Saturday, November 7, 2015

The Policy Vacuum of Movement Conservatism

It is true that the media is having a bit of a feeding frenzy in their attempt to "vet" the latest front-runner in the Republican presidential nominating contest - Ben Carson. But in the midst of all that, this line from a column by Amy Davidson stood out to me:
A certain number of Republicans turned to Carson because the other candidates seemed even less plausible to them.
That was basically my reaction to the last GOP presidential debate. Initially, I looked forward to John Kasich's attempt to come out swinging against the rhetoric he called "crazy." But when he actually did it, all he had to offer as an alternative were the same-old Republican policies of tax cuts and a balanced budget (i.e., the "voodoo economics" of trickle-down) that were completely discredited during the Bush/Cheney years. That's when I realized why the so-called "establishment candidates" haven't been able to gain any traction against the rabble-rousers...they've got nothing.

That is basically the same conclusion reached by "movement conservative refugee" Michael Lind.
Why isn’t the old-time conservative religion working to fire people up any more? Maybe the reason is that it’s really, really old. So old it’s decrepit.
Lind goes on to talk about the birth of the modern conservative movement 60 years ago with the founding of the National Review by William F. Buckley, Jr. That was followed by Barry Goldwater's failed presidential candidacy and Ronald Reagan's eventual success. But by then, the strains were beginning to show.
Yet by the 1980s, movement conservatism was running out of steam. Its young radicals had mellowed into moderate statesman. By the 1970s, Buckley and his fellow conservatives had abandoned the radical idea of “rollback” in the Cold War and made their peace with the more cautious Cold War liberal policy of containment. In the 1960s, Reagan denounced Social Security and Medicare as tyrannical, but as president he did not try to repeal and replace these popular programs. When he gave up the confrontational evil-empire rhetoric of his first term toward the Soviet Union and negotiated an end to the Cold War with Mikhail Gorbachev in his second term, many conservatives felt betrayed...

Indeed, it’s fair to say that the three great projects of the post-1955 right—repealing the New Deal, ultrahawkishness (first anti-Soviet, then pro-Iraq invasion) and repealing the sexual/culture revolution—have completely failed. Not only that, they are losing support among GOP voters.
Lind suggests that this should have resulted in "an intellectual reformation on the American right in the 1990s," but instead, Buckley-Goldwater-Reagan conservatism returned in an even more radical form in the 2000's. The result was 2 failed wars in the Middle East, huge federal deficits and the Great Recession. And once again, rather than engage in an intellectual reformation, establishment conservatives initially embraced the post-policy strategy of obstruction and eventually drilled down even farther on the failed policies of the past.

Combine all that with fear-mongering about changing demographics/social mores and heated talk about a "world on fire" and you get a policy vacuum that has been filled by the likes of candidates like Trump and Carson.

It is impossible to know with any certainty how all this will play out. But unless/until conservatives come to grips with their own policy failures and re-think their whole ideological foundation (i.e., incorporate some of their own advice about personal responsibility rather than blaming others), I'd say that Stan Greenberg is right when he says, "I've seen America's future - and it's not Republican."

1 comment:

  1. "I've seen America's future - and it's not Republican." Yeah? When does that happen? The Rs still have a super-majority of control over Governorships and State legislative bodies. As long as their people still vote, and people who would normally support Democrats stay home...not any time soon.

    Until and unless we can motivate voters to vote for stuff instead of against it, we're still going to struggle with getting support from the electorate in non-Presidential years. It can be done. Where I live we had one of the highest turnouts nationwide, and we had a Dem sweep on the county level this year. But we've been knocking on doors and calling people to ask them to vote every year. Field works, but it has to be done for every election, not just once every four years.

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