Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Softening the Hard Right Turn

To succeed, the Republican Party needs moderate conservatives

Writing recently in the Los Angeles Times, Jonah Goldberg notes that many American left-wingers believe these are very, very good times for them.

Why are these very, very good times for the left wing? Certainly not because they're implementing their agenda on issues like health care reform. As Goldberg notes, and certain less-than-gifted bloggers are more than willing to confirm, many left-wingers -- particularly socialist progressives -- think these are good times for them only because they believe the conservative cupboard to be effectively bare:
"If there's one thing liberal pundits are experts on these days, it's the sorry state of conservatism. The airwaves and the Op-Ed pages brim with more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger lamentations on the GOP's failure to get with President Obama's program, the party's inevitable demographic demise and its thralldom to the demonic deities of the right -- Limbaugh, Beck, Palin.

Such sages as the
New York Times' Sam Tanenhaus and Frank Rich insist that the right is out of ideas. After all, the religious dogmatism and 'market fundamentalism' of the Bush administration were entirely discredited, leaving the GOP with its intellectual cupboard bare.

'During the two terms of George W Bush,' Tanenhaus declares in his latest book, 'conservative ideas were not merely tested but also pursued with dogmatic fixity.'

Even worse than being brain dead, the right is blackhearted, hating good-and-fair Obama for his skin color and obvious do-goodery.
The idea of ideological civil war among conservatives was even enough to distract various left-wing thinkers and commentators from what was then the then-impending defeat of two Democratic governors in New Jersey and Virginia which are being said to effectively cast a pall over Barack Obama as he plots his next move forward.
"The same voices seem eager to cast Republican Dede Scozzafava's withdrawal from the congressional race in New York's 23rd District not only as proof that their interpretation is correct; they're also determined to cast it as a far more important news story than the Democrats' parlous standing with the voters. Don't look at the potential historic gubernatorial blowout in Virginia, or the Jon Corzine train wreck in the New Jersey election, or the flocking of independents to the GOP in the major races. No, let's all titter and gape at the cannibalistic 'civil war' on the right."
Just as Goldberg notes in Liberal Fascism, many of these commentators have naturally drawn comparisons between what is currently going on within conservative circles with fascism -- in this case, Joseph Stalin.

As Goldberg notes, it's just one of many such allusions that is particularly troubled:
"Frank Rich, gifted psephologist, finds the perfect parallel to the GOP's squabbles in Stalin's murderous purges.

'Though they constantly liken the president to various totalitarian dictators,' Rich writes, 'it is they who are reenacting Stalinism in full purge mode.' Stalin's 'full purge mode' involved the systematized exile and slaughter of hundreds of thousands (not counting his genocide of millions). The GOP's purge has so far caused one very liberal Republican to halt her bid for Congress.
Indeed, Goldberg wants to offer a different explanation altogether:
"Let me offer a counter-theory, admittedly lacking in such color but making up for it with evidence and consideration of what conservatives actually believe.

After 15 or 20 years of steady moderation, many conservatives think it might be time to give their ideas a try.

Bush's 'compassionate conservatism' was promoted as an alternative to traditional conservatism. Bush promised to be a 'different kind of Republican,' and he kept that promise. He advocated government activism, and he put our money where his mouth was. He federalized education with No Child Left Behind -- coauthored by Teddy Kennedy -- and oversaw the biggest increase in education spending (58%) in history, according to the Heritage Foundation, while doing next to nothing to advance the conservative idea known as school choice.

With the prescription drug benefit, he created the biggest new entitlement since the Great Society (Obama is poised to topple that record). He increased spending on the National Institutes of Health by 36% and international aid by 74%, according to Heritage. He oversaw the largest, most porktacular farm bills ever. He signed the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, a massive new regulation of Wall Street. His administration defended affirmative action before the Supreme Court. He pushed amnesty for immigrants, raised steel tariffs, supported Title IX and signed the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform legislation.

Oh, and he, not Obama, initiated the first bailouts and TARP.

Now, not all of these positions were wrong or indefensible. But the notion that Bush pursued conservative ideas with 'dogmatic fixity' is dogmatic nonsense.
Indeed, in Liberal Fascism, Goldberg argues that in George W Bush's speeches one can find firmly entrenched the ideals of the Protestant Social Gospel.

