What Do They Expect?

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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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27 Comments

27 Comments

  1. buckyblue  •  Apr 29, 2009 @9:51 am

    The conservative response is starkly different from those elected to office (Graham) and those not. Even Lindsey Graham realizes that Specter’s leaving does not bode well for the Republican party as a whole. If they can’t keep Specter, what hope is there of getting anyone elected in blue states or nationally, none. At some point they will have to divorce themselves from Rush and Hannity and Fox if they hope to survive. I can’t see that happening without being terribly bloody, possibly splitting the country. Their big mistake was welcoming in the Religious Right 30 years ago, whose ideas most people find terribly old fashioned and dated, to put it nicely. When you’ve got Pat Robertson and Jerry Fallwell bringing in votes for you, don’t be surprised what happens.

  2. gordon  •  Apr 29, 2009 @10:10 am

    When Prophecy Fails, Festinger et. al. Yup, that’s what Movement Conservatism has come to.

  3. Mahakal  •  Apr 29, 2009 @10:36 am

    The Big Cataclysmic Event already happened but the Republicans/conservative movement missed it, and they have no longer any ground on which to stand.

  4. D.R. Marvel  •  Apr 29, 2009 @10:38 am

    To hell with Arlen Spector…I’d throw the SOB back…

    Or maybe pair him up with Joe Lieberman and toss the both of them over the side…

  5. c u n d gulag  •  Apr 29, 2009 @11:09 am

    OK, you’re going to think this is crazy, but this could open up some things in the Republican Party.
    First, the GOP of PA knows that Toomey has NO chance of winning the state. A lot of the other states must realize they’re going to be in the same position with their ‘Club for Growth” GOP candidate. They can either create a new party within each state, or in the case of PA, run former governoer Tom Ridge against Toomey. Ridge could actually BEAT Specter, and give PA a reasonable new GOP Senator.
    This could begin to play out slowly in a few othere states in ’10 and ’12. Ridge and others could bring voters back to the GOP, opening up their field. This could alllow a more modern, flexible party.
    If the Republican Party is to survive, this is the only way I see it happening. The flat-earther’s/Rushite’s, will have to find a brand of their own.

    Short of time – maybe more on this later….

  6. Dave S  •  Apr 29, 2009 @12:48 pm

    When I read Limbaugh’s response to the defection, I hear every five-year-old kid yelling “Fine! I didn’t like you anyway!” They’re hurt and are responding in a very childish way, which is what they do best.

    If moderate Republicans can’t be found to stand up to the Wingers (without apology to Limbaugh) and take the party back, the only solution I can imagine is the creation of a new, center-right party. After the final defections into that new party, what’s left of the current Republican party can remain as a small special interest party (like the Libertarians and the Green party), and howl ineffectively at the wind, which is what they do best.

  7. joanr16  •  Apr 29, 2009 @1:09 pm

    Most political parties exist to represent some part of public opinion….

    Hence, “representative democracy….”

    But today’s GOP drives away any part of the public that doesn’t represent its opinion….

    Because they fail to understand the concept.

    BONUS QUESTION: [T]he Specter Defection “demonstrates the growing power of the grassroots, conservative base of the Republican party.” In what alternative reality might that be true?

    (A) The Borg Collective
    (B) Alice’s Wonderland
    (C) Pan’s Labyrinth
    (D) Franco’s Spain

    ANSWER: D.

  8. LongHairedWeirdo  •  Apr 29, 2009 @1:13 pm

    Well, here’s the thing.

    In ’94, they started this whole talking points thing. They had these talking points, see, and they were for the rubes, and everyone knew it. But there were a lot of rubes.

    And the rubes like tough-guy talk, and all-or-nothing talk. And its easy, and its fun; GOPac showed how effective it could be.

    One problem: after playing this game for a dozen years, a lot of the rubes were actually holding the reins of power, and they no longer realized that it was all a game for the rubes any more.

    They actually thought that being “a good conservative” was an adequate substitute for competence and intelligence.

  9. uncledad  •  Apr 29, 2009 @2:01 pm

    “What do they think is to happen that will turn the world back upright (as they see it) and put them on top?”

    They are waiting on what they all have been wishing for ever since Obama took office, the one thing that will put them back on top (in their eyes anyway), they are waiting on another radical Islamic terrorist attack on this country. Many of them (just watch FAUX for a few hours) are openly talking about in code on a regular basis. Every time you hear a wingnut say “but we were not attacked for 7 years” what they are really saying is just you wait until this nigger gets us attacked again, then you’ll see just wait!

  10. Bill H  •  Apr 29, 2009 @3:46 pm

    What uncledad said. They are waiting for one of our cities do disappear under a muchroom cloud and/or the economy to continue on its road into the crapper, or… They don’t really care as long as it’s really really bad so that they can capitalize on it and blame Obama for it.

