The New Whigs?

I started to write this as an update to the last post, but then decided it deserved its own post. Anyway, responding to a news headline about a split in the Republican Party, Michael Stickings argues that there is no split:

Powell and Ridge, along with McCain and other such renegades, will continue to garner the headlines, but, again, the Republican Party is Limbaugh’s party, the party of the right-wing base and its leadership both in Congress and elsewhere. There are moderate Republicans, to be sure, but they are now a decided minority in a party that has been shifting ever further rightward in recent years, notably in defeat after the ’06 and ’08 elections.

This is true, but I think this shows us the “split” already occurred. I would argue that the real split was in the 1970s, when the Goldwater/Reagan wing of the party ascended and began the process of casting out Rockefeller Republicans and more moderate Ford/Nixon Republicans.

There has been a hard, take-no-prisoners right wing in the GOP for a long time. I’ve read that when Dwight Eisenhower was nominated in 1952, conservatives at the convention (who supported Robert Taft Jr.) were so angry they spat on Eisenhower delegates. At the 1964 convention they booed Nelson Rockefeller off the podium and put nausea-producing drugs into the drinks of Rockefeller delegates. But until the late 1970s the whackjobs were the party fringe. Since taking over the party they have demanded absolute loyalty to their leaders and ideas — well, talking points, anyway — and demonized any faction of the party that didn’t march in step.

So the split is a fait accompli, the few lingering moderates notwithstanding. But now that their “ideas” have been found wanting, and most of the public is thoroughly sick of them and their bullying, fear-mongering brand of politics, the GOP has been so purged of any alternative factions that there are not enough contemporary Rockefeller or Eisenhower or even Nixon Republicans to step up and take over.

There’s an interesting example of what’s happened at the right-wing site American Power. The blogger writes of Colin Powell’s call for the party to be more inclusive — “his own personal history belies the notion that the GOP lacks inclusion or fails to provide opportunities for qualified minorities.” But then he adds, “Actually, it’s something of a shame for him to be getting into these debates at this point.” But he doesn’t say why it’s a shame. And then the commenters come along and say “Powell is irrelevant to Republicans and conservatives”: “I never understood the fuss about him”; “Colin Powell has no business in the Republican Party”; and “Colin Powell is a media whore.” So much for inclusion.

What the hard Right still has are the think tanks and media outlets, and they still have the big money from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Koch Family foundations, the John M. Olin Foundation, the Scaife Family foundations and the Adolph Coors Foundation to underwrite the think tanks and media outlets and countless astroturf organizations. This will keep the current GOP alive, no matter if 99 percent of the voters turn against them and their regional clout shrinks to Mississippi.

If we assume that there will be two major parties, in the foreseeable future I don’t see a conservative-to-moderate-and-not-insane party rising up and taking over the niche the GOP used to fill. As many of you pointed out in comments recently, the conservative-to-moderate-and-not-insane politicians are Democrats now, albeit of the Blue Dog sort.

But let’s think about the more distant future. If there is to be a conservative-to-moderate political party that will organize to challenge the Dems, will that be a revitalized GOP, or will that be a new party? I think it could go either way, but it might actually be easier to form a whole new conservative-moderate party than to re-take the GOP from the crazies.

I’m guessing that if the Republicans have another losing election in 2010 — and I’m not making predictions, but right now that seems a good bet — surely a lot of the money currently propping up the GOP will move elsewhere. A whole new conservative party that doesn’t suffer from association with Bush/Gingrich/Limbaugh would be much more palatable to a broader swatch of voters, IMO, and might even siphon off the Blue Dogs from the Dems. Maybe they’ll even call themselves New Whigs.

Also — it’s Memorial Day. Here are some old Memorial Day posts from the Mahablog archives:

Memorial Day 2006

Memorial Day 2007

GOP: The Way of the Whigs?

It’s a great headline — Split threatens to rupture Republican ranks. Moderates like Colin “WMD” Powell and Tom “Orange Alert” Ridge are firing back at the clowns. Powell and Ridge believe the GOP is in danger of losing its status as a major party — in short, going the way of the Whigs.

