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.
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.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.
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.
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.