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The Meltdown Of The Conservative Mind

Roger Kimball has been a strident, highly polemical right-winger for a long time. But he's also very smart and highly literate. He writes with authority about art and philosophy, literature and politics. He knows a lot about history. And the quarterly he co-edits with Hilton Kramer (The New Criterion) has published erudite commentary and criticism on culture and the arts for more than a quarter century.

What, then, are we supposed to make of this astonishing post? Not only does Kimball endorse the view, expressed repeatedly by right-wingers over the past couple of weeks, that Obama deserves the blame for a stock-market collapse that began and accelerated months before Election Day 2008. And Kimball does not merely suggest, like many other (so-called) conservatives, that we can already, fewer than six weeks (!) after Inauguration Day, judge Obama to be an incompetent president. No, Kimball goes much further than these comparatively level-headed expressions of dissent to suggest something far more sinister. Yes, it's true: Roger Kimball -- accomplished intellectual and cultural critic -- believes that Barack Obama is a Leninist.

Now in fairness to Kimball, I should note that he's merely endorsing a tirade by that paragon of political and economic good sense, financial guru and CNBC loudmouth Jim Cramer. But Kimball not only endorses Cramer's vulgar and philistine analysis (I mean: "analysis"); he also provides readers of his blog with an informative quote from Lenin himself on the need for a dictatorship of the proletariat to impose "a series of restrictions on the freedom of the oppressors, the exploiters, the capitalists." You know, just like Obama! It's perfectly fitting, then, for Kimball to conclude his post by quoting Article II, Section IV of the Constitution on the requirements for impeaching the president and by calling on "some clever legal talent to show how deliberately sabotaging the United States economy [sic] counts as Treason, a high Crime, or at least a Misdemeanor."

Here is Andrew Sullivan's incredulous response to Kimball's suggestion:

Obama's predecessor secretly invoked the power to suspend the First and Fourth Amendments for seven years, authorized the seizure and torture of American citizens, launched two decade-long wars of attrition, doubled the national debt, presided over the worst financial bubble since the 1930s, provided the weakest level of economic growth in decades, and left the US in the grip of the steepest depression since the 1930s. But after five weeks, it's Obama who should be impeached?

Well put. But I think something more needs to be said in response to Kimball. Something more needs to be said because Kimball's post raises important questions about just how far the American right is going to go in marginalizing itself during the Obama era. Are its leading intellectuals going to engage in constructive, thoughtful, informed debate about the policies proposed by the president? Or are they going to become indistinguishable from populist rabble-rousers like Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin -- men who routinely confuse venomous, paranoid ranting with thinking? Because here's the thing: If Roger Kimball really believes that Barack Obama is a Leninist who deserves to be impeached for deliberately sabotaging the American economy (presumably as a prelude to imposing communism), then he has definitively demonstrated that he has a reckless, irresponsible mind and a temperament ill-suited to serious intellectual engagement in our public life.

The right can certainly afford to have a few cranks running around. (The left certainly has its share.) But how many is too many? When will sensible citizens conclude that the right simply should not be trusted with political power -- not because its policies diverge from what the American majority prefers, but rather because the right is in the grip of a form of ideological madness that renders it incapable of governing -- or even thinking -- responsibly? Five-and-a-half weeks into the Obama administration, I fear we might not have to wait very long for an answer.