I can’t say I have much sympathy for either gentlemen, considering they both played vital roles in propping up the late abomination called the “Bush Administration.” However, I don’t think either one of them is crazy. Just compromised.

And their concern begs the question — what is there to save, exactly? The GOP’s entire platform amounts calling anyone they don’t like a poopy-head.

Around the Corner With the GOP

Michael Steele says the Republican Party has turned a corner. Is this the same corner we used to turn in Iraq? If so, all they’ll find around the corner is another corner. Anyway, among other brilliant things Steele says, in effect, that the party should move forward by being faithful to Reaganism.

I’m so not worried.

However, the Pelosi episode shows us that the bitter enders are fighting to the death. And they’re brazen as ever. They admit they created a phony controversy about Nancy Pelosi and torture to distract people from a real debate about torture, and so far it is working for them.

White Whales and Wingnuts

A lot about wingnut behavior begins to make sense if you understand that in their reality, they are Captain Ahab and we liberals and progressives are Moby Dick. They don’t all want to kill us (a disturbing number do, of course), but mostly they are driven to settle the score with us.

What score? you may ask. The score for whatever they imagine we did to them. It’s not clear to me what that is, but clearly it’s the fire burning in their bellies; their raison d’être. For the Right, life is one long, monomaniacal quest to get even with the Left.

Thus, you can count on them not quitting even when they’re ahead, because in their own minds they are never ahead, or at least never ahead enough.

Along those lines — one of the weirder aspects of the ongoing torture scandal is the way the Right has tried to make it a referendum on Nancy Pelosi. I don’t entirely agree with Matt Yglesias that the Pelosi argument is backfiring. Not yet, anyway. But neither do I think anyone who hasn’t signed up to sail on the Pequod, so to speak, cares about whether Nancy Pelosi was briefed about torture or not.

However, I also think Matt has a point that they could have just accepted President Obama’s wish to move on from the torture question and keep their mouths shut. But they couldn’t do that. They couldn’t pass it up any more than a dog can pass up a tree without saluting.

Steve Benen

Republicans were getting exactly the result they wanted, right up until they thought to go after Pelosi. Now, the liberal Democratic House Speaker and the conservative Republican RNC chairman are saying the same thing: let’s investigate and get the whole story.

Indeed, Pelosi has been using this to great effect. When the right argues that she’s lying or was somehow complicit in Bush’s alleged crimes, she always responds with the same compelling answer: “Let’s have an investigation and see who’s right.”

As far as the strategy goes, Republicans should have taken “yes” for an answer.

Think Gollum diving into the lake of fire to grab the ring.

Now, I also agree with Steve M that the Right can still control news cycles and still finesse the terrorism question. But the Right does tend to come unglued where Nancy Pelosi is concerned.

See, for example, John Feehery’s “Conditions for a coup in Congress” at The Politico. Feehery’s evidence that House Democrats are on the edge of replacing Pelosi are, um, old. Steny Hoyer ran against Pelosi for Majority Whip in 2001, so he’s a potential rival. The base must be pissed at Pelosi, because Cindy Sheehan ran against Pelosi in 2004.

Yes, a lot of lefties are disenchanted with Pelosi, but a lot of lefties are disenchanted with a lot of people. I think if the base were given the authority to replace somebody in Democratic leadership, the first on the list would be Harry Reid, not Nancy Pelosi.

David Weigel at the Washington Independent calls the Feehery piece a “curious case of media narrative-setting.” Whatever. Feehery is reason itself compared to Mike Huckabee:

Here’s a story about a lady named Nancy
A ruthless politician, but dressed very fancy
Very ambitious, she got herself elected Speaker
But as for keeping secrets, she proved quite a “leaker.”

Which, I submit, says a lot more about Mike Huckabee than it says about Nancy Pelosi. And what it says is damn pathetic. Notice the dig about a woman being “ruthless” and “ambitious.” That’s another tree the Right can’t pass up.

