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By Rod Dreher
When David Brooks turned what should have been a newspaper column into the best-selling Bobos in Paradise, he cashed in on a fascination with a conservative who could speak intelligently—or at least refrain from spitting rage—about the American counterculture’s influence on the boomer generation. Then–National Review scribe Rod Dreher thought he had something to add to Brooks’ analysis and penned “Birkenstocked Burkeans: Confessions of a Granola Conservative” for his magazine in 2002.
In the article, Dreher merely tweaked Brooks’ pop sociology, adding politics to the cultural banter and arguing that many of the Bobo traits generally associated with the left—a taste for local foods, contempt for consumerism, rejection of the free market as the final arbiter of all that is good—can rightly be called conservative values. To document the popularity of these concepts, Dreher cited his wife and himself.
Writers, take note: If it works as an article, you don’t necessarily have a book idea.
In a testament to the publishing industry’s lust for zeitgeisty stuff, Dreher stretched his National Review clip job into the 272-page Crunchy Cons—with little evidence of additional research. “If my mail [following the original article] was any indication, there are thousands of people like this all over America,” he writes, justifying his bloat. Over the next couple of hundred pages, we get to meet the people who e-mailed Dreher and convinced him that his love of granola and recycling is not a betrayal of the Republican Party but part of an insurgency within it.
But Dreher’s theory of a nascent revolution is founded on shaky principles. Instead of the coherent political ideology based on traditional conservative precepts that he sets out to describe, he winds up cherry-picking what he likes most about liberalism—which is almost all of it—while dismissing it in general. Along the way, we learn that this card-carrying GOP flag-waver is in reality a closet, if unaware, Marxist. His treatise, more a critique of mass consumerism than anything else, is chock-full of the vulgar Marxism that sociology professors have come to expect among their undergraduate students. Dreher tramples all over the evils of American materialism, bemoaning the alienation spurred by contemporary society. In one riff that could have come straight from the Communist Manifesto, Dreher warns us of the dangers of exploitation and greed: “[A]n economy grown from these poisonous seeds is bound to destroy the community of which it is a part.”
Putting aside his abilities as a Marxist theoretician, Dreher falters as a regular old journalist. There is a tendency among reporters to look around at what friends or neighbors are doing and then assume that what one sees is a significant national trend. You can generally spot such an article if the line “Jim is not alone” appears after an anecdotal opening. In this case, Dreher didn’t even look at his friends and extrapolate—he looked at himself and found it significant. What Dreher’s book actually tells us—and what Brooks’ already did—is that the ’60s counterculture movement has become so entwined into mainstream society that not even hardcore Republicans can avoid it. In other words, the bums have won. —Ryan Grim