter (“the new religion of anti-racism looks a lot like the older religions of Marxism and socialism… Black Lives Matter just changes the pretext for revolution”). He thinks Dave Chappelle and Joe Rogan are “among the most potent and influential American voices in support of a culture of free speech.”
And though he has a slick line of “Divided We Fall” gab, he still pushes the standard conservative fable of good-hearted red-state Republican rustics being exploited by, and needing to rise up against, godless city-slicker liberals — as in this 2014 sympathetic portrayal of the Bundy Ranch insurrectionists:
While rural America literally sustains life for urban America, many urbanites dislike large-scale farming… would like to see the rest of the country essentially transformed into a nature preserve, and argue that to the extent land is “used,” it should be used for selectively-defined “renewable” purposes, like solar energy or wind farms…
I hope and pray that the dangerous standoff at Bundy Ranch was an aberration and not a harbinger, but until we can limit government’s power, I fear that respect for law will increasingly give way to contempt for the lawmakers.
The only reason French isn’t taking the same ya-shouldn’ta-oughta-riled-’em attitude toward the Capitol insurrectionists as he did toward the Bundy ones is because his market opportunity has changed.
In short, he’s pretty much a straight-up MAGA Republican — he just doesn’t act like one. Or, rather, he acts like he isn’t one.
Take the end of Roe. When it was overturned, French was as pleased as any holy roller or performative MAGA misogynist. But he didn’t do a sack dance — rather he went for the King Claudius an-auspicious-and-a-dropping-eye bit; yes, he said, it’s great that women will be forced to breed, but “the Dobbs ruling has landed in the midst of a sick culture,” he said, “and the pro-life right is helping make it sick”; now conservatives must be magnanimous to the broodsows in victory, and drop winsomeness like balm on the place where their rights were torn away:
Now Roe is gone. Good. We should rejoice at its demise.
But that’s not the end of the story. Not by a long shot. The two sides of the great American divide are now staring at each other and asking, “Now what?” The answer from pro-life America should be clear and resounding—the commitment to life carries with it a commitment to love, to care for the most vulnerable members of society, both mother and child…
Aw, how sweet. French doesn’t say how this would this translate to actual policy in that essay, but at The Atlantic he proposes meager maternal benefits — “Parents of young children would receive $350 a month per child, and parents of older children would receive $250 a month per child” — a wheeze so absurd, given that the states that are strongest against abortion are also the worst skinflints on maternal aid, that you can’t imagine anyone believing it.
I doubt French’s fans believe it either — but they like that it sounds so agreeable and reasonable. Hardcore conservatives, for whom displays of rage and hatred are more important than policy, denounce him — and dummies take that to mean French is not as radical as those guys are. But make no mistake: aside from the dominance displays, French wants pretty much what they want; he just wants you to consider him a nice guy about it, the kind of nice guy who gets on talk shows and prestige editorial boards. Thus the soreheads and the soft-soapers each play their part in making the country more of a rightwing dystopia — which will only bother people who find that more disturbing than incivility, most definitely not including the Times.