Regarding what needs to be investigated — see Marcy Wheeler’s “The 13 people who made torture possible.” Sorta kinda related — Gary Farber, JAVAID IQBAL.

Sticks and Stones

The head in The Politico says “GOP, RNC to rebrand Democrats as ‘Socialists,'” which made me wonder if I’d enter some Star Trek time warp-loop anomaly. Wasn’t the “S” word the big gun that was supposed to save the McCain campaign last summer?

But the story is that the RNC is going to vote on a resolution that will rebrand the Dems as the “Democrat Socialist Party,” and force party chairman Michael Steele to use that term whenever referring to the Dems. Steele is on record as believing the “Democrat Socialist” idea is just dumb.

As Ron Beasley says, “You know what a sorry state the Republican Party is in when Michael Steele is the voice of reason.”

I’m wondering what happened to the old standard insult, “liberal.” Twenty years ago, it was the only code word the GOP needed to defeat Michael Dukakis. But now it seems the word “liberal” has not only been drained of meaning; it’s been drained of connotation, color, inference, and association as well. It’s now as bland as cottage cheese. Who’s afraid of the “L” word any more?

I can’t imagine “socialist” is exactly the firebomb it once was, either. It’s been a long time since red-baiting was the sure-fire way to win an election. It was replaced by race-baiting at least 40 years ago. But then race-baiting was replaced by feminist-baiting, atheist-baiting, gay-baiting, and most recently immigrant-baiting, and the voters aren’t biting the way they used to.

But maybe the GOP is on a nostalgia kick. Wake me up when Eric Cantor says Nancy Pelosi is “pink right down to her underwear” (said by Richard Nixon of Helen Gahagan Douglas, California Senate race, 1950).

Memo to the Titanic

Nate Silver has picked up on my generational political “imprinting” hypothesis, which says that at the point a new generation becomes old enough to be aware of politics, it is “imprinted” with whatever narrative is playing out in politics at the time. That imprinting carries with it political memes and values that will stick with most people of that generation the rest of their lives, no matter what.

My hypothesis was based on pure observation, but Nate, bless him, has real data. And he says that much voter behavior hinges on the question “Who was president when you turned 18?”

Nate has a chart that shows people who turned 18 during the Eisenhower and Reagan administrations are more likely to identify themselves as “Republican” than people who turned 18 during any other recent administration. And if this trend continues, the GOP had better be worried. The crop of young folks who turned 18 during the G.W. Bush administration is the least Republican generation ever.

Nate says this political partisan imprinting can be “quite persistent as the voter moves through her lifecourse.” In other words, once imprinted, the imprinting tends to stick, even if political reality changes. The imprinting going on now will impact politics for the next half century.


Along the same lines, Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais write for the Los Angeles Times that “The Republican Party ignores young ‘millennials’ at its peril.”

The “millennials” — the generation of Americans born between 1982 and 2003 — now identify as Democrats by a ratio of 2 to 1. They are the first in four generations to contain more self-perceived liberals than conservatives. …

…Only 9% of millennials polled expressed a favorable opinion of the Republican Party. Only 7% were positive about the GOP’s congressional leaders. By contrast, 65% of millennials had a favorable opinion of the Democratic Party, and a majority also approved of congressional Democrats.

The authors attribute this shift to how the millennials were raised, but I think the real difference is George W. Bush and the current Republican Party. These young folks came of age during a national train wreck.

For the first time in living memory, young people do not assume their lives will be as financially blessed as their parents were. Even those who go to college and who get “better” jobs spend much of their early adulthood paying off college loans instead of saving for the first house. “Job security” has become an oxymoron. Once they’re too old to be carried on their parents’ health insurance, vast numbers of young people are cut off from receiving medical care.

And the GOP is utterly oblivious to this. Republicans are not addressing these issues at all except to call for continuing the failed policies that created the current reality. This is not to say Democrats will do a better job of addressing these issues, but at least Democrats seem to have a clue.

