“The Fall of Conservatism”

( – promoted by undercovercalico)

George Packer has an interesting analysis of the implosion of the GOP in this week’s New Yorker, which finally landed in my mailbox yesterday.  It’s rather long but well worth reading in full.  He begins in 1966, when Patrick Buchanan went to work for Nixon, and follows the rise of conservatism from that point to the present.  Some of this should sound very familiar, even to those of us who weren’t old enough to follow politics back then:

In order to seize the Presidency in 1968, Nixon had to live down his history of nasty politicking, and he ran that year as a uniter. But his Administration adopted an undercover strategy for building a Republican majority, working to create the impression that there were two Americas: the quiet, ordinary, patriotic, religious, law-abiding Many, and the noisy, élitist, amoral, disorderly, condescending Few.


Taking full advantage of the boiling stew of passions created by the Vietnam War and other cultural changes that shocked the over-30 crowd, Nixon proceeded coldly, heartlessly, to exploit the divisions among the citizenry.  In 1971, Buchanan provided Nixon with a gameplan that

recommended that the White House “exacerbate the ideological division” between the Old and New Left by praising Democrats who supported any of Nixon’s policies; highlight “the elitism and quasi-anti-Americanism of the National Democratic Party”; nominate for the Supreme Court a Southern strict constructionist who would divide Democrats regionally; use abortion and parochial-school aid to deepen the split between Catholics and social liberals; elicit white working-class support with tax relief and denunciations of welfare. Finally, the memo recommended exploiting racial tensions among Democrats.

Sound familiar?  Even Rovian?  Packer argues, however, that

these are the spasms of nerve endings in an organism that’s brain-dead. Among Republicans, there is no energy, no fresh thinking, no ability to capture the concerns and feelings of millions of people. In the past two months, Democratic targets of polarization attacks have won three special congressional elections, in solidly Republican districts in Illinois, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Political tactics have a way of outliving their ability to respond to the felt needs and aspirations of the electorate….

Personally, I think Packer gives David Brooks way too much credit (every time I try to read Brooks, I quit in disgust because he’s always shilling for the administration.  So I’ve simply stopped reading him).  However, Packer makes some excellent points about the lack of interest in governing on the part of–especially–Reagan and chimpy.  He also points out that the American public is much more interested in policy and social programs than the ultrarich wingnut factions that have been ruining the nation.

And Reagan was a poor steward of the unglamorous but necessary operations of the state.


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….

At the end of [1995], when the radical conservatives in the Gingrich Congress shut down the federal government, they learned that the American public was genuinely attached to the modern state. “An anti-government philosophy turned out to be politically unpopular and fundamentally un-American,” Brooks said.

This is particularly cogent:

The orthodoxy that accompanies this kind of insularity has had serious consequences: for years, neither National Review nor Commentary was able to admit that the Iraq war was being lost. Lowry, who received the editorship from Buckley before he turned thirty, told me that he particularly regretted a 2005 cover story he’d written with the headline “WE’RE WINNING.” He said, “Most of the right was in lockstep with Donald Rumsfeld. We didn’t want to admit we were losing and said anyone who said otherwise was a defeatist. One thing I’ve loved about conservatism is its keen sense of reality, and that was totally lost in 2006.” Last year, National Review ran a cover article on global warming, which Lowry, like Brooks, Frum, and other conservatives, listed among the major issues of our time, along with wage stagnation and the breakdown of the family. Although the article, by Jim Manzi, proposed market solutions, the response among some readers, Lowry said, was ” ‘How dare you?’ A bunch of people out there don’t want to hear it-they believe it’s a hoax. That’s the head-in-the-sand response.”

Don’t know about the rest of you: but to me, the GOP hasn’t been a party of “realists” since I first was old enough to vote.  Ideologues, yes, 100%–which is why Reagan stripped out the solar cells that Jimmy Carter installed in the White House (wish I’d remembered to bookmark that link!) and encouraged people to drive fast, and discouraged greater fuel economy.  Which is why the idiots are all driving SUVs today.  [Gah! don’t get me started!]  Packer does point out that the Great Society–which I would say began under FDR although Roosevelt may not have used that term–was pretty much D.O.A. by the time Carter got elected.

But this does not forgive the many sins–sins of commission and sins of omission–of which the GOP has been guilty these past 40 years.  Here in PA, where Gov. Rendell is actually a Dem, he might as well be GOP: he’s selling the PA turnpike.  Outsourcing.  A really bad idea.  Personal experience with outsourcing this stuff?  Well, two years ago we had a good snowstorm in the middle of February (whodathunkit?  geez–snow in Feb.!) and while all the county roads were clear, the city streets were a total mess for a solid week.  Because the  company charged with the clean-up “had other priorities” (I can only assume it’s an affiliate of KBR).

Anyhow, although Packer’s is a very long article, I don’t want to push the limits of fair-use by quoting much more.  He goes on to point out that while conservatives agree that chimpy’s reign has been a failure, they are split on why that is true: the purists say it’s because chimpy didn’t stick to small government (“drown it in the bathtub”) principles; and the realists think it’s because conservatism, like the dinosaurs, has been unable to adapt quickly to a changed environment.

Packer’s concluding pages are a bit of a downer, though: giving advice to Obama and suggesting that McCain might be the only type of Republican who could win over the poor, uneducated, downtrodden white working class.  I may disagree with his conclusions (and I do; it’s no accident that he’s talking about the sort of rural hicks who are no longer a majority in this country), but I just wanted to bring everybody’s attention to a well-researched and well-argued vision of where the GOP is today, how it got there, and–reading between the lines–how our side can exploit their weaknesses.

Please take some time to read the whole thing.  It’s up on The New Yorker website:


and I’d be interested in any and all reactions.

This being a holiday weekend and all, let’s honor our veterans, living and dead, by considering how we can remake this country, and rebrand the GOP for the scum they are.


Skip to comment form

    • Edger on May 24, 2008 at 01:06

    Groping Old Perverts, for one.

    I’m sure there are many more that can be made using the letters.

  1. What a surprise!

    • Robyn on May 25, 2008 at 01:31

    …just 6 minutes after my analysis last night:

    In part:

    They even snagged some crazy TV western dude to be the spokesperson for the movement.  Part of the Buy-centennial Sell-abration.   I guess Charlton Heston was busy.

    So this crazy dude really weirded out the place trying to find his way back to the 50s.  Unfortunately he convinced a lot of other crazy dudes to help him.  After all, the 50s were the days of the military-industrial complex.  What could be better?

    And now we have these other crazy dudes who want to go back to the good old days of that really crazy dude.  And they are joining the first crazy dudes.


    • robodd on May 25, 2008 at 02:00

    and law-abiding?  An Oxymoron.

Comments have been disabled.