alien & sedition.
Monday, March 19, 2007
  The Rise of the Conservative Essenes

As the conventional wisdom begins to shift toward an understanding that John McCain's campaign is in serious trouble, the Weekly Standard's Matthew Continetti turns up in the op-ed pages of the New York Times to explain it to us civilians. Continetti reviews how McCain has gone from GOP heir-apparent to the right's favorite punching bag. Some of it is that mixed bag of issues (campaign finance reform, global warming, etc.) and old personal grudges (Falwell fallout). As Continetti summarizes:
While Mr. McCain and the conservative activists who compose the Republican grassroots share many positions — pro-war, pro-life, against waste in government and for low taxes — a significant portion of those grassroots just ... doesn’t ... like him.
And the most interesting reason Continetti cites for this mistrust is not ideological or personal, but cultural:
For years conservatives have cast a suspicious eye on Senator McCain because non-conservatives find him appealing. They distrust the institutions of liberal culture — the news media in particular — to such a degree that a politician those institutions embrace must be suspect. They grow furious when they hear Senator McCain on Don Imus’s radio show but not Rush Limbaugh’s. The politics of polarization militate against a McCain candidacy. The man transcends the partisan divide — but what partisans want above all is a fellow partisan.


Call it poetic justice, tragedy or farce: Senator McCain’s quest to become the establishment candidate has jeopardized his candidacy and exposed deep fissures within the conservative movement.
Take a moment to consider how remarkable this is - how self-defeating. The conservative movement has reached the point where it refuses to tolerate the notion of its candidates even talking to mainstream America. This is a movement, a party, in the process of committing political suicide.

Again, this is not just a disagreement about ideas. That sort of thing is common enough in political coalitions, and it can be handled with deft horse trading. What's happening on the right, at this point, is a kind of cultural secessionism. The conservative sense of persecution and self-righteousness has resulted in a deepening retrenchment behind culture war assumptions - regardless of the fact that most of America lies outside the perimeter.

If the right won't even let its candidates join the national conversation, if the code words aren't enough anymore, if the entire Republican party is to be sealed within the airless chamber of the conservative movement, locked in the room with CPAC and the National Review and Focus on the Family and nobody else - does this mean that the most powerful movement in modern American politics will, under its own potent momentum, end up driving itself into oblivion?

At this point, it's a hyperbolic question. But given the dynamic Continetti points out, it may, before long, become a reasonable one.

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For a brief moment, the effects of 9/11 allowed Republicans to run as nakedly pure conservatives while stilling being able to win over swing voters. They were spoiled by the experience and want it to continue.
You're right, definitely, but I think it goes beyond that, too. The machine they've built - the movement - has taken on a life of its own. They built it to be powerful and insatiable, and now it is, even when their own interests would be best served by backing it off a little.

They haven't accomplished much policy-wise (other than obstruction), but in a political sense, they're victims of their own machine's success.
And even more oddly, they all seem pretty sanguine about soon being in the political hinterlands again.

I caught a clip of Bill Kristol and friends yukking it up on Pox, chortling that they really do work better as a minority party. Each of the three or so roundtable pundits thought that now that they were freed from the shackles of power (we'll pause for a moment to consider their myopia at viewing their remarkable ability to consistently cater to their base and shut out the opposition), they'd really come into their own.

There's no end to the readjustments.

It's always morning in the Republican Party!
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Critical analysis of the American conservative movement from a progressive perspective. Also some stuff about the Mets.

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