Fear of Clowns

"Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable."
- H. L. Mencken
gozz@gozz.com

Sunday, May 25, 2008

An eulogy for movement conservatism 

In his wide-ranging essay The Fall of Conservatism: Have the Republicans run out of ideas?, George Packer observes,

In its final year, the Bush Administration is seen by many conservatives (along with seventy per cent of Americans) to be a failure. Among true believers, there are two explanations of why this happened and what it portends. One is the purist version: Bush expanded the size of government and created huge deficits; allowed Republicans in Congress to fatten lobbyists and stuff budgets full of earmarks; tried to foist democracy on a Muslim country; failed to secure the border; and thus won the justified wrath of the American people. This account - shared by Pat Buchanan, the columnist George F. Will, and many Republicans in Congress - has the appeal of asking relatively little of conservatives. They need only to repent of their sins, rid themselves of the neoconservatives who had agitated for the Iraq invasion, and return to first principles. Buchanan said, "The conservatives need to, in Maoist terms, go back to Yenan."

The second version - call it reformist - is more painful, because it's based on the recognition that, though Bush's fatal incompetence and Rove's shortsighted tactics hastened the conservative movement's demise, they didn't cause it. In this view, conservatism has a more serious problem than self-betrayal: a doctrinaire failure to adapt to new circumstances, new problems. Instead of heading back to Yenan to regroup, conservatives will have to spend some years or even decades wandering across a bleak political landscape of losing campaigns and rebranding efforts and earnest policy retreats, much as liberals did after 1968, before they can hope to reëstablish dominance.

The whole article is good. It lays out that movement conservatives have been replaying the 1972 election ever since and their anti-government views have necessarily made them ineffective at their elected responsibility: to govern.

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