May 29, 1453

(10 am – promoted by ek hornbeck)

I’m not sure if all of you have seen George Packer’s New Yorker piece, The Fall of Conservatism.  Even though it’s datelined today, it’s been floating around the blogosphere for a couple of days now.

What struck me about it is how transparently and cynically based on greed, ignorance, racism, misogyny, bigotry, intolerance, and fear Republican.  Party.  Conservatism. is.  It is an anti-democratic in the little ‘d’ sense ideology of a sado-masochistic society where all you get is abuse and the only satisfaction you can have is in your ability to abuse others, a frantic ass chasing dance to see who you can stick the boot in before your butt is kicked.

At it’s heart is a pessimistic view that things will never again be as good as they once were, a backwards looking denial of change except for the worse.  If insanity is repeating the same actions and expecting different results as a political philosophy it is clinical.

As Packer’s interview with Buchanan shows, Republicans have been pushing the fear button really hard for a very long time now.  Communists and Crime, Guns and Gays, your life is spiraling out of control so you should hate and envy those who are different.  Why should they feel any better than you, what right do they have not to be panicing?  Conservatism is about making everyone’s life as miserable and empty as yours is.

It’s all about the self loathing.  They want to be able to express their shameful prejudices in public and force the rest of us to applaud.  They project their own base crimes and secret sins as the general human condition and it almost never occurs to them that perhaps one should aspire to better.  Instead they celebrate their coarse nature, wallowing in the nakedness and audacity of their con games, scams, and lies.

What’s more below is a few quotes that illustrate the shallowness and bankrupcy of Republican Party Conservatism.  I can only count it a good thing if the coming election reduces it to regional irrelevancy along with the 30% at the bottom of the Bell curve who still believe in phallic fairytales of American Exceptionalism.

The Fall of Conservatism

Have the Republicans run out of ideas?

by George Packer, The New Yorker

May 26, 2008

The era of American politics that has been dying before our eyes was born in 1966. That January, a twenty-seven-year-old editorial writer for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat named Patrick Buchanan went to work for Richard Nixon, who was just beginning the most improbable political comeback in American history. Having served as Vice-President in the Eisenhower Administration, Nixon had lost the Presidency by a whisker to John F. Kennedy, in 1960, and had been humiliated in a 1962 bid for the California governorship. But he saw that he could propel himself back to power on the strength of a new feeling among Americans who, appalled by the chaos of the cities, the moral heedlessness of the young, and the insults to national pride in Vietnam, were ready to blame it all on the liberalism of President Lyndon B. Johnson. Right-wing populism was bubbling up from below; it needed to be guided by a leader who understood its resentments because he felt them, too.

“From Day One, Nixon and I talked about creating a new majority,” Buchanan told me recently, sitting in the library of his Greek-revival house in McLean, Virginia, on a secluded lane bordering the fenced grounds of the Central Intelligence Agency. “What we talked about, basically, was shearing off huge segments of F.D.R.’s New Deal coalition, which L.B.J. had held together: Northern Catholic ethnics and Southern Protestant conservatives-what we called the Daley-Rizzo Democrats in the North and, frankly, the Wallace Democrats in the South.” Buchanan grew up in Washington, D.C., among the first group-men like his father, an accountant and a father of nine, who had supported Roosevelt but also revered Joseph McCarthy. The Southerners were the kind of men whom Nixon whipped into a frenzy one night in the fall of 1966, at the Wade Hampton Hotel, in Columbia, South Carolina. Nixon, who was then a partner in a New York law firm, had travelled there with Buchanan on behalf of Republican congressional candidates. Buchanan recalls that the room was full of sweat, cigar smoke, and rage; the rhetoric, which was about patriotism and law and order, “burned the paint off the walls.” As they left the hotel, Nixon said, “This is the future of this Party, right here in the South.”

Polarization is the theme of Rick Perlstein’s new narrative history “Nixonland” (Scribners), which covers the years between two electoral landslides: Barry Goldwater’s defeat in 1964 and George McGovern’s in 1972. During that time, Nixon figured out that he could succeed politically “by using the angers, anxieties, and resentments produced by the cultural chaos of the 1960s,” which were also his own. In Perlstein’s terms, America in the sixties was divided, like the Sneetches on Dr. Seuss’s beaches, into two social clubs: the Franklins, who were the in-crowd at Nixon’s alma mater, Whittier College; and the Orthogonians, a rival group founded by Nixon after the Franklins rejected him, made up of “the strivers, those not to the manor born, the commuter students like him. He persuaded his fellows that reveling in one’s unpolish was a nobility of its own.” Orthogonians deeply resented Franklins, which, as Perlstein sees it, explains just about everything that happened between 1964 and 1972: Nixon resented the Kennedys and clawed his way back to power; construction workers resented John Lindsay and voted conservative; National Guardsmen resented student protesters and opened fire on them. Perlstein sustains these categories throughout the book, without quite noticing that his scheme breaks down under the pressure of his central historical insight-“America was engulfed in a pitched battle between the forces of darkness and the forces of light. The only thing was: Americans disagreed radically over which side was which.” In other words, by 1972 there were hardly any Franklins left-only former Franklins who had thrown off their dinner jackets, picked up a weapon, and joined the brawl. The sixties, which began in liberal consensus over the Cold War and civil rights, became a struggle between two apocalyptic politics that each saw the other as hellbent on the country’s annihilation. The result was violence like nothing the country had seen since the Civil War, and Perlstein emphasizes that bombings, assaults, and murders committed by segregationists, hardhats, and vigilantes on the right were at least as numerous as those by radical students and black militants on the left. Nixon claimed to speak on behalf of “the nonshouters, the nondemonstrators,” but the cigar smokers in that South Carolina hotel were intoxicated with hate.

