alien & sedition.
Monday, April 30, 2007
  What's Eating the GOP? (Part 1)

There's a very interesting conversation going in the conservative intellectual blogosphere over yesterday's David Brooks column, in which Brooks warns Republicans that, unless they take the public desire for change seriously, they are headed for an even greater electoral disaster next year than the one they faced last November. Brooks wonders at the "strange passivity" among Republicans who may be personally disgusted with the state of both the nation and their party, yet who seem paralyzed by an inability to offer any creativity or initiative of their own.

Brooks criticizes the current crop of GOP presidential contenders for surpressing what he believes to be their creative instincts in favor of ill-considered efforts to come across as "the next George Allen -- a bland, orthodox candidate who will not challenge any of the party’s customs or prejudices":
Mitt Romney created an interesting health care reform, but he’s suppressing that in an effort to pretend to be George Allen. Rudy Giuliani has an unusual profile that won him a majority of votes on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, of all places, but he’s suppressing that to be George Allen. John McCain has a record on taxes and spending that suggests he really could take on entitlements. But at least until last week, he suppressed that in order not to offend the George Allen vote.

And just in case any of these George Allen wannabes weren’t George Allen enough for voters, Fred Thompson may enter the race as the Authentic Conservative, even though deep in his heart he’s no more George Allen than the rest of them.
Why the malaise? Brooks lists a few reasons, including a "bunker mentality" and a mindless "teamism." More interestingly, he suggests that the conservative movement itself is hampering the GOP, locking the party into an orthodoxy enforced by James Dobson's veto over social policy innovation, and the Club for Growth's veto over new economic ideas.

But the most oppressive veto may be the one exercised by Ronald Reagan's ghost. We at A&S haven't been the only observers to note the crippling thrall into which conservatives have fallen when it comes to the Gipper. Brooks describes it particularly well:
Conservatives have allowed a simplistic view of Ronald Reagan to define the sacred parameters of thought. Reagan himself was flexible, unorthodox and creative. But conservatives have created a mythical, rigid Reagan, and any deviation from that is considered unholy.
It's hard not to suggest that conservatives are being damaged by a number of their own political personality traits: their tendency towards hero-worship, as well as their habit of simplifying and personalizing complex issues. Having reached a consensus about the Greatness of Ronald Reagan, and learned to define the virtues of their own movement through what they agree to be Reagan's virtues, they've painted themselves into a rather narrow -- if warm and bright -- historical spot. And it's not one very well positioned in the current political context.

I think Brooks has done well to diagnose much of what ails the GOP at the moment, though I'd add a couple factors of my own. For one thing, Republicans are simply suffering the effects of a bankrupt administration. There's no greater engine for political idea-making in American politics than the White House, which can draw upon the best talent its party has to offer, and can keep armies of wonks employed at agencies and departments across the executive branch. When the Democrats lost the White House, they lost their intellectual center -- the resulting hole in the party can be blamed for a good amount of the political chaos that followed. Republicans, though, are cursed with a somewhat different problem: the Bush administration continues to act as an enormous center of gravity for the GOP, yet it's void of political credibility and hanging obdurately onto ideas that have long since lost their appeal to almost anyone not on the executive payroll. Bush's White House has become a massive intellectual deadweight for Republicans.

The other problem for conservatives, as I tend to bang on about, is that it's unclear that they have any realistic ideas for accomplishing what they have declared, over the past several decades, to be their primary political mission: fundamentally altering the size and the role of the federal government. Their destructive obsession with Reagan is probably both a symptom and a cause -- but only one cause -- of this problem. Compassionate conservatism was meant to be a way around this dilemma, but it has, by all appearances, failed. Still, its legacy lives on for conservatives, who may hate the compassionate conservative brand, but cannot avoid grappling with the problem it was meant to solve -- as we'll see.

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"An obscure but fantastic blog." - Markus Kolic


Critical analysis of the American conservative movement from a progressive perspective. Also some stuff about the Mets.

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