Do You Have To Be a Conservative To Understand Conservatives?

Normally National Review‘s Jim Geraghty is a reasonably straightforward and often informative political reporter. But now he’s penned one of those snarky columns suggesting that the Godless Liberal Media don’t understand Real Americans, and it’s worth deconstructing the argument before the next time we hear it. Somewhat hilariously, Geraghty attacks the distortions of the “progressive bubble” from the incredibly artificial world of a National Rifle Association conference in Nashville:

A lot of members of the media who are covering the GOP presidential candidates have exceptionally little in common with the voters who will select the Republican nominee. Thus, when the Republican candidates make their pitch to grassroots conservatives, the hot-take instant analysis from the big media voices usually concludes that the pitch was a belly flop. But the GOP candidates aren’t trying to win votes in the New York and D.C. newsrooms, and in a spectacular failure of empathy and understanding, a lot of reporters simply can’t grasp the hopes, fears, and priorities of GOP-leaning voters in places like Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina . . . and Tennessee.

And then Geraghty’s off to the races with a loving depiction of the star-spangled atmosphere of the NRA conference, with its loud country music, its shooting irons and bodacious babes and cowboy hats–all things he asserts are inscrutable to “snot-nosed urban progressives.”

Give me a break. Aside from the fact that the cultural world Geraghty is invoking is not entirely co-extensive with the Republican Party–there are other “bubbles” very different from an NRA convention in places like the Hamptons and Hilton Head and San Diego–is it really necessary to share someone’s culture to understand it? Is political reporting and analysis purely a matter of empathy? Are all the tools of political science, of history, and of simple listening completely useless? And BTW, does Geraghty–who probably isn’t going to disqualify himself from writing about Democratic candidates because he loathes the culture from which they presumably arise–really know all about the backgrounds of the journalists he’s dismissing? When’s the last time he posted a Loretta Lynn video?

In any event, you’d think that “snot-nosed progressives” might even have an advantage over conservative journalists in covering a Republican presidential nominating process which probably won’t have an immediate effect on their own careers, or touch on their own tribal loyalties and friendships. There is this very old concept called “objectivity,” requiring “distance,” you know. But I guess in Geraghty’s bubble–which you might characterize as conservative post-modernism–you’re in or you’re out.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.