There are few constants in this short life, but among them are death, taxes and mainstream conservatives vainly signaling to their Liberal peers (betters?) that they too are good boys who are in no way a “racist” or a “Nazi.” There are many examples of this, which occur primarily among (but certainly aren’t limited to) conservative media types who work at Liberal publications. Social Cons, i.e. people like Michael Brendan Dougherty, Ross Douthat, and Rod Dreher, in particular, seem to have an affinity for this sort of signaling.
The causes of these sorts of shameless displays of ingratiation are obviously varied, but there are a few key reasons which seem to stand out.
The first seems to be the very nature of the “Religious Right” itself, which has gone through, and continues to go through, what seems like a bit of an identity crisis. What makes this identity crisis even more problematic is that it is rooted in profound theological problems which are currently plaguing both American Evangelicalism and Roman Catholicism, which together comprise the twin pillars of the Religious Right. The primary problem remains how to reconcile the Pre-WW2 theological traditions of both pillars without tossing out the Post-WW2 theological “innovations.”
Catholicism contains the most obvious and high-profile example of this: the reforms of the, now notorious, second Vatican council. A council which played an extraordinary role in nurturing and legitimizing the development of both openly Leftist (Liberation Theology) movements and openly Liberal (Buckleyite conservatism) movements within the Church as well as society as a whole. Although it experienced a superficial Thermidor period under the pontificates of John Paul and Benedict, the overall drift of the church’s thought and practice has been one with a distinct Leftward tilt; so much so, that it is not unfair to observe that with the death of Fidel Castro the most prominent and influential Leftist in the world today is none other than the present pontiff himself.
The path of Evangelicalism in the Post-WW2 era, by contrast, seems to be at least somewhat more vague, with many Liberal religious historians even trying to claim that American evangelicalism was somehow an inherently Reactionary movement. At first, this may seem appropriate given the influence of individuals like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell and his "Moral Majority," who still loom large in the Liberal imagination as the face of a latent theocratic tendency.
Yet even the most fire-breathing of these conservative preachers were always tenaciously Liberal when it came to actual political philosophy. To the point where the entire American enterprise (which is inherently Liberal), from the “Founding Fathers” to Abraham Lincoln on down the line to modern conservative icons like Ronald Regan were essentially deified by legions of credulous rubes who mistook the creed of Americanism for the Creed of the Apostles.
It should come as no surprise that the motley crew of denominations which are usually denoted by the term “Evangelicalism” would be prime marks for this type of patriotic hucksterism. As Evangelicalism is as superficial an identity as it is a theology and thus is constantly looking for outside actors from which it can supplement its meager offerings. This is the reason why its culture is little more than a funhouse mirror, reflecting back an “evangelicalized” version of whatever is popular in the zeitgeist during any one point in time.
In short, Social Conservatives both Catholic and Protestant have been bamboozled by Liberalism, which they have mistakenly assumed is compatible with Christian anthropology. The most immediate effect this has had is to create perverse incentives for Social Cons in positions of prominence.
These aforementioned individuals are under the delusion that they can function as "salt and light" in otherwise Ideologically Liberal institutions, thus acting as a "voice of reason" to the heathen coastal dwellers. Of course, in reality, they are relegated to the role of designated loser and rhetorical punching bag.
Douthat is perhaps the best example of this, as it seems his position on the NYT editorial board exists primarily for two reasons. The first is to give the board an illusion of ideological diversity (to be the token conservative) and the second is serve as a Boojum who is occasionally trotted out to titillate and scandalize the Liberal readership, with milquetoast and PC friendly "conservative" bromides. Thus, in a sense, they are able to get the pretense of hearing an "opposing view" without actually encountering something which is fundamentally at odds with their sacred Liberal presuppositions. These vegetarian Conservatives are thus a "safe" thrill for Liberals to indulge in.
While this is rather obvious, Socon stupidity alone doesn't adequately explain this type of behavior. Hence the importance of understanding the incentives that have given rise to this state of affairs.
Now the obvious incentive at play in this scenario seems to be money. Not only do Liberal newspapers and magazines pay significantly better (one has difficulty in thinking of any explicitly Right Wing publications that pay anything at all) but they also provide a much-needed status boost. This status boost is a prerequisite for the possibility of lucrative book deals.
But, again, attempting to explain this behavior solely by referencing financial gain is reductionist and ignores the complex and inherently social nature of human decision making.
The problem for the Beltway Socon is that he is thrust into a Social World in which he is defacto a second class citizen; where his views are looked down on and considered to be a priori bigoted and backward, regardless of how well argued or articulated. His entire professional existence thus becomes a quest to be taken seriously by his Liberal peers, to somehow earn their respect. Soon many of these people, his Ideological enemies, sheerly through the law of proximity become his friends. They labor writing content for the same magazines; they go to the same bars and restaurants, they have the same bosses, they probably went to the same schools, etc.
He thus gets to know them as people, with all of their humanizing idiosyncracies i.e. they had a bad relationship with their father as a child, they enjoy Thai food and chocolate cake, they cry at sad movies and love to travel, etc.
The beltway Socon thus gets duped into believing these individuals are in fact his "friends." This in spite of the fact that they literally despise everything he claims to believe in. Not only do they despise it, but, if their Ideology were to be fully put into practice, the beltway Socon and those he cares about would very literally cease to exist.
This is not hyperbole, as the goal of the Liberal Left is the utter liquidation of Traditional modes of life (which it considers unjust and exploitive.) The fact that this liquidation will be a relatively slow one accomplished via the forceful imposition of Leftist culture does not reduce its severity.
The Beltway Socon cannot see this obvious reality because he has allowed his shallow personal connections to Left Liberals to blind him to what the nature of what their true relationship should be. Namely one of open and continual personal enmity. His conflict with the Left Liberal is an existential one and one that has to extend to the personal level, as all politics, whether one chooses to admit it or not, are inherently personal.
The only way to prevent oneself from falling into the same trap as the earnest Beltway Socon is to reject the false friendship of the Left Liberal. Thus freeing oneself from the desire and need to signal their way. They are enemies to be destroyed, not friends to be impressed.
These people aren't your friends; it's time to start acting like it.