- The Washington Times - Monday, June 12, 2000

Conservatives are typically the Rodney Dangerfields of the culture. They don't get no respect. At their best they're elitists. At their worst they're stodgy, stiff and humorless.

If a conservative goes to see a psychiatrist he's the patient on the couch when the doctor tells his secretary, "I'll take all calls."

Maybe it's the price of conserving what's been tested to be of value over time, and that makes him retrograde rather than radical, stuffy rather than hip. Big-time celebrities are nearly always liberal or radical. There are exceptions, of course. But even Charlton Heston is not a lot of laughs. Jack Nicholson gets considerably more attention despite (or because of) his tacky off-screen exploits.

Tom Wolfe, one of the rare contemporary novelists with a conservative perspective, looks great in his Dixie dandy's white suits, but he never gets fussed over in print the way, say, Norman Mailer does. (Maybe it's because he wears white after Labor Day.)

Most contemporary artists push the envelope rather than build on tradition. The same with poets. Of course, there are exceptions and like any generalizations that create polarities, such statements verge into oversimplification. But they contain nuggets of truth.

Conservative critics, writes Mike Potemra in the National Review, are dismissed more often than not as "the whiny bellyaching people who are upset that America doesn't demand that everyone behave the way conservatives want them to." That sounds a lot like H.L. Mencken, who ridiculed the Puritans as blue-noses afraid that somewhere, someone was having fun.

But the times, as Bob Dylan noted in the '60s, "they are a changin'." Conservatives are not only getting serious attention, they're changing the debate. They're getting famous for their wit as well as their insights.

Here is Alan Wolfe writing in the liberal New Republic: "The big news out of the conservative camp is … the arrival on the scene of writers such as David Brooks and David Frum who are simply (but smartly) funny."

David Brooks, an editor at the conservative The Weekly Standard, has written "Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There." It has been widely praised for its trenchant humor and irony as the author dissects the hypocrisies of '60s radicals and bourgeois attitudes of the '80s Yuppies. Bobo refers to the merger of contemporary bohemians and the bourgeoisie, pleasure-seekers and capitalists, '60s rebels and '80s Reagan pro-growth supporters.

"The hedonism of Woodstock mythology," writes David Brooks, "has been domesticated and now serves as a management tool for the Fortune 500." The capitalist mainstream not only absorbs the trendy bohemian styles of the left, but sells them back in a more appropriate form enjoyed by aspiring dot.com entrepreneurs. Bobos buy exotic ethnic (multicultural) clothing with nouveau-riche price tags at a store pretentiously named Anthropologie. They've fused undergraduate fashion trends with upper income high-tech careers.

You can't tell the difference between an espresso-sipping artist, a cappuccino-gulping banker, a wheat grass juice-imbibing Yoga master or a sparkling water back-packing techie. The high-brow culture-lover requires a high tax bracket to support his expensive tastes. Language reflects a marriage of values in phrases such as "intellectual capital" and "the culture industry." New money replaces old wealth and status is based on a meritocracy with money.

But Mr. Brooks is wrong in his belief that the culture war is over. It may be over for Bobos flourishing in a world of affluence, but on the college campuses the goofy academic liberals still reign and remain a threat to excellence and learning.

Someone seeking intellectual balance might read "The Long March: How the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s Changed America," by Roger Kimball, an old-fashioned conservative critic who is considerably less sanguine than David Brooks. He's especially critical of conservatives who suffer moral and aesthetic amnesia and have lost the ability to distinguish between civilization and its discontents. Where, he asks, are the bourgeois values that emphasize church, community, country, family, and moral honor?

"The success of America's recent cultural revolution can be measured not in toppled governments but in shattered values," he writes. "If we often forget what great changes the revolution brought in its wake, that, too, is a sign of its success: having changed ourselves, we no longer perceive the extent of our transformation."

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