After Reagan and the end of the Cold War, conservatism lost the ties that had bound together its disparate factions-libertarians, evangelicals, neoconservatives, Wall Street, working-class traditionalists. Without the Gipper and the Evil Empire, what was the organizing principle? In 1994, the conservative journalist David Frum surveyed the landscape and published a book called “Dead Right.” Reagan, he wrote, had offered his “Morning in America” vision, and the public had rewarded him enormously, but in failing to reduce government he had allowed the welfare state to continue infantilizing the public, weakening its moral fibre. That November, Republicans swept to power in Congress and imagined that they had been deputized by the voters to distill conservatism into its purest essence. Newt Gingrich declared, “On those things which are at the core of our philosophy and on those things where we believe we represent the vast majority of Americans, there will be no compromise.” Instead of just limiting government, the Gingrich revolutionaries set out to disable it. Although the legislative reins were in their hands, these Republicans could find no governmental projects to organize their energy around. David Brooks said, “The only thing that held the coalition together was hostility to government.” When the Times Magazine asked William Kristol what ideas he was for-in early 1995, high noon of the Gingrich Revolution-Kristol could think to mention only school choice and “shaping the culture.”

Instead of governing, the Republican majority in Congress-along with right-wing authors, journalists, talk-radio personalities, think tanks, and foundations-surrendered to the negative strain of modern conservatism. As political strategy, this strain went back to the Nixon era, but its philosophical roots were older and deeper. It extended back to William F. Buckley, Jr.,’s mission statement, in the inaugural issue of National Review, in 1955, that the new magazine “stands athwart history, yelling Stop”; and to Goldwater’s seminal 1960 book, “The Conscience of a Conservative,” in which he wrote, “I have little interest in streamlining government or in making it more efficient, for I mean to reduce its size. I do not undertake to promote welfare, for I propose to extend freedom. My aim is not to pass laws, but to repeal them. It is not to inaugurate new programs, but to cancel old ones.” By the end of the century, a movement inspired by sophisticated works such as Russell Kirk’s 1953 “The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot” churned out degenerate descendants with titles like “How to Talk to a Liberal (If You Must).” Shortly after engineering President Bill Clinton’s impeachment on a narrow party-line basis, Gingrich was gone.


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  1. Well, I had intended this as a Stars Hollow Gazette, but it’s A Ok with me and I suspect it will end up on the Front Page at some point anyway.

    And if not so be it.

  2. …mixing up ideologies of libertarianism, authoritarianism, and conservatism as if they are interchangable.  It is only possible to see these various values as united because of the strange happenstance of the American two-party system.  They are as unrelated as the concern for civil rights and socialism, although those two camps seem also to be “linked” due to our particular system.

    Merely to link Goldwater to Nixon intellectually is to misunderstand history.  Which doesn’t suggest that one must respect either, but one must at least understand the total difference in values.  Lions and crocodiles are both predators, but quite different ones.

    • 3card on May 26, 2008 at 10:13

    …is Constantine XI ‘Conservatism’ really dead, or just turned to stone and waiting under the earth to be brought back to life?  

    And does that make us the Ottomans?  

    I’m confused.

  3. The problem with this stuff…this analysis of “current” events is that what is happening is a WORLD WIDE movement (whose roots are historical ..not contemporary) toward the right or conservatism or Capitalism or fundamentalism…it isn’t happening only in this country (Russia, China, the mideast) …and it is going strong and isn’t about to stop. What does happen is ebbs and flows…two steps to the right and one step back toward the left and two steps to the right….then people get confused and imagine that if Barak Obama is elected it will have a major rather than a minor (one step backward) impact.

    If you haven’t noticed yet…the USA has been becoming more conservatve for about 40 years….

    People are getting confused over “ideas”….as if “ideas” are propelling this movement…

    The movement is historical and it is more powerful than anyone’s ideas…it is propelling the world toward …what appears to me….to be a conclusion resulting in the destruction of mankind as we now know it…

    What do you do?

    I don’t know….try to understand it…what is this historical movement and what is the TRUTH about the present..

    You cannot arrive there by “framing” things and being “clever” politically….

    It’s probably too late…but no harm in trying.

  4. And as the world becomes more densely populated, it will become increasingly easier to scare people, because there are more “threats”. Add in the entertainment factor, being so absorbed by being entertained that the 30 second sound bite is the basis of political intelligence, and it is easy to see the two step right-one step left scenario stu piddy alluded to above playing out.

    Are we doomed? As a species, no, as a culture most assuredly. I have no doubt that we are in the latter days of the materialistic, consumer driven society we have all grown up in. The guy that predicted ozone holes in the 70s is now saying that somewhere around 300,000,000 humans will be left surviving on the northern extremes of the land masses, in 100 years.

    We have squandered earth resources, given up thinking, and are just now, on a global level, beginning to understand the extent of the environmental damage we have done. All these are reasons to fear… something. Sure, the political coalition of Newt Gingrich may be on the ropes, but those that profit, quite literally, from manipulating us will come back, time after time, until mere survival of the individual is all that matters. At that point there is no profit to be made, and the conservative movement will truly, and finally, die.  

    • robodd on May 26, 2008 at 19:30

    and speaking of “wallowing in the nakedness and audacity of their con games, scams, and lies” read Kristol’s use of Memorial Day editorial in today’s NYT, in which he uses the holiday, the death and dismemberment and other solider sacrifice to tell America, purportedly on behalf of “[m]any men and women in the military” that they are “not confident that their fellow citizens are aware of what is being accomplished in Iraq” i.e., that they want to be there and that we are winning.

    The audacity and sheer lack of scruple is outrageous.

    • kj on May 28, 2008 at 15:04

    a thanks in advance (and yet, curiously, also belated) for this essay, Ek, although i haven’t had time to read.

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