A major problem exists for principled people like Conor: what happens when your friends and your principles conflict? Conor, in the spirit of a true philosopher, concludes with Aristotle that "it would seem to be obligatory, especially for a philosopher, to sacrifice even one's closest personal ties in defense of the truth," which is why he fled DC before it could compromise him, severed ties with all his friends to avoid contracting their biases, and moved out to the Alaskan wilderness to think untainted thoughts and promote the decentralization of power. The Washingtonian's dilemma is this:
Imagine how difficult it would be for a 30ish Weekly Standard staffer, inclined to disagree with Keep America Safe, to criticize it using rhetoric anywhere near as forceful as what the group itself uses -- crossing Lynn Cheney and Bill Kristol wouldn't just preclude advancement within the magazine, or any chance at one day securing a fellowship at The American Enterprise Institute, or getting a spot on the press team of some 2012 campaign. It would be seen by a lot of people as a personal betrayal, and others would be pressured to distance themselves.Doesn't your heart just break for this hypothetical free spirit, so tightly confined by the oppressive strictures of loyalty and friendship that he can't even disparage his employers in print or trash his friends on his blog with impunity, like the rest of us are so free to do?
Now, there really are moments in history where the conflict between truth and friendship is acute. Conor's dilemma is not one of them. The same pressures which reward conformity also reward interesting new ideas. If you work at the Weekly Standard and oppose Keep America Safe, all you have to do is come up with new policy alternatives to the War on Terror and write about them. Can you do this without ever including the words, "And by the way, Bill Kristol and Lynn Cheney are idiots"? If so, you will succeed in paying for your disabled childrens' education and maintaining your integrity. And you won't even have to remind your readers of it every minute. I can recall several instances when Yuval Levin disagreed with David Brooks, but, as a friend points out, never by undertaking a moral crusade to show that Brooks is an evil sellout who is undermining true conservatism and needs to destroyed. And, he remains not only employed, but evidently in Brooks's good graces. Reihan Salam also manages to disagree with people on his own side without calling for their heads, and he hasn't become a pariah. It's like a weird magic called decency.
But Conor seems to suffer from some kind of irrepressible need to attack people instead of coming up with other ideas, and then to find it incredibly unjust when his victims find this offensive. Derision and reflexive contrarianism are not uncommon tactics of young writers--coming up with original ideas is hard; poking holes in the establishment is a lot easier. Many clever writers whom I like do it. There's no sin in it, for a while. But at some point, one should graduate from snark (I'm not yet ready to let go though). There is an easy way to do this: stop attacking everyone you disagree with in print. Instead of protesting that everyone is out to get you because you speak truth to power, learn how to speak truth more effectively so that you don't have to waste so much time whining about power. It's not actually your public duty to pour the unfiltered contents of your head into your blog (but do as Miss Self-Important says, not as she does). Conor seems to believe he is defending democracy this way, but sometimes, keeping disagreements with your friends private (even if they are writers) will not pose a national security threat to the rest of us. If you find that this is impossible due to the great number and extent of your disagreements, you may want to consider joining the opposition instead.
One very useful side effect of friendship is that it constrains how terrible you can be to your friends and to the people who've helped you in life, because it instills this strange and foreign impulse into you to look out for their happiness. It forces you to refrain from devoting entire articles to your disdain for some other pundit and to either find something salvageable in their writing to remark on (this being Reihan's great talent), or not remark at all. Conor should welcome this constraint, since it promotes civility in argument, which he professes to favor. Besides, as long as your disagreements are over matters of policy and not secret plans to blow up government buildings, the other side will usually pick up the slack on whatever criticism of your own side you fail to voice. Political journalism even more than other fields (barring perhaps academia) is a ready-made food-fight, which conveniently minimizes the need for any individual to betray his friends. Helen has pointed all this out before, as has FLG, but it bears repeating.
But since this view of friendship is evidently incompatible with Conor's conception of integrity, the only remaining means of staying principled in DC are apparently to affiliate with the libertarians or one of the several outfits with which Conor is affiliated, because these places are peopled by Conor's friends, and his friends are always on the right side of debates, including the debate about whether debating is good.
*I think it is safe for me to post this despite the endorsement of Doublethink in his post (which admittedly constitutes a friendly gesture, but not one intended specifically for me) since Conor's point is to encourage unconstrained thinking, and most importantly, unconstrained criticizing. In the interest of promoting decency, I will add that I'm sure Conor is a perfectly nice person, and sometimes I agree with him, and I don't think he is a hipster, but I do think this is a very important question to pose to the internet.