Hang on Tight

Forget about Christmas sneaking up on you. Do you realize the Iowa Caucuses are a week from tomorrow? Enjoy this holiday week as the calm before the storm. Unless you live in Iowa, of course.

Most recent poll results basically say all the races in Iowa are tightening up. One poll says that Mike Huckabee is losing support — mostly to Ron Paul — among male voters. It may be that Huckabee peaked a bit too soon. Although he may not win in Iowa, I still say Mitt Romney is the most likely eventual winner of the nomination, because he seems to be the GOP establishment’s choice.

Regarding Huckabee, Quinn Hillyer wrote a couple of days ago,

Amazingly, Huckabee remains at the top of the polls despite receiving strong and repeated criticism from the entire spectrum of conservative leaders (yes, there is a spectrum; these are people who on intra-conservative-movement issues often disagree with each other). Lined up as strong critics of Huckabee are George Will, Fred Barnes, Charles Krauthammer, Robert Novak, Rush Limbaugh, David Limbaugh, Michael Reagan, Peggy Noonan, Phyllis Schlafly, Donald Lambro, Michelle Malkin, Ann Coulter, Mark Levin; the vast majority of top conservative bloggers from sites such as Red State and Powerline; and most of the writers from the top conservative political magazines: the American Spectator, Human Events, National Review, and the Weekly Standard. National Review, the flagship of the great William F Buckley, has been particularly scathing about Huckabee, with Rich Lowry, Jonah Goldberg and Kathryn Lopez leading the way.

I wrote awhile back about Lowry’s consternation over Huckabee’s popularity. Hillyer continues,

The roots of this bizarreness lie in Washington. Since 1998, the majority of congressional Republicans have shown they have no clue about what motivates most right-leaning voters and even less of a clue about what constitutes good public policy. Pork-barrel spending that garners almost no votes, but plenty of campaign cash, still abounds. Ethical reforms are ignored or run around. With strong GOP support, Congress passes farm bills and energy bills and all sorts of other legislation that are monstrosities containing no internal logic, no discernible philosophical basis, and no serious provisions for efficiency or effective oversight. Meanwhile, President Bush never has been a fiscal conservative or a foe of big government, meaning the old Barry Goldwater wing of the party – still the largest subset of the conservative coalition – has had no champions in Washington except those toiling from the back bench.

Hillyer was writing for The Guardian of the UK; you don’t see this kind of bare-assed honesty about conservatism in US media.

It’s never been entirely clear to me what “big government” actually means. I infer from this Rich Lowry column from spring 2006 that “big government” means one with a big and inefficient bureaucracy. He argues that lean and efficient government would be stronger than cumbersome, bloated government. If those are your only two choices, then he’s probably right. However,

Some government programs actually promote strong government. A large, capable military is a foundation of national power. The Patriot Act and the National Security Agency spying program — by updating governmental capabilities to deal with a new national security threat — represent strong, flexible government. It is also possible to foster desirable values through government programs. Welfare reform promoted responsibility among welfare recipients.

On the other hand, spending money on domestic programs is bad.

It creates a self-perpetuating appetite for even more government. The prescription-drug plan hasn’t placated seniors, but whetted their appetite for an even more generous program. As spending increases, so does pressure for higher taxes.


When the GOP begins its post-Bush departure — roughly after the midterm elections in November, when the 2008 presidential nomination race begins — “big-government conservatism” will probably end up on the ash heap. The party will have to relearn what it used to know: A strong government is a limited government [emphasis added].

Except we don’t want to limit spending that’s going into the pockets of corrupt government contractors, and we don’t want to limit government violation of citizens’ rights. Those parts of government must be unlimited, Lowry says. Perhaps you can see why I am confused about the “big government” thing.

Anyway, I think what Lowry et al. don’t get is that their “movement conservative” ideology never was as popular as they believed it was. Hard-core movement conservatism always was a minority faction in America. Conservatives won elections by whipping up hysteria on some issue or another to drive the soft-headed and under-informed to the polls. In my lifetime I’ve seen one scoundrel after another elected by means of anti-Communist hysteria, racist hysteria, religious hysteria, anti-abortion hysteria, anti-gay hysteria, and most recently terrorist hysteria. Many of the voters who gave winning margins to conservative politicians didn’t give a hoohaw about Lowry’s precious if inscrutable notions of “limited government.”