Millennials tend to be more knowledgeable about environmental issues and more accepting that global climate change is real than previous generations. They also are less homophobic. The current GOP is laissez faire on economics and business, but authoritarian on social issues. But millennials tend to be laissez faire on social issues and want to see government play a more pro-active role in steering the economy. They feel locked out and want the nation’s wealth to be “redistributed,” dammit!

Two other op eds at the Los Angeles Times deserve mention. Mickey Edwards, who appears to be a conservative, argues that “The Nation Needs a Better GOP.”

If Democrats control the legislative and executive branches without meaningful opposition, the country will be the weaker for it. Some of President Obama’s initiatives would dramatically shift the boundaries between public and private, reshape the relationship between citizens and government and alter the lens through which America views its international commitments. These are serious matters and deserve serious, and constructive, engagement.

In the long run it is far better for the country if a broad range of views — or, at least, as broad a range of views as one finds in American politics, which generally isn’t that broad — is represented in government. It’s good when the majority view is challenged intelligently by a thoughtful minority. If nothing else, it keeps the majority on its toes and goads them into thinking through their proposals more clearly. However,

Today, the Republican belief system has degenerated into an embarrassing hodgepodge that worships political victory more than ideas; supports massive deficits; plunges the nation into “just-in-case” wars without adequate troops, supplies or armor; dismisses constitutional strictures; and campaigns on a platform of turning national problem-solving over to “Joe the Plumber.” It’s hard to see how all that points the way to a reawakening of voters to trust in the GOP. …

… Merely attacking administration proposals and labeling Obama a “socialist” will only ensure that instead of rebounding, as the GOP did in 1968, the party will slip even further into irrelevance. And that will not be good for America.

Finally, one other op ed says “What Republicans need is a mutiny.” To take the party away from the troglodytes, yes? Alas, this op ed was written by Richard A. Viguerie, a troglodyte’s troglodyte.

Democrats have nothing to fear from today’s Republican Party leaders. That’s why Democrats have taken to targeting Rush Limbaugh and others who aren’t in formal leadership positions in the GOP but who forcefully articulate a conservative vision.

To paraphrase the Gipper, anyone who thinks Rush Limbaugh is forcefully articulating “a conservative vision” is the problem, not the solution.

Fred Barnes actually wrote this for next week’s Weekly Standard:

Improving the party’s image is a worthy cause, but it isn’t what Republicans ought to be emphasizing right now. They have a more important mission: to be the party of no. And not just a party that bucks Obama and Democrats on easy issues like releasing Gitmo terrorists in this country, but one committed to aggressive, attention-grabbing opposition to the entire Obama agenda.

I hope all Republicans read this and pay close attention to what Fred says.

If Republicans scan their history, they’ll discover unbridled opposition to bad Democratic policies pays off. Those two factors, unattractive policies plus strong opposition, were responsible for the Republican landslides in 1938, 1946, 1966, 1980, and 1994. A similar blowout may be beyond the reach of Republicans in 2010, but stranger things have happened in electoral politics. They’ll lose nothing by trying.

GOP: Barnes is a wise man, and you should do what he says. Please.

New Coke

CNN’s John King reports that the GOP is launching a “rebranding” effort today to shine up the party’s image. The initiative is called the National Council for a New America. Its founders include —

  • John McCain
  • Jeb Bush
  • Haley Barbour
  • Bobby Jindal
  • Mitt Romney

Oh, stop giggling and pay attention. Now, this “council” will report to Republican leaders in Congress, and taking part in the launch party today will be

  • John Boehner
  • Eric Cantor
  • Mike Pence
  • Mitch McConnell
  • Jon Kyl
  • Lamar Alexander

I say they don’t need a new initiative. They need new blood. Maybe even a whole new gene pool. Anyway, these dinosaurs will lumber forth from Washington and hold town hall meetings all over the country so that they can listen to the American people.

Whether they will allow nonbelievers to attend these town hall meetings I cannot say. I am skeptical any of them can hold a sensible conversation with anyone who isn’t fluent in “conspeak.” Conspeak is a kind of language substitute created by randomly stringing together standard right-wing talking points and buzzwords regardless of dictionary meanings.