    From “An American President” comes a great line, “he just wants to point out who’s to blame for it and make you afraid if it.”

  11. Jake  •  Apr 29, 2009 @4:45 pm

    I believe much of what is going on in the GOP is that movement conservatism, after a decades-long slog back from the New Deal, reached something of a peak with Reaganism, and we began to hear talk about a permanent majority. Clinton’s elections infuriated them but as much as they deny it, they knew he won as a Republican Lite, so they could not be disheartened. Then, to quote the stupidest cliche ever, “9/11 changed everything.” This really released the dark side in the GOP, along with a real strong sense of entitlement. The GOP base cannot shake either that sense of entitlement and the extreme jingoistic fearmongering upon which their GWOT moment of glory was based.

  12. Ted  •  Apr 29, 2009 @4:57 pm

    I think the Republicans are missing the point. With Specter crossing the aisle, it means the Senate Republicans are less significant and have way less power, especially on some major programs like health care. Specter may lose a Dem primary, but he is now in the Dem camp for a year and a half, so the Democrats can pass alot of tough legislation, and nominees that the Republican could block.

    If I were the Republicans, they could do two things, court Lieberman again and have Tom Ridge run for the Senate seat in Pennsylvania, tell Norquist to stop with putting psychotics up as Republican candidates in the primary.

    Specter should had just retire. The reasoning for changing parties was kind of silly.

  13. wonkie  •  Apr 29, 2009 @6:00 pm

    “the Specter Defection “demonstrates the growing power of the grassroots, conservative base of the Republican party.” In what alternative reality might that be true?

    It is true if you think of it as grassroots power growing within the Republican party. Indeed that is exactly the Republicans’ problem: they are hostage to the growing power of their loony base.

    But they have no growing power outside of their base.

  14. moonbat  •  Apr 29, 2009 @6:59 pm

    OT, and an antidote to bang the head against the wall Republican stupidity, by way of a recent post at The Agonist, Soul Priority by Alias Bruce. BlogRoll.Add(this);

  15. Mike G  •  Apr 29, 2009 @7:30 pm

    the Specter Defection “demonstrates the growing power of the grassroots, conservative base of the Republican party”

    …to steer the entire party into a ditch.
    And I will drive past laughing my ass off.

  16. ozonehole  •  Apr 29, 2009 @7:39 pm

    It seems that the Republicans are now putting their faith in swine flu. Surely the pandemic (if it comes) will be Obama’s fault.

    If no pandemic, then either economic collapse or a terrorist attack are to be fondly wished for.

    They pray for the nation’s destruction just because they think it might help the Republicans get back into power. And these people call themselves good patriotic Americans.

  17. Doug Hughes  •  Apr 29, 2009 @7:52 pm

    First, what conservatives are hoping for is the reincarnation of Saint Ronnie. They have NO clue who this person will be (Newt says, ‘me me. me’), but they are sure that Obama is a stuffed shirt, and they are sure they have somebody better… somebody.

    Barbara hit the nail on the head; the GOP was built by the aristocracy to conserve their wealth & priviledge CU made a great comment, that the GOP could rebuild around a moderate platform – hell they NEED to. But if they try to marginalize the fetus people & neocons, then those kooks will defect and set up their own party.

    So they are stuck, marginalized by the bad odor of the kooks they built the platform around, or a reformed moderate pary without any hope of attaining a majority. Screwed either way. So they wait for the second coming of Ronnie.

  18. uncledad  •  Apr 29, 2009 @7:52 pm

    ” what they are really saying is just you wait until this”

    Sorry for the salty language, it’s a bit extreme, but so are the wingnuts these days.

    I got some questions:

    Will the wingnuts see that they’ve been played by FAUX news?

    Will they continue to be allergic to the others?

    The big question is: when will the Republican Party just go away already?

    Answer: swine flu attack, terror bomb, economy rabid downturn, did you notice that our president was black? Anything we can fucking exploit. Now get out there and find something GodDammit, hey is this thing on?

  19. Crazy About Urban Planning  •  Apr 30, 2009 @12:41 am

    Well I feel like I’ve heard this story before. The Republicans are just a joke. But so is American “democracy.” You know the Soviet Union had two political “parties” right? So its self evident that these Republicans have given themselves to the nutty fetus people and the other cultural “conservatives,” but does it mean we can get reasonably priced medical care? No. Those who are really in charge of both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party won’t let us. It must be bed time.

  20. patrick  •  Apr 30, 2009 @1:15 am

    “…present reality doesn’t interest them, because present reality is just a temporary aberration.”

