No Change of Direction for Conservatism

Here are a couple of articles that ought to be read together. The first is in today’s Washington Post, by Greg Anrig — “McCain’s Problem Isn’t His Tactics. It’s GOP Ideas.”

There’s so much of this I’d like to excerpt I have to ask you to read the whole thing. He begins by talking about how hard it has been in the past several years for progressives to get a word in edgewise in our national conversation. Righties just mocked us, interrupted us, and shouted to the world that government is the problem, all hail free markets.

But now, seemingly all of a sudden, conservatives are the ones who are tongue-tied, as demonstrated by Sen. John McCain’s limping, message-free presidential campaign. McCain’s ongoing difficulties in exciting voters aren’t just a tactical problem; his woes stem largely from his long-standing adherence to a set of ideas that simply haven’t worked in practice. The belief system and finely crafted policy pitches that enabled the right to dominate the war of ideas for the past 30 years have produced a relentless succession of governing failures, from Iraq to Katrina to the economy to the environment.

Right-wing “solutions” to the nation’s problems have failed. They have failed spectacularly. Righties can whine all they want to about how George W. Bush isn’t a “real conservative,” although they were happy to claim him while he was still popular. The fact is that the Republican Party had nearly total control of the federal government for long enough to put their “ideas” into effect. And their “ideas” don’t work.

So now what? In new books, two conservative stalwarts, former House speaker Newt Gingrich and the anti-tax guru Grover Norquist, don’t even bother wrestling with such failures. Instead, they argue for an even stronger dose of the medicine that has, so far, produced mainly toxic reactions. They owe their fame to denigrating the government, so one can hardly blame them for sticking with the program. For conservatives to abandon the arguments that have served them so well politically for so long would be akin to a Fortune 500 company dropping its core business when it recognizes that the market for its product is rapidly disintegrating.

It’s all these guys know. What else can you expect? A few moderate conservatives have argued for a somewhat more activist government and suggested the Right ought to stop trying to drown the government in a bathtub. Rush Limbaugh had a fit about this, of course.

“We have some Republicans who seem hell-bent in throwing away the one proven winning formula twice that won 49 states,” he said. “If you want to big-tent the Republican Party, go right ahead. You start big-tenting conservatism, and you’re going to have it end up meaning nothing.”

Here’s the real problem (emphasis added):

It’s bad enough that opening up the conservative agenda to energetic government would lose Limbaugh. Worse, it would alienate the wealthy business executives and scions who have financed the formidable network of right-wing institutions that includes think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation, activist groups such as Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform and a plethora of conservative media outlets. That money flowed because its sources benefited directly and enormously from such policies as tax cuts and regulatory rollbacks. Those sugar daddies are unlikely to find much to be enthusiastic about in a Grand New Party, and their money will largely determine whether and how conservatism will transform itself.

From here, head on over to The Guardian and read Ian Williams attempt to explain Rush Limbaugh to British readers:

A distinctively American phenomenon, his partisan rants would lose any British station broadcasting him its license.

Today is the official culmination of the Limbaugh dancing week – but meaner souls will think it overshadowed by last Sunday’s events, when Jim Adkisson, a Tennessee aficionado of conservative talkshows, took their hosts’ invective all too literally and shot up a “liberal” Unitarian Universalist congregation, killing two and wounding six congregants watching a children’s musical. Caught up in a world of conservative talk radio, he reportedly expected to be able to carry on shooting unimpeded by the spineless, gay-loving pacifists, and was surprised when they tackled him and brought him down. …

…For the Limbaughs of this world, gays, blacks, liberals, feminazis, Clintons, Obamas and all the rest of his Grand Guignol dramatis personae are unpatriotic, not real citizens, maybe not even human. They deserve neither rights nor respect. This is Bush’s Radio G’tmo. It epitomises the ethos of the age.

Here’s the critical part:

Rory O’Connor’s book Shock Jocks: Hate Speech and Talk Radio, details the right-wing talkshow universe and makes the point that it was not just Limbaugh’s native charm that got him launched on the airwaves. Rather, the concentration of media ownership, under a complaisant FCC, paved his way, along with the inspired political entrepreneurship of Fox CEO Roger Ailes, who offered the show free to local stations.

Adkisson and other angry listeners are more often than not the victims of precisely those unregulated concentrations of capital that put Limbaugh on the air, Chinese goods on the shelves of Wal-Mart and them on welfare. With Democratic leaders too wary to bite the hands that write the contribution cheques, but also too residually honest to invent scapegoats, no wonder an incisive populism can win listeners.

Where am I going with this? First, the Republican Party has boxed itself in. Having drummed the old Rockefeller Republicans out of the party in favor of dittoheads and Reaganobots, and dependent on deep-pocket hyperconservative donors and the media infrastructure they finance — the GOP can’t change. It doesn’t matter what the public wants and what opinion polls say; Republican candidates, especially on the national scene, can do no other than offer the same swamp water they’ve been offering for years.

So John McCain runs a content-free campaign that consists entirely of calling his opponent an empty suit (sotto voce — and he’s black!).

On the other hand, plenty of dimwits still buy whatever Faux Nooz and rightie talk radio are selling. People who are regular viewers of Faux or listeners of Rush are not likely to ever hear any other perspective. However, the dominance of Faux Nooz is eroding and more people listen to Rush’s commercials than they do to Rush.

However, I think as long as these losers have any following at all, they will not change direction. They’re going to have to be utterly abandoned by the public before they wake up and realize they’ve, y’know, been utterly abandoned. Then they’ll have to go through a phase of blaming liberals for their abandonment before somebody steps in and takes over the GOP.

3 thoughts on “No Change of Direction for Conservatism

  1. Failure of conservatism is very similar to the failure of Soviet communism. Both based upon economic theory that would only work under ideal circumstances, both corrupted by thumbs on scales implementation and ideology subverted for the cause of a one party state. There will be revisionists that argue that imperfections are the cause of failure. Their dogma just got run over by karma.

  2. I thought conservatism worked very well:

    it transfered the wealth of the nation from the poor and middle class to the already wealthy;

    destroyed the US manufacturing base that supplied decent long-term work – replacing it with low-pay temp jobs (WalMart);

    took America five point to the right in just 25 years;

    made extremist political theory into the only acceptable orthodoxy;

    corrupted all news media, turning it from unbiased recitation of known fact into an entertainment where the most patently false ideas are held up as if they were true, and reporters are fired for pointing out commonly known facts,

    changed America from the Bulwark of Freedom that everyone in the world looked to for leadership into a neo-fascist police state with internal checkpoints (border patrol sitting on our highways doing whiteness checks) and a national ID card (Real ID), unlimited spying on innocent citizens without cause or warrant, a nation that tortures the innocent for profit and where the President can knowingly lie to the world just to start an illegal war of naked aggression solely for the war profiteering of his politically connected friends,

    and even the two Democratic candidates are right-of-center Republican Party moderates that gleefully sell out every single thing the Democratic Party holds dear (Senators Obama AND Clinton are GOP operatives masquerading as Democrats).

    Yes, indeed. It looks like conservatism worked out perfectly.

    When Margaret Thatcher was asked what her greatest achievement was during her time in office, she replied: “New Labour” – getting the left to sell out their values to the business class and abandon the left side of the political spectrum entirely. Our Democratic Leadership has done the same thing here in America.

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