Sing-Song Conservatism

By King, Florence | The American Spectator, July/August 2006 | Go to article overview

Sing-Song Conservatism

King, Florence, The American Spectator

Sing-Song Conservatism Crunchy Cons by Rod Dreher (CROWN, 259 PAGES, $24)

THE COMPLETE TITLE OF THIS BOOK is Crunchy Cons: How Rirkenstocked Ritrkeans. gun-loving organic gardeners, evangelical free-range farmers, hip homeschooling mamas, right-wing nature lovers, and their diverse tribe of countercultural conservatives plan to save America (or at lciist the Republican Party).

Makes you wish for She by H. Rider Haggard, doesn't it? Or better yet, It by Elinor Glyn.

It takes an unusual writer to confuse his readers before they even finish the title, hut Rod Dreher, as we shall see presently, is never at a loss for confusion. He has written a hook about conservatives with hippie tastes, so knowing that Birkenstocks are hippie sandals, I thought "crunchy" had to do with granola. But no; "crunchy" is slang for "earthy," he states, and leaves it at that. The reader is left to assume that he means "earthy" in the agrarian sense of "the good earth"; he couldn't possibly mean earthy as in blunt speech in view of his rapture-on-every-page tendency to cascading wordfalls. I tried two dictionaries and a thesaurus but all of them relate "crunchy" to loud chewing or grinding, or to accounting, as in numbers crunching. Dreher never does explain, so we will have to conclude that his dictionary is not as other dictionaries, which wouldn't surprise me a hit.

Now an editor with the Dallas Morning News, Dreher used to work for National Review, where he was teased about his practice of buying organic vegetables from a co-op. A co-worker called him a "lefty," while the other customers at the co-op did a double-take when he loaded his vegetables into his National Review tote bag. Feeling misunderstood all around, he wrote an article called "Birkenstock Burkeans" to prove his contention that true conservatives are countercultural. The piece drew hundreds of enthusiastic letters from the kind of readers National Review never knew they had: a pro-life vegetarian Buddhist Republican; a couple, both engineers, who not only baked their own bread but ground the wheat themselves; and a woman who used to think she was the only person in the world who owned a copy of The Moosewood Cookbook until she discovered that Drehcr owned the other one.

His thesis is that conservatives ought to conserve something, but that all too many of them would pave over the Garden of Eden and fill it with shopping malls and McMansions in their kneejerk obeisance to growth, progress, and the free market's sacrosanct law of supply and demand. What passes for conservatism today is actually destructionism: Agribusiness is destroying the family farm, suburbia is destroying old urban neighborhoods, the car culture is destroying the air we breathe, and television is destroying everything.

He blames the Reagan era for promoting the kind of conservatism that holds environmentalism in contempt, and for popularizing mockery of environmentalists as "tree-hugging kooks" as a means of proving one's right-wing bona fides. Just as the Democrats are the "Party of Lust" who refuse to limit sexual freedom, Republicans are the "Party of Greed" who refuse to limit economic freedom. Both parties are driven by materialist ideologies in the sense that both stand for "the multiplication of wants and the intensification of desire" that have brought Americans to our present state of "empty consumerist prosperity."

IF THIS ALL SOUNDS FAMILIAR, it is. Except for its hosannas to homeschooling as a means of strengthening the family, Crunchy Cons is a back-to-the-future trip to the 1950s when similar books were all the rage. Reading Dreher is like re-reading The Organization Man, The Lonely Crowd, The Affluent Society, and all the various Split-Level-this and Two-Car-that alienation scenarios that poured off the presses during the Eisenhower years. The only one it does not resemble is The Crack in the Picture Window, which was mordantly funny.

The earnest Dreher, by contrast, is prone to unintentional humor ("Cheap chicken is not worth a compromised conscience"), and describes his every emotion and experience with such lyrical excess that he seems to be ever on the verge of groaning" Oh, the aching wonder of it all.

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