Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Wednesday, April 29th, 2009.

What Do They Expect?

conservatism, Republican Party

There are no end of commentaries on the Specter Defection on the web today. The majority opinion from Dems/progressives/liberals is that the Defection might not make much difference in the Senate, short term. They grumble that Arlen is way too conservative, even with a “D” after his name. The real significance of the Defection, they say, is that the Republican Party is coming apart at the seams.

The majority opinion of Republicans/conservatives/troglodytes is “Yeah? So what?”

You know the Defection was a disaster for Republicans when Bill “Always Wrong About Everything” Kristol calls the Defection “good news for Republicans!” What’s coming from the likes of Rush and Lulu are variations on “don’t let the door hit your butt on the way out, Arlen.” And Newt said,

Arlen Specter’s decision to leave the Republican Party in name as he left it in spirit over the stimulus vote is further proof that high taxes, big spending and big government are unacceptable to Republican voters.

This shows us one of the many ways movement conservatives get everything backward. Most political parties exist to represent some part of public opinion. But today’s GOP drives away any part of the public that doesn’t represent its opinion.

In many ways, IMO, the Republican Party is acting like an apocalyptic cult — a small number of true believers waiting for some Big Cataclysmic Event that’s going to change everything, to their advantage. For that reason, present reality doesn’t interest them, because present reality is just a temporary aberration (which it may be, but not in the way they think). Thus, movement conservatives brush off opinion polls that show their positions to be wildly unpopular. They don’t need to worry about election losses, shrinking party membership, an aging political base, or senior senators who jump ship. They don’t need to change with the times. They’ll be vindicated when the Mother Ship arrives. You’ll see.

And they must truly believe in the Event, because they’re betting everything on it. In 2000 they still were shrewd enough to market Dubya as a moderate — a “compassionate conservative” who liked to be photographed surrounded by smiling black children. Now they aren’t even pretending to make adjustments to political reality.

Which brings me to the question — what do they expect? What do they think is to happen that will turn the world back upright (as they see it) and put them on top?

It may be something as simple as expecting the Democrats, and the Obama Administration, to screw up, driving the electorate back to the Right. That’s not an irrational idea, of course. It could happen. But it’s far from a certainty. What if the Dems don’t screw up? Movement conservatives have no visible contingency plans other than doing everything they can to trip up the Obama Administration and make it fail.

We can go to a more fundamental level and think about what drives the Right. The money in back of movement conservatism — the top of the power pyramid — was always about plutocratic control of government and diverting the nation’s wealth into the pockets of the privileged few. That hasn’t changed. The interesting question, at least to me, has always been to understand who on the Right is in on the joke and who isn’t.

I have long believed that the manipulators, the ones with the deep pockets who set the course, stay out of sight, and that most of the visible Right are true believers. And what I suspect has happened is that sometime in the past eight years the true believers started making the decisions and setting the course. Or else, the plutocrats are so dependent on the support of the true believers they’ve manipulated themselves into a corner. Take your pick.

Update and Bonus Question: One of the commenters at National Journal today said the Specter Defection “demonstrates the growing power of the grassroots, conservative base of the Republican party.” In what alternative reality might that be true?

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