    I was talking to a good friend of mine, a retired successful businessman. His answer to the present banking problem is to let the banks go broke, the free market will fix everything. He looks at free market capitalism like it is physics or some other natural law where everything will return to equilibrium — like the planets held in place by gravity and inertia circling the sun. The invisible hand of economics is confused with the hand of God and everything would find its place if we just stand back and allow it.
    Of course that’s not the way any system that involves people works, nor is free market capitalism a closed system. Physics stays unchanged unless God blocks the sun for a few minutes for the Blessed Virgin at Lourdes or something, but a free market cannot exist without a framework of institutions and a physical environment and social environment. And that framework and environment is affected by the market and affects it in turn. Once we could burn all the oil we wanted, but the earth now has had enough.
    This is one of the underlying and little understood problems with Bush’s schizophrenic Iraq strategy. Neocons believe in using the military to create democracies — but they did not believe in nation building. After they invaded and got rid of Hussein they expected freedom would break out and man in his natural free state would each in their own self interest would start a market and, like the moon circling the earth, find its natural order. Thomas Hobbes would have told them something else.
    Anyhow, I think that yes, they think present reality is an aberration and they probably expect a cataclysmic event — but that event could be avoided if we just stopped interfering with the natural order of things. Faith in market, God, and natural order untrammeled by man’s crude manipulation is what drives them.

  21. erinyes  •  Apr 30, 2009 @5:38 am

    I agree, Patrick. Besides, the rapture is way overdue , there is some Nostradamus quatrain ‘splaining the end times, and that Mayan calander ends in 2012 ( few realize they just ran out of space on the stone disc ).

    One Repug fundy I know swears all these problems stem from lack of prayer in schools, young women wanting abortions, and the govermnent not allowing parents to beat their children. Ya can’t cure stupid……………

  22. joanr16  •  Apr 30, 2009 @8:54 am

    The invisible hand of economics is confused with the hand of God….

    Patrick, your entire comment is very thoughtful, but the above phrase is amazing. Thanks for that!

  23. Rael  •  Apr 30, 2009 @3:23 pm

    the apocalyptic cult (today’s GOP) metaphor works, but here’s another.

    in gradual school i learned of a thing called the whig interpretation of historical events, named after a collection of 18th century brits whose political philosphy consisted entirely of ‘we are right, everyone who disagrees with anything we say is wrong, all we must do is persevere in the face of mounting hardship, and we will be proved right once everyone comes to their sense.’

    barbara tuchman calls this peculiar form of groupthink the march of folly. regardless of what you call it, it is not even remotely a new phenomenon. just, in this case, a particularly pleasant one, followiong as it does right on the heels of eight+ years of in your face bullshit.

  24. JR  •  Apr 30, 2009 @8:36 pm

    Well, I have been thinking along these same lines lately. The last “Big Thing” that won the cult power was 9/11 of course, but I’m not sure the Republicans were ready for full power yet. Yes, they were shrewd back then, and if 9/11 hadn’t happened and the balance of power had stayed 51/49ish the republicans’ demons would have been kept at bay.

    But 9/11 dumped full power on them, and they didn’t have to earn it, and they still haven’t figured that out yet… that those days are over for republicans… see, those one-liners about free markets and lower taxes and liberals bad… those worked right after 9/11, with a compliant press, a timid oppositition party, a distracted public and a President with a 90% approval rating… but I keep waiting for them to smirk, nod and tacitly acknowledge that the game is over now and it’s time for republicans to be shrewd again, but they’re not…

    I think that was another casualty of 9/11… maybe the true believers would have been kept at bay in a pre-9/11 world, with a calm, equal power in Washington, but as 9/11 gave republicans complete control of Washington, the wingers and christianists saw that THEY had nothing standing in front of THEM either, and THEY wanted THEIR due too, and that wasn’t supposed to happen, they were simply supposed to vote and pray and wait, but hey, suddenly ALL the GOP wanted their due and the country saw the Faustian deal Rove had made to get Bush elected…

    …and Democrats just had to sit back, support the netroots and watch it burn…

  25. Swami  •  Apr 30, 2009 @9:21 pm

    Don’t count them out… They’re alive and kickin’

    http://blogs.tampabay.com/talk/2009/04/what-would-jesus-do-about-a-license-plate.html

  26. Jonathan Versen  •  May 1, 2009 @6:13 am

    Dave: If moderate Republicans can’t be found to stand up to the Wingers (without apology to Limbaugh) and take the party back, the only solution I can imagine is the creation of a new, center-right party.

    This is already happening– it’s called the democratic party.

  27. erinyes  •  May 1, 2009 @3:59 pm

    Jonathan Versen,
    How right you are!!!!!!!!!!!!!



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