Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Conservatism is Dead: An intellectual autopsy of the movement

Conservatism Is Dead by Sam Tanenhaus, New Republic. The author appeared on MSNBC's Morning Joe today; he was not kind to today's Republican Party, neocons, and the class warfare that this party has been waging on America for the past 30 years.  Mr. Tanenhaus knows his facts.  In his second paragraph he writes:

 After George W. Bush's two terms, conservatives must reckon with the consequences of a presidency that failed, in large part, because of its fervent commitment to movement ideology: the aggressively unilateralist foreign policy; the blind faith in a deregulated, Wall Street-centric market; the harshly punitive "culture war" waged against liberal "elites." That these precepts should have found their final, hapless defender in John McCain, who had resisted them for most of his long career, only confirms that movement doctrine retains an inflexible and suffocating grip on the GOP.

That is quite the confession.  'Now go and sin no more,' might be the challenge from the parish priest, but will the Republican Party heed the mandate?  It will be difficult for many, impossible for some.  Tanenhaus goes on:

But what of the verdict issued on movement conservatism itself?There, conservatives have offered little apart from self-justifications mixed with harsh appraisals of the Bush years. Some argue that the administration wasn't conservative at all, at least not in the "small government" sense. This is true, but then no president in modern times has seriously attempted to reduce the size of government, and for good reason: Voters don't want it reduced. What they want is government that's "big" for them--whether it's Democrats who call for job-training programs and universal health care or Republicans eager to see billions funneled into "much-needed and underfunded defense procurement," as William Kristol recommended shortly after Obama's victory.

Tannenhaus sees a third possibility for the demise of conservatism:
Others on the right blame Bush's heterodoxy on interlopers, chief among them Kristol's band of neoconservative warriors at The Weekly Standard, who beguiled the administration into the Iraq war and an ill-starred Wilsonian crusade for global democracy.

Yet, says the author, what conservatives have yet to do is confront the large but inescapable truth that movement conservatism is exhausted and quite possibly dead. And yet they should, because the death of movement politics can only be a boon to the right, since it has been clear for some time the movement is profoundly and defiantly un-conservative--in its ideas, arguments, strategies, and above all its vision.

Above all its vision.  This morning Tanenhaus said in strong terms that the GOP went wrong when it engaged in the so-called culture wars.  He says that in this part of the article:  

Many have observed that movement politics most clearly defines itself not by what it yearns to conserve but by what it longs to destroy--"statist" social programs; "socialized medicine"; "big labor"; "activist" Supreme Court justices, the "media elite"; "tenured radicals" on university faculties; "experts" in and out of government.But, if it's clear what the right is against, what exactly has it been for?

His final page [of 6] makes this observation:

Though, inevitably, most conservatives vote Republican, they are not party loyalists and the party has to woo them to win votes. This movement is issue oriented. It will happily meld with the Republican party if the party is 'right' on the issues; if not, it will walk away." By this calculus, all the obligations flow in only one direction. Parties are accountable to movement purists, while purists incur no reciprocal debt. They determine the "right" position, and the party's job is to advance it. Kristol does not consider whether purists might be expected to maneuver at all or even to modify their views--for the good not only of the party but also the larger polity.

Lastly, he says:

Kristol went on, in this essay, to extol the contributions of two movement subgroups, the neoconservatives and the evangelicals. It was of course this alliance that most fervently supported George W. Bush during his two terms and remains most loyal to him today.

Most loyal to 'him' today as well as a strong voice in the GOP now.  Newly-elected GOP chair Michael Steele stated that he wanted to broaden the base of his party, to make it more inclusive.  The trouble is, as I see it, those neocons and evangelicals may not want to move over to allow new faces, new ideas, a broader ideology into their tent.

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