Following the publication of Mark Schmitt's "Can Identity Politics Save the Right" (June 2008), our Web editors solicited responses to the article from three leading conservative thinkers. The following are excerpts from each response. To read the full entries, visit our group blog, TAPPED.
The republican party and the conservative movement are facing hard times, and the fault lies squarely within each institution. Mark Schmitt understands this well, even as he gets some particulars wrong. What he misses is that because the wounds are self-inflicted, the Democrats and the American left benefit from a circumstance they did little to create. Herein lie the seeds of a comeback: not in a last-ditch "politics of American-ness" that is as old as American politics itself but in the resolution of the struggle between the two. These days, Democrats run, and usually win, on the message that they are the not-Republicans. The problem with this, for them, is that it leaves Republicans in charge of the brand. When and if the GOP and the conservative movement resolve their differences, American politics will again be conducted on their terms.
Joshua Treviño is a co-founder of Redstate.com and founder of Treviño Strategies and Media, Inc., in Sacramento, California. He was a speech writer in the George W. Bush administration from 2001 through 2004.
What schmitt calls "the politics of American-ness" is also known as nationalism, and he understands it as first and foremost an effort to deny the "American-ness" of vulnerable minorities, in particular minorities of conscience. There is no denying that, as Anatol Lieven among others has argued, American nationalism has at times taken on an ugly form. But the most prevalent form of American nationalism is a liberal or cultural nationalism, not a narrow ethnic nationalism.
Anti-nationalists believe, by definition, that nationalistic appeals are illegitimate, or at the very least distasteful. But anti-nationalists are few and far between in American politics. And indeed, though American nationalism has come to be associated with right-wing jingoism, there is a distinct undercurrent of nationalism in grass-roots opposition to the Iraq War. It also goes without saying that nationalism is integral to the popularity of the hard-edged economic populism of Jim Webb and John Edwards, who vigorously oppose a different set of deracinated cosmopolitans, namely the transnational corporate elite.
Reihan Salam, an associate editor at The Atlantic, is co-author of Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream and the editor of the group blog The American Scene.
It is not the ideology that has failed. Indeed, while the politicians themselves have failed, that is not even the root of the problem. What has really failed is the movement itself. A political movement's support system is its destiny. The right has a support system that ultimately supports the Republican Party, not the ideology. Rather than creating an infrastructure that develops and implements politically viable ideas for effectively limiting government, the right has built an infrastructure for a political party that can appeal to the public's range of "conservative" interests but cannot implement them. The right's infrastructure is sustaining only half of the equation -- the maintenance of power, without the implementation of the vision.
A half-vast right-wing conspiracy is not enough.
Jon Henke is a founding editor of The Next Right and is brand manager at New Media Strategies.
Letters to the editor should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or mailed to The Editors, The American Prospect, 2000 L St., NW, Suite 717, Washington, D.C. 20036.
From the Executive Editor:
Hillary clinton made history over the past year -- just not quite enough of it to win the Democratic nomination for president. In the wake of her campaign's end, the Prospect looks at what it will take for women to make broader gains within the American political system. Ann Friedman, noting that the number of women in public office has plateaued at an abysmally low level, outlines the systemic changes necessary to create a critical mass of female elected officials. Ezra Klein reports on the crucial role that recruitment plays in boosting the number of office holders, and I survey the political and religious cultures of those states that have elected the most women to office. Dana Goldstein profiles Gov. Janet Napolitano of Arizona, a stunningly adept pol who has remained true to progressive principles while retaining the enthusiastic support of her nativist state. And we provide sketches of seven up-and-coming Democratic women who will likely be part of women's next breakthrough in American politics.
Elsewhere, our founding co-editor Bob Kuttner returns from a spring in Europe to report that all is not well on the Continent. The pressures of American-style capitalism gone global have begun to erode Europe's distinctly more humane social capitalism, and the parties of the European center-left have been appallingly eager to help this process along. Where, Kuttner wonders, is the global opposition party? It could come from unions -- or from the presidency of Barack Obama. -- Harold Meyerson
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