alien & sedition.
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
  On Movement-Building and Politician-Hatred

More on the conversation about "Conservatism 2.0"... I should point out that in this analysis, the new movement is meant to be an upgrade over the first generation of the "online right" (e.g. Drudge, Free Republic, Instapundit, etc.) -- in other words, the "1.0" implied here is not necessarily the whole post-Goldwater conservative movement per se. My own analysis, though, is that that whole movement is in fact at a crossroads, and that the challenge facing next generation activists like Patrick Ruffini and Soren Dayton is not just to redeem the movement of the 1990s, but to find a new logic for a coalition that was in fact assembled beginning in the 1950s. This means the problem goes considerably beyond issues of technology -- though Ruffini and Dayton seem to understand that.

Ruffini asks, "when does Movement 2.0 get started?" Do conservatives have to wait for Hillary Clinton to galvanize them? If so, why hasn't that begun to happen already? And just what is the conservative relationship to the Republican party these days? Dayton points out that, just as the online left is about "basic politics, constituencies, etc., rather than technology," so the new new right will need an organizing principle -- and he reviews a few possibilities. Ruffini responds with some agenda ideas of his own.

I want to comment on a few aspects of this exchange; I'll break up my thoughts into two or three posts. As with the Ruffini-Dayton discussion of a couple months ago, there are very real implications here as to what may become of our conservative political opponents over the next decade or two.

My first thought is on the question of whether Hillary Clinton can serve as an organizing catalyst for a movement -- whether any person can really do so -- and on how much significance lies in the difference between a catalyst and a principle. Ruffini writes that "opposition galvanizes political movements, and not just online" -- and I don't disagree. On the other hand, as he acknowledges, there hasn't been much galvanizing going on so far:
But a lot of folks also hoped that we’d be at least partly there by now. With Hillary looking good on the Democratic side, and Republicans in the opposition (and on offense) in Congress, have things gotten any better? Is there any evidence that the Stop Her Now stuff that was so effective in 2000 is working this time around? I haven’t gotten as many direct mail letters or fundraising e-mails with Hillary front and center as I would have expected by now.
The other side of this coin is Dayton's assumption (shared with most of his conservative compatriots) that "opposition to Bush," or, in a more common phrasing, "Bush-hating," has worked as an "organizing principle" for the progressive netroots. As Dayton himself notes, such a "principle" is not the same thing as an actual idea.

By now the endless harping about "Bush-hatred" (the subtext is always: "irrational Bush-hatred") has grown stale enough that it's hardly worth the exercise of trying to parse and explain how liberals actually feel about the man and his administration. I'm content enough to reply that "Bush-hatred" is in fact a rational thing. Beyond that, the notions that people tend to personalize politics, and that "opposition galvanizes political movements," are basically truisms. It would be silly to claim that intense anger at George W. Bush hasn't helped fuel the growth of the new progressive movement -- both online and off (movements, plural, if you prefer).

I don't think I'm saying anything with which Ruffini or Dayton would disagree (other than the part about Bush-hatred being rational), and they seem to recognize that progressives have been working to lay far more durable foundations for our movement. Opposition can galvanize a movement, but it does not make a movement. Progressives are in fairly broad agreement on a number of policy fronts, among them the need for universal health care, for an end to the war in Iraq and a rational, multilateral foreign policy, for serious efforts to address the climate change crisis, for the protection of social security, for the preservation of the balance of powers and a more transparent, ethical government, and so on. Devotion to those ideas is precisely what fuels "Bush-hatred." Contrary to caricature, we don't all loathe the Bush administration because Dubya is a bumbling fake cowboy. We loathe it because it tramples on our principles and in so doing, in our estimation, seriously harms America.

I often get the sense that conservatives talking about "Bush-hatred" are projecting based on their own experience of Clinton-hatred during the 1990s -- making it all the more ironic that some of them seem to be waiting with bated breath for a chance to experience the hate all over again. But Clinton-hatred, I think, was a symptom of a decadent and confused conservativism. Some of it was no doubt fueled by rage at the Clenis (despite, or perhaps because of, the sick hypocrisy of so many of the president's prominent critics). But it really took off after the GOP's defeat in the 1995 budget showdown, and culminated in impeachment -- its purest and most impotent expression. Clinton-hatred was what the conservative movement turned to when it abandoned political philosophy. It amazes me that serious conservatives are nostalgic for it today.

One could defend conservatives, arguing that Clinton-hatred derived from the very sort of frustration I described liberals as experiencing -- that it was the product of a movement frustrated by its inability to legislate according to its own principles. Let's say we express all these frustrations affirmatively, as political ideas. What causes were lost to the conservatives, that drove them over the edge? Were they causes with which the majority of Americans would identify?

If politician-hatred is ultimately a manifestation of frustration over thwarted principles, perhaps it's better to lay our principles on the table. Again, progressives have health care, an end to the Iraq war, etc. What do conservatives have? Are they politically viable ideas? This is where Ruffini and Dayton turn next. In the meantime, I'd suggest that anyone looking to Clinton-hatred to kickstart Conservatism 2.0 isn't addressing the root challenge facing the right.

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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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