David Frum’s attacks on Glenn Beck have spurred NewsReal’s David Swindle to pen an interesting take on the conservative movement and the roles of different types of figures within it. He calls it the Conservative Chessboard:
The ideological, political war in this country is basically a chess match between the Left and the Right. Beck and Frum are different pieces with different styles and abilities. Beck, Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, most of Fox News, and most of talk radio constitute our side’s Rooks. They are strong, fast, blunt, effective (at what they do) and aggressive. They are tremendously valuable pieces in the game.
Frum and many other quieter, intellectual conservatives or center-right writers are more akin to our side’s Bishops. They’re not quite as valuable and effective as the rooks but they still provide an elegance and sophistication that is necessary in the defense of America. They do things that the rooks cannot do.
(And by now no one should be wondering where Coulter fits in. She exhibits both the aggressiveness of the rook and the intellectualism of the bishop. As I’ve stated before, she’s our queen — the most valuable piece on the board.)
The King of the Right is not an individual. It’s the American Idea — the one idea that all pieces are working together in their different ways to defend.
Who we cast as the Knights and the Pawns is something I open up for discussion. (Sometimes I wonder if we Generation Y conservatives might be somewhat Knight-like in the way we move. We might not yet have the reach and strength of the Boomer and Gen-X rooks and bishops but we can jump over many of the ideological stereotypes and problems of those that came before us.)
We could probably debate for some time precisely how to cast certain figures—while Hannity’s never going to be mistaken for one of the Bishops, Limbaugh frequently rises above the level of mere Rook, and for radio personalities who further blur the line between brain and brawn, look no further than Dennis Prager or Michael Medved.
Also debatable is just how far one can deviate from the norm and still be, on balance, an asset. David Frum, for instance, is a stalwart defender of Israel and a serious observer of foreign policy, but when it comes to domestic policy, he spends most of his time arguing for a new “conservatism” that sounds an awful lot like liberalism, or hyperventilating about talk radio and Pat Toomey (and let’s not forget his dishonorable role in Tillergate). In my estimation, as good as Frum might be on war & peace, he’s not offering anything that can’t be readily gleaned from thinkers who don’t have his baggage.
At the other end of the spectrum you have the real extremists and nuts, like the Birthers and the Paulistinians. Robert Stacy McCain, while a supporter of neither, doesn’t think there’s much to be gained by freaking out over them; he says we should “get used to the idea that the conservative coalition of the future will be a loud, rowdy and unruly bunch, composed of diverse people with disparate beliefs.” I think there’s some truth to that—this summer I wrote that “as anyone who’s ever tried to calm down Crazy Uncle Billy at Thanksgiving dinner should realize, it’s insane to expect that Michael Steele or Rush Limbaugh can somehow enforce behavioral lockstep among every member of a movement comprised of millions of people”—but I think Stacy’s a little too dismissive of the phenomenon. Again, anyone who cares about a cause has to be concerned when wrong is done in that cause’s name, and while you should never expect credit from the Left for doing the “responsible” thing, I do think it’s useful to get on the record against true extremism, which isn’t the same as cowering in fear of whatever fake outrage the Left tries to make into political kryptonite.
On the whole, though, I think Swindle has come up with a great analogy, as long as we don’t mistake the Rooks’ specialty for aggression for an absence of the Bishops’ intellect, and vice-versa (which I don’t mean to suggest he has done), and as long as we maintain logical standards for the minimum expected of the pieces.
UPDATE 2: Here’s my reaction. The short version: “I believe Generation Y Conservatives can embrace and reinforce our generation’s potential while countering the arrogance of youth and fighting for the timelessness of truth, justice and the American way.”