For example — At the New York Times, Adam Nagourney and David Herzenhorn write that Republicans are debating among themselves whether they should be working to create a bigger party or a purer party. Here’s a bit —

Patrick J. Toomey, a former head of the Club for Growth whose primary challenge to Mr. Specter led the senator to bow out in the face of what he thought was a probable defeat, said Republicans should be open to a “wide range of opinions on a wide range of issues.”

As Tbogg says, “As long as those ideas are lowering taxes on the rich, drill baby drill, keeping handguns cheap and plentiful, getting rid of capital gains taxes, and re-naming America ‘Reaganland’.”

“But I think fundamental common ground that the vast majority of Republicans share is the belief in limited government, freedom and personal responsibility,” Mr. Toomey said.

The question of how the party should respond to Mr. Specter’s departure was the main subject of a Senate Republican lunch on Wednesday. The party can be a “big tent,” said Senator John Ensign of Nevada, “but here are some core principles: fiscal responsibility, more personal responsibility, looking for a smaller, more effective government.”

In light of what Republicans actually do when they get their hands on the steering wheel of government, what are Mr. Toomey and Sen. Ensign actually saying?

“Fiscal responsibility” means lowering taxes on the wealthy and cutting programs that benefit the not-wealthy, but at the same time making sure the special interests that helped one get elected are well cared for.

“Personal responsibility” means government is to become primarily a tool for protecting the power and assets of the ruling plutocracy at the expense of the interests of the nation and its citizens.

“Smaller, more effective government” is a government rendered incapable of doing anything not covered by “fiscal responsibility” and “personal responsibility.”

Oh, and then there’s “freedom,” which is a system by which corporations are the landlords and citizens are the serfs/sharecroppers/tenants.

I’m betting that the Council’s town halls will not include anyone not a shill or a true believer.

What Do They Expect?

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?

Specter Switching Parties?

If this is true, it would be huge — CNN is reporting that Sen. Arlen Specter has switched parties. That means when Al Franken finally takes his seat in the Senate the Dems will have 60 votes.

Here’s Chris Cillizza reporting the same thing. Looks like it’s a “go.”

That means, assuming Dems vote together (a big if), the Dems could break GOP filibusters that prevent vital bills from being brought to the full Senate for a vote.

I take it Specter, who is up for re-election in 2010, made the move to avoid a defeat in his primary next year. Republicans were throwing their support behind the more conservative former Rep. Pat Toomey, even though (I’m told) Toomey has little hope of winning a general election unless he’s running against a mollusk.


If you want to know how the American Right came to its current pitiful state, consider: Bill Kristol will be awarded a $250,000 Bradley Prize from the the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.

Yeah, that Bill Kristol.

Eric Alterman and Joan Walsh are both appropriately snarky. They both compile sampler lists of the many times Kristol has been wrong. And not just wrong; stupefyingly, jaw-droppingly, what planet does this guy live on? wrong. I don’t need to repeat all that here. Let’s just say that if stupid were an art form, Kristol would be the Mona Lisa.

In any other context but the American Right, Kristol would be buried in obscurity. Since he’s a white man with a college education one assumes he would rise to a middle management position somewhere, in spite of his obvious handicaps. However, in a true meritocracy he’d be put to work doing something that involved simple, repetitive motions but no sharp objects.

Yes, Kristol graduated Harvard magna cum laude in three years and has a Ph.D., his biography says. But, folks, stupid is as stupid thinks. Either Kristol was dropped on his head post-Ph.D. or Kristol’s professors were paid off. There are no other explanations.

But then there’s Jonah Goldberg, both badly educated and intellectually incoherent. His silly cognitive misfirings are published in the Los Angeles Times and by Doubleday. And if Michele Bachmann belonged to any other party but the GOP, party leaders would keep her locked in the attic and out of public view. I could go on, but I’m sure you get the drift.

I want to call your attention to a section of Thomas Franks’s book The Wrecking Crew published in the August 2008 Harper’s.

