alien & sedition.
Friday, April 13, 2007
  The Albatross is Slipperier than It Looks

At MyDD, Jonathan Singer slices out a portion of the latest Bloomberg/LA Times poll (pdf), to make an interesting observation, based on this question:
Q28. In your opinion, should whoever becomes the next Republican nominee campaign on a platform of continuing the policies of George W. Bush, or should he talk about moving the country in a new direction?

Continue Bush policies301536312941
Move in a new direction617954596448
Don't know961010711
Singer's comment:
On this retrospective question on George W. Bush and his policies ... Republicans offer a thumbs down by better than a two-to-one margin. Even the religious right, which has gotten much of what it wanted from the Bush presidency (two new hard right conservatives on the Supreme Court for a likely net pick up of one seat for the anti-choice side; federal funds for faith-based initiatives; a curb to funding for stem cell research; a push, however unsuccessful, to ban same-sex marriage; etc.), would prefer the 2008 GOP presidential nominee not be a George W. Bush Republican -- and they remain more supportive of the President than other Republican groups polled.

With such numbers, the Democrats' effort to make George W. Bush the 21st century's equivalent of Herbert Hoover -- an albatross for Republicans to carry for several election cycles even after he has left office -- shouldn't be so terribly difficult.
My thought: yes and no. It would be a mistake to read too singular a narrative into these results. Republicans who disapprove of Bush tend to do so either because they're moderates (as shown in the survey) or because they're ideologues who believe Bush hasn't been conservative enough. Undoubtedly a certain amount of this discontent has to do with voters' distress over an era of incompetence, corruption, and war. And in that regard it will be simple enough to hang the Bush presidency around the GOP's neck.

At the same time, don't expect conservative elites to come to the same conclusions. They tend to be fully invested in the "not conservative enough" school - or, at the very least, in the notion that Bush was not politically skilled enough to implement a conservative agenda. Both these lines of thought are actually illustrated by the poll Singer referenced in an earlier post, which compared the attitudes of CPAC attendees toward Presidents Reagan and G.W. Bush. In that post, Singer cited the Washington Wire:
Ronald Reagan is alive and well -- at least, he was at the Conservative Political Action Conference over the weekend. In a straw poll of conference participants, 79% said they would support "a Ronald Reagan Republican" for president, while only 3% said they would support a "George W. Bush Republican." Still, 82% said they favor the president's strategy in Iraq.
Singer allows that "these numbers could be as much an indication of respect for Ronald Reagan as they are a sign of disrepect for George W. Bush" - but argues that they nonetheless represent negative attitudes about the Bush presidency that could trickle down to the base. My own estimation would be that the high opinion of Ronald Reagan among conservative elites is directly tied to their discontent with Bush. It's both cause and effect: the more the Bush era fails to redeem the promise of what these elites believe conservative government should achieve, the more Reagan is held up nostalgically as a model for the way things should be. And the more Reagan is valorized, the worse Bush looks by comparison. The CPAC poll was not registering a coincidence, but an ecology of opinion.

Conservative elites do in many ways tend to believe that Bush - Churchillian though he may be - has failed. But they have their own narrative of why and how he has failed, and it has nothing to do with the notion that Bush's conservative policies ruined the country. If any message is going trickle down to the base from the conservative opinion leaders it's this: Unlike Reagan, Bush did not have the political skills or the dedication to implement a truly conservative agenda. This is the message conservative elites will feed into their noise machine, and it's the message that will thus be blasted into the mainstream media as an alternative narrative of the meaning of Bush's failure. And as you'll note, it's a message that ascribes all the disasters of recent years to the president's failure to be effectively conservative enough. It's a message that transforms Bush from albatross to goat.

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As Digby said: "'Conservative' is a magic word that applies to those who are in other conservatives' good graces. Until they aren't. At which point they are liberals."

As Rick Perlstein said, "Conservatism never fails. It is only failed." I.e., by faux conservatives.

Or as my Republican brother-in-law signs his e-mails: "From the ( always ) Right,"

Like belief in pseudosciences from astrology to creationism, conservatism is unfalsifiable.
That's the number one rule, you're right: conservatism is unfalsifiable. I think I'll steal that.
Yes, I agree with this assessment of the polling data. It bugs me to no end - the media right track/wrong track polls - as though it were a bi-directional road. Regarding the "unfalsifiable" allegations, it is not unique to rightwing nuts specifically but rather to all ideological puritan believers. Thus it is true that socialism in practice has failed but never socialism in its pure form because it has never been tried. Excellent Blog - I wish I could articulate my thoughts as well as you.
Thanks ts, and you're right - I've seen the same phenomenon with Marxists.
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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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