Last week Amy Goldberg pointed out that many of the same conservatives running away from Huckabee’s religiosity sang a different tune in the recent past.

Rather than wringing their hands about the decline of reason in our civic life, right-wing opinion-mongers have, until now, heartily celebrated the volkish virtues of an archetypal Nascar-loving, megachurch-attending, Darwin-denying Ordinary American. Noonan has been the high priestess of mawkish religio-nationalist kitsch, titling her collection of post-9/11 columns, A Heart, A Cross and a Flag: America Today. In one piece, lamenting the fate of a man she encountered on an airplane, she writes: “I bet he became an intellectual, or a writer, and not a good man like a fireman or a businessman who says ‘Let’s Roll.'”

Last year Lowry ridiculed a spate of books about the growing political power of the religious right (including, I’m flattered to say, my own): “When the theo-panic passes, maybe a few of them will regret their hysteria.” In defending Christmas against its supposed antagonists, Krauthammer has chastised “deracinated members of religious minorities” who “insist that the overwhelming majority of this country stifle its religious impulses in public”.

Krauthammer these days is twisting himself into rhetorical pretzels trying to explain why Huckabee’s religious expression goes too far.

Here Goldberg is brilliant —

As mainstream conservatives recoil from what they’ve created, their cynicism is revealed – to us, but also, perhaps, to themselves. Obviously, some right-wing leaders always saw the pious masses as dupes who would vote against their economic interests if they could be convinced they were protecting marriage and Christmas.

But there there’s also a certain species of urbane Republican who live in liberal bastions and, feeling terribly oppressed by the mild contempt they face at cocktail parties, imagine a profound sympathy with the simple folk of the heartland. They’re like alienated suburban kids in Che Guevara t-shirts who fantasize kinship with the authentic revolutionary souls in Chiapas or Cuba or Venezuela. Confronted with the actual individuals onto whom they’ve projected their political hallucinations, disillusionment is inevitable. Whatever their nostalgie de la boue, the privileged classes never really want to be ruled by the rabble. They want the rabble to help them rule.

Spot on. See also Jane Hamsher on the Huckabee-Limbaugh feud.

Anyway, now we have Rush Limbaugh. He’s been putting out the message on behalf of the GOP to millions of the AM radio faithful so long he thinks he’s one of them, a “man of the people,” or as he likes to say, “part of the Cape Girardeau [Missouri]-Middle America axis.”

But Rush is no such thing. Unless his audience is composed of a lot more people making $35 million a year than I’m aware of, he’s an ugly weld spot between the corporatists and the rank-and-file within the party. Huckabee knows that audience rather better than Rush does, at least the Southern contingent, and given the fact that the GOP has become largely a regional party, that’s a significant portion of Rush’s base.

The Limbaughs of Cape Girardeau have been wealthy and prominent going back many years, btw. Cape Girardeau may well be in the “heartland,” but the Limbaughs were strictly privilege bubble people.

Rush eats left-wing hate like candy. It only makes him more popular with the true believers — it’s tribal, a sign that he’s “one of them.” But when Rush wasn’t looking, the left crafted a narrative about him (in a swift akido move employing many of the themes Rush himself popularized) that has now been picked up by Huckabee, who has the ability to carry it into the heart of the beast. Huckabee is a messenger who will be taken seriously in a way the left never could, and I imagine also in a way that Rush is going to have a hard time competing with.

Rush is betting that his listeners will see him as “part of the Cape Girardeau [Missouri]-Middle America axis.” The GOP elite have told him to take down Huckabee, and his ego is so engorged with money and seven years of right wing hegemony he thinks he can win that battle. He doesn’t see the weld spot preparing to crack.

Anyway, I take it the Right is gearing up to run the 2008 campaigns on illegal immigrant hysteria rather than terrorism hysteria, which is bad news for Rudy Giuliani. We’ll see how it works for ’em.