I think that to understand what’s wrong with the conservative movement today, you need to think about Barry Goldwater’s 1964 Presidential campaign. In ‘64, the GOP establishment felt that Goldwater was too radical. They said that nominating a hard-rightist like Goldwater would be counterproductive. But conservative activists worked hard, and they did it. Goldwater got the nod. And, just as the establishment predicted, Goldwater got crushed. And just as the established predicted, it proved to be counterproductive. The 1964 landslide led directly to Medicare, Medicaid, Title I education spending, and the “war on poverty.” In the 45 years since that fateful campaign, the conservative movement managed to gain total control over the Republican Party and to sporadically govern the country. But it’s only very partially rolled back one aspect of the Johnson administration’s domestic policy.
Which is just to say that the conservative movement from 1964-2009 was a giant failure. By nominating Goldwater, it invited a massive progressive win that all the subsequent conservative wins were unable to undue. But the orthodox conservative tradition of ‘64 is that it was a great success that laid the groundwork for the triumphs to come.
Which is to say that it’s not just a movement incapable of thinking seriously about the interests of the country, it can’t think rigorously about its own goals. 2009-2010 has already seen the greatest flowering of progressive policy since 1965-66. No matter how well Republicans do in the 2010 midterms, the right will never fully roll back what the 111th Congress has done. And yet, as Andrews suggests, if they win seats in 2010, conservatives will consider their behavior during 2009-10 to have been very successful.
Saturday, March 27, 2010
The Right and Palestine
Yglesias has a must-read on the success of the conservative movement:
Reminiscent of nothing more than the Palestinian statehood movement under Yasir Arafat. Arafat inspired generations of Palestinians to resist--and, in some cases, violently resist--Israeli rule in establishing a Palestinian state. He was in power for decades and was extremely popular among his followers. And yet, there is no independent Palestinian state at this time, and the odds of getting one are significantly dimmer than they were a decade ago. But he flattered his people, appealed to their anger, to their vanity, and their prejudices. He accomplished nothing, but he gave his people some righteous anger. I guess it was enough for a lot of them.
For some time now, it's been clear that movement conservatism is not an ideological movement, but rather a movement dedicated to gaining and holding power as long as possible. I think you see this in someone like Newt Gingrich being completely baffled by why the Democrats were willing to risk so much on health care reform, without an obvious political upside. The idea that something might be doing in and of itself, as a moral imperative, seems not to ever have occurred to him. The self-stated ideological goals of the movement are almost never actually attempted, and when they are, they are always immediately abandoned after significant resistance is encountered (e.g. Gingrich and Medicare, Bush and Social Security privatization). These failures rarely bring down their instigators, and conservatives themselves are completely uninterested in the outcomes of what their leaders do, so long as the liberals are unhappy with them. It's more common now for conservatives to blame Bush for their troubles, but he left office with three quarters of Republicans approving of his performance. I must admit that I'll never fully understand this myself.
It would seem obvious that both of these situations--Arafatism and American Conservatism--seem ripe for massive corruption. And, in both cases, this has indeed been true. Sufi Arafat's nearly-regal lifestyle in Paris and the K Street project are both excellent examples of how the scam works. The lesson the Palestinians never learned is the one I hope conservatives take some time to learn, which is that ultimately anger and prejudice are powerful motivators that can make a person easily manipulable by demagogues and hucksters whose only real interest is in power, wealth, and control. They tell you what you want to hear, get you angry, and then make excuses. At some point, conservatives will realize that liberals aren't their enemies, and that in most cases there are compromises to be made on the big issues out there. The real enemy of conservatives is, as always, the conservative establishment, as well as the limitations of their own worldview.
The Man, The Myth, The Bio
- East Bay, California, United States
- Problem: I have lots of opinions on politics and culture that I need to vent. If I do not do this I will wind up muttering to myself, and that's only like one or two steps away from being a hobo. Solution: I write two blogs. A political blog that has some evident sympathies (pro-Obama, mostly liberal though I dissent on some issues, like guns and trade) and a culture blog that does, well, cultural essays in a more long-form manner. My particular thing is taking overrated things (movies, mostly, but other things too) down a peg and putting underrated things up a peg. I'm sort of the court of last resort, and I tend to focus on more obscure cultural phenomena.