Are we watching the death agony of American Conservativism – even if Bush wins on Tuesday? Mark Schmitt, over at The Decembrist is convinced of it. His polemic caught my attention last week and I’ve been meaning to post on it and have just gotten around to it. Make sure you read his entire essay but here are some of Schmitt’s assertions:
Even if Bush is reelected by a sizable margin, the intellectual enterprise known as modern American conservatism has been utterly shattered and bankrupt. This is not Bush's achievement alone, but the Republican Congress's as well, the result of a long era of decadence and self-dealing that began with conservatism's triumph in 1994…
If Bush loses, serious conservatives, with the possible exception of extreme social conservatives, will have to ask themselves what they gained from four years of unfettered power, and ten years of domination of American politics. Government is "bigger" by every measure, and more intrusive. A pet idea, Social Security privatization, was actually discredited by their president's incompetence. Younger voters are increasingly turned off by the social conservatism, so the movement is not expanding its base. A huge new entitlement was created. The federal role in education expanded. And poor planning and dishonesty over Iraq weakened our defense, our credibility, and made it impossible to set a clear standard for when we would intervene and when not.
All the tax cuts have done is to postpone the day we pay for these things.
And if Bush wins, all this will still be true. Especially after a vicious campaign that offered no clear and persuasive conservative vision, it will be no easier for Bush to enact a conservative mandate. The corrupt short-term political bargains will only continue. If Bush wins, Karl Rove may be deemed a tactical genius, but the chances of a significant ideological realignment of American politics are lower than at any time since 2000. A smart conservative would surely prefer Bush to lose, if only to get the long process of intellectual rebuilding started right away.
Schmitt points to four pieces of reading published over the last month from conservatives who have peeled away from Bush and others who have analyzed the coming GOP crack-up.
First among them comes from Robert George, a former Gingrich staffer and a current member of the New York Post edit board. Writing in The New Republic he calls himself a “conscientious objector” who cannot vote for George W. Bush. Read it.
Next comes a startling essay from Marshall Wittman, a “Bull Moose” Republican who has worked as legislative director for the Christian Coalition, the Heritage Foundation and who until a few weeks ago served as a ranking staffer for John McCain. Now he’s jumped ship and joined up with Democratic Leadership Council. This is a must-read (Pop quiz coming!).
Schmitt also points to the excellent piece in the Washington Monthly by Benjamin Wallace-Wells who argues that the “hidebound” GOP of today is in worse shape than the hopeless Dems of the 1970’s (and 80’s and 90’s and 2004 I might add).
Finally there are the public divorces from Bush staged by Iraq hawks like Andrew Sullivan and Daniel Drezner .
I think Schmitt is at least partially correct. It’s undeniable that GW Bush has battered the core conservative principles and that a majority of the U.S. population would have little taste for their strict application in any case.
By no means does this mean a collapse of the Right. No more than the sorrowful slow-motion capitulation and decay of Liberalism that began in the Gulf of Tonkin and climaxed on Monica’s blue dress meant a disappearance of the Democrats. But mpre often than not, great political movements get killed off much more efficiently by their own corrupted spawn than by rival predators. It took an LBJ to sap the life out of the New Deal traditions; only Peronista Carlos Menem could finally strangle the Peronistas and Castro is most definitely the grave-digger of Castroism. Maybe we finally have something to be grateful for about George W. Bush.
As I’ve argued in the comments section the last few days, what America most needs is a radical populist re-alignment that shakes off the stale categories of the last half-century, transcending both traditional Liberalism and Conservativism. We can hope.