As any longtime listener to President Trump’s political rhetoric knows, the president is fond of reciting Al Wilson’s classic song “The Snake.” The president usually uses the song as a metaphor for the incursion of Islamic terrorists, but its message applies just as strongly to the attempts by unwelcome infiltrators of all types to gain pity, and thus access to willing victims. The most powerful stanza, of course, comes at the end, when this pity runs its inevitable course:
She clutched him to her bosom, “You’re so beautiful,” she cried
“But if I hadn’t brought you in by now you might have died”
She stroked his pretty skin again and kissed and held him tight
Instead of saying thanks, the snake gave her a vicious bite
“Take me in, tender woman
Take me in, for heaven’s sake
Take me in, tender woman,” sighed the snake
“I saved you,” cried the woman
“And you’ve bitten me, but why?
You know your bite is poisonous and now I’m going to die”
“Oh shut up, silly woman,” said the reptile with a grin
“You knew damn well I was a snake before you took me in.”
Speaking of silly women inviting snakes into the fold, let’s address a recent essay published by National Review, titled “Conservatives Are Wrong to Dismiss Feminism.” It is written by one Sarah Quinlan, a woman who, we are told is a “front-page contributor to RedState.” This is intended as a credential, when in fact, it is rather more like calling someone a former lead engineer for the Hindenburg. But one supposes it was the best the likes of Ms. Quinlan could do under the circumstances.
One of Quinlan’s unlisted associations, however, is her sometime affiliation with one of the sadder outings in NeverTrump history, the so-called Buckley Club, an infected little pimple of an organization that knew so little of its namesake that it once mistook one of Buckley’s favorite phrases—“immanentizing the eschaton”—for a conspiracy theorist slogan.
Rather like this embarrassing faux pas writ large, Quinlan claims to be a “conservative,” yet seems to spend all her time attacking the concept on her embarrassing Twitter feed. On that count, I don’t really blame her—I spend a lot of time attacking conservatism, too. But what interests me is why she identifies with the label at all. And, helpfully, she has explained:
I believe in the Constitution; I believe in limited gov’t, power has a corrupting influence, & gov’t places unnecessary & expensive obstacles in people’s way; I believe in capitalism, free trade, & the free market; I believe in personal responsibility; I’m pro-2A & pro-life; etc.
— Sarah Quinlan (@sarahmquinlan) May 4, 2018
And for now all I’ll say is remember those words, because they will come back to bite her by the time this piece is over.
But, to the essay itself. I suppose the most positive thing that can be said about it is that it appears to be the work of a competent and prolific…typist. The more accurate description is that Quinlan appears not to have been content with defiling Buckley’s name by association through her squalid little club, but seems also determined to soil his magazine directly with an essay that Buckley’s contemporary, the literary critic Lionel Trilling, would have described as “irritable mental gestures that seem to resemble ideas.” Of course, Trilling was inaccurately referencing the conservatives of his day, but with Quinlan’s ilk now claiming the label, his quote has come round to being accurate.
Quinlan begins the piece by pausing to note that Arizona Republican Senate candidate Martha McSally has claimed she was sexually assaulted by her former high school coach. “[McSally’s] #MeToo story is a reminder that conservatism cannot afford to dismiss the modern feminist movement.” Please note, her very first evidence for this is an as-yet unproven allegation. Which is not surprising, seeing as by the time the article is over, its headline remains just as unproven as McSally’s story. Quinlan seems to think her audience’s critical faculties about rape allegations will shut off if it’s a Republican making the accusation. Aren’t NeverTrumpers supposed to be the non-tribal ones?
Quinlan then speeds through several paragraphs worth of assertions, for none of which she offers any proof, and yet still seems to expect her readers to nod their heads in assent. These assertions range from the banal (pro-lifers are shunned by mainstream feminism) to the potentially troubling (there should be “economic equality” of the sexes) to the baffling (“intersectionality” is a “laudatory goal” rather than a divisive, hateful quasi-religious doctrine).
But even the most boring of her statements are self-undermining: for instance, that we should “defend women’s rights and equality.” The phrase “women’s rights” only makes sense if you assume there are certain rights that accrue to women. From a pro-choicer, this phrase is easily understood as referencing abortion rights. From an ostensible pro-lifer, it is incomprehensible. What on earth does Quinlan mean?
Quinlan then proceeds into the portion of her essay where she does what can only be described as proving assertions by arguing with them. That is, she will describe some conservative criticism of feminism, claim it is only narrowly accurate, and then prove that it is entirely accurate with her actual arguments. Most troubling is the way in which she zigzags back and forth between different meanings of equality when arguing that feminism is necessary. For example, on the quite sensible point that women have all the formal legal rights that men possess, and are granted the same procedural protections, as well as the protection of norms around sexual conduct in the workplace, Quinlan has this to say:
Is it truly possible to counteract all the stereotypes, gender assumptions, and common viewpoints and attitudes about women in such little time? We still hear comments today about women being too emotional, too hysterical, too shrill, too bossy, too unlikeable, too ambitious, too independent.
Now, granted, it’s unintentionally hilarious that a piece like this would complain that women are perceived as emotional, hysterical, and shrill. But let that pass and consider the utopianism of this passage. What sort of person dreams of counteracting every stereotype, assumption, or “common” view (among who?) about any group? We still joke about men being the ones to open jars, or do heavy lifting. Does it follow that conservatism needs men’s rights activists because such assumptions survive?
