How 'Ugly' Remarks Become Insightful When Applied to Conservatives

After Dana Milbank embarrassed himself earlier this week by dishonestly misrepresenting what transpired at an event held at the Heritage foundation, the New Republic’s Brian Beutler rushed to Milbank’s defense. Though Beutler wasn’t at the event, he argued that the video didn’t do justice to the “verbal abuse heaped on a woman” who asked a question at the event.

Beutler went on to say that the conservative panelists let, “their collective Id get the better of them.” In particular he singled out an extended analogy one panelist, Brigitte Gabriel, made between Islamic extremists and other extremists including the Nazis. Beutler said of this comparison, “the diatribe itself was ugly and its reception unflattering to Heritage.”

That was two days ago. Today, Beutler has a new piece in which he drastically reconsiders his view of “the diatribe.” It’s titled “Conservatives Claim that Extremist Muslims Render Moderates ‘Irrelevant.’ How Ironic.” The entire point of the new piece is to revise and extend Brigitte Gabriel’s “diatribe” to what Beutler calls the “reactionary rump” of the Republican Party.

The great irony in all this is that you can apply a boiled-down,
generous version of Gabriel’s analysis (that a factional minority can
drive a reactionary agenda) to modern conservatism, and it brilliantly
captures the dilemma facing the movement she’s a part of today. But of
course if I or anyone commenting on American politics were to render
that analysis by concluding that “non-racist, non-reactionary
conservatives are irrelevant,” the ensuing outrage on the right would
make the response to Milbank’s article seem mild by comparison.

So he’s not going to “render that analysis” because it would prompt outrage. But then, a paragraph later, he goes right ahead and renders it. Some conservative politicians have said offensive things and have not been sufficiently called out for it. This is, by way of analogy, similar to the kind of bloody mayhem Islamic jihadists commit while a majority of Muslims fail to condemn them.

There’s a bit of a categorical error comparing, for instance, what ISIS is doing in Iraq this month and, say, statements by North Carolina GOP Senate Candidate Thom Tillis. One is actually shooting people to death in trenches and the other is saying something offensive, likely unintentionally. But Beutler is rolling. He concludes, “[Brigitte] Gabriel’s dismissal of irrelevant, moderate majorities may have just
been a remarkable feat of projection.” In other words, the “ugly” diatribe which Beutler two days earlier described as a product of the panelists “collective Id” and “unflattering” to the organization that hosted it, is dead on once transformed into an attack on the GOP.

If your point is that some people say disreputable things and get applause (or don’t get called out) for it, you probably shouldn’t seek plaudits for paraphrasing them to attack your opponents. If on the other hand there is a valid point to be made, even at the risk of offending some people who may disagree, then the same latitude should be extended to panelists at a think tank. What you can’t legitimately do is try to have it both ways at once.