Indeed, Bush belongs to the United Methodist Church (prior to 1977 he was an Episcopalian). The United Methodist Church fuses the outreach of the social gospel with the personal holiness aspect of traditional Evengelical churches.

This firm belief in human charity is an often-overlooked side of Bush:
"Most Democrats were blinded to all of this because of their anger over the Iraq war and an often irrational hatred of Bush. Republicans, meanwhile, defended Bush far more than they would have had it not been for 9/11 and the hysteria of his enemies."
One could argue further that many of Bush's opponents were indeed deeply ideologically invested in ignoring these elements of his political identity.

But Bush left behind him a particularly toxic political environment -- much of which was the doing of his supporters, and much of which was the doing of his opponents -- and left the Republicans and Democrats alike facing a stark dilemma:
"In 2008, the primaries lacked a Bush proxy who could have siphoned off much of the discontent on the right. Moreover, the party made the political calculation that John McCain -- another unorthodox and inconsistent conservative -- was the best candidate to beat Obama."
Moreover, the opponents of George W Bush campaigned against John McCain as if he himself were Bush.

When Obama defeated McCain in the election, much of the triumphal reaction was seeped in the language of electoral vengeance -- this despite the fact that had not (and still haven't) beaten Bush, but instead defeated a candidate who was at least partially selected for his ability to reach out to moderate and conservative Democrats.

But, as Goldberg himself notes, the Republicans may have miscalcuated the will of their base to sacrifice their ideological expectations and adhere to the Republican brand.
"In short, conservatives have had to not only put up with a lot of moderation and ideological flexibility, we've had to endure nearly a decade of taunting from gargoyles insisting that the GOP is run by crazed radicals.

Now the rank and file might be wrong to want to get back to basics, but I don't think so. With Obama racing to transform America into a European welfare state fueled by terrifying deficit spending, this seems like a good moment to argue for limited government.

Oh, and a little forgiveness, please, for not trusting the judgment of the experts who insist they know what's happening on the racist, paranoid, market fundamentalist, Stalinist right.
What Goldberg seems to be suggesting is that many American conservatives have tired of the "big tent" vision of conservatism pursued by the Republican Party.

What he doesn't seem to understand is the perils of abandoning that particular model. And while the Republican Gubernatorial victories in New Jersey and Virginia (both states that went firmly in favour of Barack Obama in 2008) are indeed illustrative of the current state of the Democratic Party, the victory of Democrat Bill Owens very much does present this dilemma in all its glory.

When the Republican candidate Dede Scozzafava quit this particular election and supported Owens, the Conservative Party candidate, Doug Hoffman, enjoyed a brief surge. Many conservatives -- and many conservative media commentators -- believed he could win the race in a lock.

But Scozzafava's exit from the race added a lot of undecided voters to the mix. On election night they decided to follow Scozzafava's lead and support Owens. The hard conservative vote in the district wasn't enough to secure a victory for Hoffman.

The lesson the episode offers is a very simple one: there aren't enough hard conservative voters in the United States to guarantee a victory for a hard conservative Republican Party, or even for a Conservative Party with no Republican opponents.

While hard conservative voters have proven to be enough to get the Republicans in the game, so to speak, they need moderate voters to put them over the top. That means moderating their conservative ideology in recognition that, yes, there are voters in the United States other than merely conservatives, and, yes, they deserve to be heard too, and not just by the Democrats or the Green Party.

A strong argument certainly does exist for the need for Republicans to harden their conservative policies. One could easily argue that Republican brass has been spooked by the taunting (as Goldberg puts it) of progressive socialists who declare anyone who isn't as far left as they are to be of the "extreme right".

But conservatives -- and especially not the Republican Party -- cannot afford to harden their conservative policies at the expense of being able to reach out to political moderates.

To do this is political suicide, regardless of whether or not American conservatives think this is "their turn".

No comments:

Post a Comment

Post your comments, and join the discussion!

Be aware that spam posts and purile nonsense will not be tolerated, although purility within constructive commentary is encouraged.

All comments made by Kevron are deleted without being read. Also, if you begin your comment by saying "I know you'll just delete this", it will be deleted. Guaranteed. So don't be a dumbass.