Not long ago, I accepted an invitation to attend a gala dinner in Washington, DC, celebrating what Caketoppers.co.uk informs me is the “emerald” anniversary of AnOther magazine. Ten years ago, as an unpaid intern with the same publication, I used to sign up for these things indiscriminately: House Freedom Caucus luncheons “catered” by Chick-fil-A, panels at the Brookings Institution on the debt-to-something-or-other ratio, symposia on the threats to cybersecurity faced by entrepreneurs in suburban Uzbekistan.
As long as you showed up and at least pretended to listen (which meant, in practice, taking no more than two cigarette breaks per speaker), you got a free meal and an evening’s worth of drinks in one of the most expensive cities in the country. Half a decade later, I was married, a father of two and living very slightly above the poverty line. After years of going to these events, during which I must have consumed entire barrels of hotel plonk, hundreds of pounds of chicken that might politely be described as “resilient” and enough buttered rolls to feed the 5,000, I thought I’d had my fill. My family returned to Michigan, where we have been ever since.
I like to imagine that my occasional return trips to DC help keep me up to speed with what is going on in our nation’s capital. Since I stopped writing a daily political column two years ago I have found that what we still refer to quaintly as “the news” has disappeared almost imperceptibly from my life. In my mid-twenties I could recite the names of every senator and probably 80 percent of the House membership. Now it is all a bit of a blur, especially on the GOP side: there’s the one who recently performed an unspeakable act during a performance of a musical based on a Tim Burton movie about necromancy and giant worms; the one who broke off the affair she was having with a “polyamorous tantric sex guru” (I wouldn’t know what that means but will take the Mail’s word for it) for a fling with the manager of her gym and then divorced her husband of twenty-five years; the one who — never mind.
Which is why I was so surprised when I recently came across a manifesto of sorts issued by a group of so-called “freedom conservatives.” According to their Little Red Book, “freedom” is under threat in America like it has never been before.
Could they be pulling our legs? You, dear reader, are free as I write this to wager a thousand dollars on the over-under in an Icelandic Special Olympics basketball game from the comfort of your sofa while consuming legal cannabis molded to resemble a Haribo gummi snake. John Fetterman is free to vote for abortion on demand while dressed in what I can only imagine is a loving tribute to some kind of hypothetical cross between Bill Belichick on a normal Sunday afternoon and Bill Belichick if he got mugged while on vacation in Key West after going 8-9 again. The governor of South Dakota, a mother of three, is free to allegedly have extramarital sex with Corey Lewandowski, a father of four. The governor of North Dakota is free to pretend he is actually running for president. To paraphrase someone who actually ran for president and won, we’re so free that we’re going to get sick of freedom.
But perhaps this is all just sour grapes. Or gummis. For a short period in January 2017 (probably about five minutes), I was what you might call an “anti-freedom conservative,” a reactionary New Dealer hoping that Trump was going to pass diamond-plat-d gold-studded faux-rococo single-payer Trumpcare “like you wouldn’t believe” and re-open Buick City. Then we were teased for ages with Infrastructure Week, some alleged tax cuts followed and he was impeached twice. The free-market absolutism preached by “freedom conservatives” carried the day. But they still complain.
These intraconservative feuds are, or should be, roughly as interesting to the average reader as a college-dorm argument about which forty-plus-minute live version of “Moby Dick” has the most bitchin’ drum solo. The best example of an actual conservative I know is a drunk woman in her fifties whom I’ve encountered at the bar in town here. She is so conservative that when she goes out on the patio for a smoke and puts on her headphones they are still connected to an iPod. Her favorite song, as anyone within earshot on a Thursday evening knows, is “…Baby One More Time.” She remains under the impression that Barack Obama is our president and has no idea that bottled Bud Light, her apéritif of choice (and I daresay her digestif as well) is, per Kid Rock, communist poison from a Chinese lab team personally overseen by George Soros. She does not appear to own a debit card.
A few days ago I saw “Bud Light Lady,” as she tends to be known (affectionately or otherwise), at the party store up the road, where she was buying a pack of cigarettes for a male companion at least twenty years her junior. (Note: “Party store” is Michigan for bodega: this is not a place that sells balloons and cardboard streamers.) “I’m not getting Marlboro Blacks, honey,” she explained, referring to the discount cigarette blend. “Those things suck, and we’re flush.” Poor thing, she hasn’t even heard of inflation.
Maybe she should run for Congress.
This article was originally published in The Spectator’s November 2023 World edition.