Still, at least Quinlan is talking about solely procedural equality in this, and other passages, such as where she laments the supposed fact that when presented with identical resumes, employers allegedly choose men over women: a fact that would be disturbing if not for the fact that studies showing the precise opposite conclusion exist as well, and that similar disparities exist between people born in different months when market research shows that one group performs better than another at certain tasks, on-average. Or that it’s not just men making these supposedly prejudicial hiring decisions, but often other women. Still, at least she’s talking about a fair shot and not anything so absurd a equal outcomes, right?
But then Quinlan gets to talking about political representation, and the whole mirage of her being concerned with procedural rights goes up in smoke, as she claims that the disparity between men and women in Congress is inherently something concerning because women “are less likely than men to think they are ‘qualified’ to run for office.” Never mind that this is a purely psychological phenomenon. Never mind that her only evidence is an eight year old study, and that women are champing at the bit to run for office now. Quinlan thinks the Right is obliged to treat a disparity as automatically concerning because “Shouldn’t we feel concerned that women feel held back?”
Catharine MacKinnon called. She wants her line of argument back.
And speaking of MacKinnon, Quinlan even goes so far as to regurgitate the absurd idea that American society is a “rape culture.” She at least tries to qualify this, though, saying that the term “refers to the allowances granted to abusers and the way society often tolerates, minimizes, and trivializes sexual mistreatment.” Her evidence for this supposed toleration, minimization, and trivialization amounts to the fact that hospitals are underfunded (and hence have a backlog of rape kits), that one or two judges have made very stupid decisions, that athletes are punished more harshly for using drugs (which is a provable offense) than for being the subject of rape allegations (which often aren’t), and (in her one persuasive point) that powerful people have an easy time of abusing their underlings and covering it up. Quinlan cites household names like Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, and Bill O’Reilly to prove this last point, yet somehow manages to omit the famous opera director James Levine, probably because Levine was gay and abused his male underlings, which would undermine her case that feminism rather than, say, blanket skepticism of cultural power, is needed.
This all leads up to the case that Quinlan makes for why conservatism itself needs feminism, which is (if possible) even less persuasive than her case for feminism, period. To begin with, Quinlan tries to make a flimsy argument from self-interest, claiming that conservatives need feminism because it’s losing ground among women. “Only 23 percent of Millennial women identify as Republicans—down from 36 percent in 2002,” Quinlan complains. Fair enough, but only 23 percent of women, period, identify as feminists. Physician, heal thyself.
The rest of Quinlan’s case for why conservatism needs feminism is pure wailing and gnashing of teeth at the expense of her own party, but one part bears particular notice. In her joyless harangue, Quinlan commits the cardinal error of modern feminism: she conflates disgust with one particular woman with disgust for women generally. She does this when she whines about the treatment that noted anti-Trumper Mona Charen received at this year’s CPAC for attacking President Trump’s alleged sexual infidelities on the floor of the conference: an act which got Charen booed offstage and escorted out by security.
“Conservatism needs feminism because that speaker at CPAC was booed and escorted out by security for her own safety—because of the actions of people on the right, who claim that only the Left shouts or shuts down opposing viewpoints,” Quinlan whinges.
But let’s suppose Charen had instead claimed Trump was a Russian asset. Does Quinlan imagine that the reaction would’ve been any less vehement? To believe that the crowd’s reaction to Charen was evidence of sexism rather than of impatience with stock accusations against the president, you have to believe they would’ve sat on their hands in the face of every other accusation a #NeverTrumper could’ve made. Such an idea is obviously ridiculous.
And having now ridiculed herself so completely, Quinlan concludes simply that “I proudly identify as conservative and voted Republican my entire life until 2016. But the Republican party is driving women away. Something needs to change.” Which brings us back to her reasons for being conservative. As I think you’ll see, at least five of those reasons are now utterly laughable:
“I believe in the Constitution.” Except where due process is concerned, then it’s “rape culture.”
“I believe in limited gov’t.” Unless a woman “feels held back.” Then government had better move!
“Power has a corrupting influence.” But apparently only on straight men, and also, there’s no way a powerful woman like Martha McSally could be lying to enhance her political prospects. SLAY KWEEN!
“I believe in personal responsibility.” Except when women don’t run for office, or seek out the careers Quinlan wants.
She’s “pro-life.” Yet she still talks about “women’s rights,” even though no rights other than abortion accrue exclusively to women.
I’m sure she’ll get around to making a mockery of her other conservative principles in time, but we needn’t waste any more exertion waiting on her to do it.
At best, Quinlan’s piece is a vapid extended emotivist wail in search of a shoulder and a pint of vanilla ice cream to dash itself against. At worst, it is a hostile ultimatum that the Right must trade Trump for Teen Vogue, and transform William F. Buckley into William F. Becky-with-the-good-hair so that it can attract the votes of women whose character validates the assumptions of every misogynist who ever lived. Either way, it deserves to be rejected in the strongest possible terms.
And so, I will do just that. Conservatism needs feminism like National Review needed Sarah Quinlan’s byline: only as a tool for suicide. NRO’s brand needs to be hospitalized and any dangerous objects need to be taken away from the editors after this. As for True Conservatism (™), after the publication of this article, it will need a rape kit, which, unlike the thousands that Quinlan complains remain untouched, we have been obliged to process.
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