Emily Dickinson famously wrote, “The Heart wants what it wants—or else it does not care.” I’ve been thinking about that a lot as it relates to two of my favorite conservative writers: Josh Barro and Dave Weigel. Both are smart young men who see the conservative movement for all its silly ridiculousness. But each has a soft spot for a Republican politician that simply can’t be explained by who they are. In fact, in the only thing that really distinguishes the objects of their affection are idiosyncrasies that make them less generally appealing, not more. So Barro loves an loudmouthed bully and Weigel loves a neo-confederate subgenius. The heart wants what it wants.
Josh Barro’s infatuation with Chris Christie is the harder one to understand. I know that among the pundit class, Christie is seen as a practical politician who is willing to work across the isle. But that really isn’t true, and Barro is far too smart to believe that. Christie is an absolutely pure conservative. There is no major issue on which he disagrees with his crazy party. Sure, he gives himself a little ideological wiggle room to not froth at the mouth about Muslims, but he is governor of a blue state after all. And he’s governed in an extremely conservative way. This is the man who has killed important public works projects and has done all he can to destroy the public pension system. (You know: contracts only matter when they apply to rich people!)
But Barro just loves him. In fact, he loves him so much that I simply won’t read him anymore when he’s talking about Christie. It’s always the same apologetics. Christie could be caught poisoning squirrels in the park and Barro would argue that it means nothing because squirrel lovers don’t vote in presidential primaries. Last November, Barro wrote a classic, Let’s Stop The Hand-Wringing About Chris Christie Being A “Bully.” In that article he’s pushing against this idea (that I share) that Christie’s obnoxious act is going to alienate just about everyone outside of New Jersey. Reading Barro on Christie always reminds me of the Far Side cartoon where the dog is trying to lure a cat into a clothes drier, thinking, “Oh please, oh please…” Barro is hoping against hope that the object of his affection will be the next president.
But my all time favorite was the article I wrote, Josh Barro Phenomenon. Barro liked the article so much that he tweeted to me, “your post is the dumbest thing I’ve read today, and I read several other dumb things today.” But based upon another tweet, it was clear that he didn’t understand what I was talking about. Christie had just killed the Hudson River tunnel. Christie did it for his usual conservative reasons like, you know, that he hates regular people and that he wants to save money to give to his cronies. But Barro was right there to make the reasonable sounding argument, “The project is filled with waste!” Well, sure; that can be said about every project ever done. But the truth is that he will always find some reasonable excuse for why Chris Christie is right.
I don’t mind that Josh Barro is in love with Chris Christie, but does he have to flaunt it in public. I mean, there are children watching!
The situation is somewhat different with Dave Weigel. It has to be. Barro is an idealist and Weigel is a cynical curmudgeon. (And he’s only 32; imagine him in his 70s!) Almost everything that he writes oozes with playful disdain. If Bokonon had been a journalist, he would have been Dave Weigel. Yes, it’s a funny old world. When all the world follows his advice and kills themselves, he will wryly note that people are strange as he goes off in search canned foods and shelter for the night
But as a bleeding heart libertarian, Weigel has a strange fondness for Rand Paul. I understand: they are both at least nominally libertarians. But Paul is no kind of bleeding hearter. He’s very much like his father Ron Paul who I did not vote for when he ran for president as the Libertarian Party candidate when I was a registered libertarian. Because the Paul family isn’t even libertarian; they are neo-confederates. They are anti-federalists, as Steven Taylor describes in The Anti-Federalist Impulse. So why is a “social justice” kind of libertarian like Dave Weigel so infatuated with Rand Paul? I guess we just have to depend upon Ms Dickinson: Weigel’s heart wants what it wants, and apparently that is the pre-epiphany Grinch sized heart that resides in the mostly empty chest cavity of Rand Paul.
When Rand Paul announced that voter-ID laws were not a good thing for the Republican Party, I didn’t mention it. What was there to say? All he meant was that it was bad public relations. But many liberals were annoyed when he walked back even that tepid statement to proclaim to the world that he was shocked that people would think he was against voter-ID. And just to prove that Paul really is just a neo-confederate, his PAC director Doug Stafford said, “Senator Paul believes it’s up to each state to decide that type of issue.” Just like in the good old days of Jim Crow!
But Weigel, always eager to prove his fealty to his guy, was having none of it, Rand Paul’s Voter ID Walkback. You see, Rand Paul didn’t actually walk back his comments. He still means them: voter-ID is bad for the Republican Party, but move it along. It’s fine. He just wants to link them to his noble efforts to give felons back their voting rights. I’m all for that, as I wrote last month, Stop Assuming All Felons Are Murderers. But it’s only 11 states where voting rights are not automatically restored after felons complete their punishment. And most of those 11 states are red states. So I suspect Rand’s interest in the issue is more about being viable in the Republican primary in Mississippi than in any thoughts about what is right.
Still, who else turns Rand Paul’s cretinous position on voting rights as a laudatory article about Rand Paul, the ex-con’s best friend? Only someone in love with the man for reasons the rest of us cannot see. The same goes for Josh Barro. I really don’t understand how two really smart, knowledgeable, and clear-eyed political commentators can be so blind about these objectively awful men.
If Emily Dickinson were around today, I think she would say, “The Heart wants what it wants—because it’s blind and stupid.”