Is an opening speech at a National Conservatism Conference a good venue at which to give credit to … progressives? Give Tucker Carlson credit for chutzpah, at the very least, but also for a clever hook on an important argument for the future of conservatism. The Fox News prime-time host warned allies on the right gathered for this convention that they’d better pay attention to hard-left progressives about the nature of power in this era. Don’t fight bigger government, Carlson warned — fight Big Business instead.
Tucker Carlson at the National Conservatism conference: The main threat to your ability to live your life does not come from the government anymore, it comes from the private sector
— Saagar Enjeti (@esaagar) July 15, 2019
Oh, and some of his best friends these days are Jacobins, or something:
.@TuckerCarlson shouts out leftists at the National Conservatism Conference in DC. "I disagree with the Jacobin people on a lot of things but I will say I‘ve learned in the past couple of years, they’re right about a lot" …."Some of them are actually kind of honest"
— Rosie Gray (@RosieGray) July 15, 2019
On the whole, one has to assume that the message that attendees at the National Conservatism Conference expected to receive is that progressives are “right about a lot.” And even less expected would be to get that message from a Fox News prime-time anchor. Will wonders never cease?
National Review’s Alexandra DeSanctis provides a little more context to Tucker’s argument, which isn’t as novel as some observers might think. First, though, let’s pause for Carlson’s shout-out to Elizabeth Warren:
Carlson made these comments in response to an audience question about whether he has hope that the “national conservative” effort will prevail even though people with progressive views control so much of Silicon Valley, academia, Hollywood, and Fortune 500 companies. He praised Elizabeth Warren’s 2003 book The Two-Income Trap and said social conservatives on the right haven’t written anything as useful about how difficult it is for parents to raise children in the modern economic climate.
There’s a method to Carlson’s madness, however, and the payoff is worth it. He’s scolding the conservative movement for a lack of intellectual heft and for ignoring issues that the Left seizes in the vacuum. “We have allowed the single unhappiest people in America to control our social policy,” Carlson argues as a setup for his overall criticism of both the Right and Left:
In the course of his remarks, Carlson made three primary arguments about the current political situation. First, he said that the main threat to individuals living the way they want to live “comes not from the government but from the private sector.” Second, Carlson asserted that the behavior of progressives “is all a kind of Freudian projection.” “Whatever they say you’re doing is precisely what they’re doing,” he added. He said that observing Antifa radicals is what led him to come to this conclusion: “It’s the guys who are literally armed with steel bars and have black masks on calling other people fascist.”
Finally, Carlson said that the Left is “not interested in peaceful coexistence” and that he rejects that. “I want to be really clear,” he added shortly thereafter, “I’m still for living with people I disagree with. I will always be for that. I will always be for pluralism. I will always be for intellectual diversity. . . . That will never change. I will not allow that to change. You become something less than you should be when you allow those impulses to take over.”
Carlson is no newcomer to warning about a threat from corporate America to our liberties. It’s a recurring theme on his show — perhaps not as much as other conservo-populist issues like immigration, but certainly among his repertoire. Here’s Tucker from August of last year, taking it to Amazon and Walmart for their miserly compensation and how taxpayers are taking up the slack with welfare programs. In exchange, the rich get richer, fewer, and more politically powerful. “There’s nothing free about this market,” Carlson warned:
Corporations are “the backbone of the Left,” Carlson argued. Even apart from that point — largely correct — the distortion of politics that comes with consolidation is a problem no matter what side of the political aisle you’re on. Conservatives have fought a losing battle over smaller government while indulging in laissez-faire policies for anti-trust enforcement. That’s what creates these giants, including the Big Tech companies that conservatives loathe.
Four decades of mergers and acquisitions have resulted in marketplaces controlled by far fewer people. That economic consolidation has resulted in the consolidation and amplification of political power. That drives rent-seeking behavior by corporate interests to stifle competition, which in turn requires bigger government to enforce rent-seeking policies. In its wake, we have a workforce and electorate that feel more disconnected and impotent than ever — and now have populist reactions on both the Right and the Left as a result.
If the conservative movement is serious about free markets and small federal government, it has to start dealing with the reality of the necessity of anti-trust enforcement. That’s not just in dealing with Big Tech, but with the entire business world. It is in the solutions to the monopolistic models that conservatives need to distinguish themselves from the “Jacobins,” who yearn for socialism as the means to break the power relationship of crony capitalism. We need to advocate for distributism, a well-regulated capitalist economy that prevents consolidated power in the model which has been developing since the early 1980s.
Carlson’s clever enough to troll the audience he most needs to reach on this point in order to get its attention. Let’s hope he succeeds.