To their credit, Patrick Ruffini and Jon Henke of NextRight have been on something of a crusade to get their fellow conservatives to disassociate themselves from Birthers, WorldNetDaily, and other objectively crazy people (and also from the cheesiness of the Joe the Plumber type stunts).
Today, though, reflecting on the resistance of conservatives to these attempts to instill some policing of crazy people, Ruffini suggests that it really takes a seriously right-wing intellectual to have the credibility to build opposition to anti-intellectualism on the Right. He cites William F. Buckley’s excommunication of the John Birch Society from respectable conservative company as the model:
Buckley provided an ideal — and set a standard — for conservatives to position themselves as scholarly thought leaders within the broader culture that simply no longer exists today — despite numerous conservative academics toiling facelessly in the vineyards. This gave a Buckley the credibility to cast out the movement’s lesser lights, and impose a layer of discernment between fact and fiction inside the movement. In politics, symbols matter….
The automatic problem that arises when someone who is not a William F. Buckley (and none of us here pretend to be) is that you’re instantly tagged a RINO for calling out something that is objectively and demonstrably false. The space between fact and fiction is confused as a litmus test between right and left.
Unfortunately, Ruffini’s argument sorta kinda sounds like a suggestion that you have to be a little bit crazy to call out the crazy people. The “space between fact and fiction” isn’t clear enough that it can survive an ideological prism.
And that’s a real problem, not just for conservatives, but for all of us who have to grapple with the “news” and the “debates” spawned by crazy people.