For some in winger Washington this is an idealistic business, but what gives it power and longevity is that it is a profitable business. I mean this not as polemic but as a statement of fact. Washington swarms with conservative ideologues not because conservatives particularly like the place but because there is an entire industry here that supports these people—an industry subsidized by the nation’s largest corporations and its richest families, and the government too. We are all familiar with the flagship organizations—Cato, Heritage, AEI—but the industry extends far beyond these, encompassing numerous magazines and literally hundreds of lobbying firms. There is even a daily newspaper—the Washington Times—published strictly for the movement’s benefit, a propaganda sheet whose distortions are so obvious and so alien that it puts one in mind of those official party organs one encounters when traveling in authoritarian countries.

There are political strategists, pollsters, campaign managers, trainers of youth, image consultants, makers of TV commercials, revolutionaries-for-hire, and, of course, direct-mail specialists who still launch their million-letter raids on the mailboxes of the heartland. Remember the guy who wrote all those sputtering diatribes for your college newspaper? Chances are he’s in D.C. now, thinking big thoughts from an endowed chair, or churning out more of the brilliant usual for one of the movement’s many blogs. The campus wingnut whose fulminations on the Red Menace so amused my friends and me at the University of Virginia, for example, resurfaced here as a columnist for the Washington Times before transitioning inevitably into consultancy. A friend of mine who went to Georgetown recently recalled for me the capers of his campus wingnut, whom he had completely forgotten until the guy made headlines as the lead culprit in a minor 2004 scandal called “Memogate.” Later he worked for the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, teaching democratic civics to Iraqi politicians.

There is so much money in conservatism these days that Karl Rove rightly boasts, “We can now go to students at Harvard and say, ‘There is now a secure retirement plan for Republican operatives.’”

Consider the conservative movement since the early 1950s — Russell Kirk to William F. Buckley to Barry Goldwater to Ronald Reagan to Newt Gringrich/Grover Norquist to William Kristol/Jonah Goldberg. Whether you agreed with them or not, Kirk and Buckley at least fit the definition of intellectual. Since the 1950s, however, there has been a steady regression of cognitive ability on the Right; a march from reason. And now the entire conservative movement is collapsing into a puddle of utter imbecility.

I am no social darwinist, but I can’t help but think that one of the reasons for this biological devolution is that the money supporting the Right has buffered its specimens from the “survival of the fittest” rule. A “movement conservative” has no need for intelligence or accomplishment, only connections.

We come to it at last: George W. Bush. Removed from his cocoon of privilege he might have clawed his way up to an assistant mangership at the Crawford Wal-Mart, but only because of his ability to bully the employees. He not only never performed the job of President of the United States; I remain unconvinced he understood what his job was. Like Kristol and Goldberg, we’d have never heard of him but for his pedigree.

Of course, not everyone in conservatism was given a hand up by mommy or daddy. Rep. Bachmann appears to have had humble roots, as did Sarah Palin and many others. For that matter, let’s think about Tom DeLay, John Boehner, and that entire generation of Republican politicians. These examples show us that to be successful in the GOP these days requires stubborn ignorance combined with unscrupulous ruthlessness.

In other words, you’ve got to be dumb enough (or, at least, intellectually lazy enough) to mix with the “legacy” conservatives (or want to, for that matter). But it also helps to have the kind of feral hunger for success that aristocrats rarely muster.

In the case of conservative “journalists,” it strikes me that the older generation — e.g., Bob Novak, Pat Buchanan — had enough brains to be genuinely shrewd. They could be infuriatingly disingenuous most of the time, but when these two were in their prime you knew they knew exactly what they were doing. Current right-wing media stars like Bill O’Reilly or Glenn Beck are, alas, merely pathological.

Writing about Kristol and the state of journalism, Joan Walsh points out that when Kristol’s Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation award was announced, “a Pulitzer Prize-winner in Mesa, Ariz., had already been laid off from his job,” and “a newspaper journalist who was recently shot in the line of duty lost his job a few days ago as well.” Yet Kristol bombs spectacularly at the New York Times and gets a $250,000 award.

One suspects the next generation of movement conservatives will find it challenging to eat with a fork.