Conservatism

I Was a Teenage Conservative

For a young Southern Californian coming of age in the early ’60s, the right with its emphasis on individual freedom was enormously appealing. What better way to rebel against liberal smugness? Then, the right betrayed itself.

Courtesy of the Special Collections at Wofford College
Gregg Segal The author, Steve Erickson, in Los Angeles B arry Goldwater was my first political hero. The most antiauthoritarian figure in mainstream American politics, who said what he thought without giving a damn, he looked and sounded as Western as Arizona, the state he represented in the Senate. Goldwater and John Kennedy hatched plans in the White House—for what they assumed would be their upcoming presidential campaign against each other in 1964—to travel the country in the Arizonan’s small plane that he flew himself, stopping off at airports in the middle of nowhere to debate one issue or another before taking off again. This two-fisted, free-flying persona made Goldwater the kind of politician that film director Howard Hawks might have come up with; by comparison, government couldn’t help appearing soullessly oppressive. Great Society liberalism had become the norm by the mid-1960s, and this reinforced Goldwater’s iconoclasm, striking a politically attuned, insistently...

Party of Rich Guys Suffers from Image as Party of Rich Guys

Typical Republican youth.
Losing is never good for your party's image, but Mitt Romney may have left the GOP in a particularly bad position by reinforcing the party's most unappealing characteristic. As a son of privilege worth hundreds of millions of dollars, Romney would have to have labored hard to convince voters he wouldn't just be a representative of his class, perhaps in the way George W. Bush did 12 years before (though buying a ranch, putting on a cowboy hat, and clearing brush might not have worked as well for Romney). Instead, he did just the opposite, again and again drawing attention to the fact that he was a rich guy representing a party of rich guys ("Corporations are people, my friends," "47 percent"). Combine that with the current argument over upper-income tax cuts, and Republicans are going to have a particularly difficult time in the near future convincing voters they have their interests at heart. Not that this is a new problem. As John Sides explains , "Party images do not change quickly...

Ongoing Conservative Delusions

Ted Cruz, the future of the Republican party. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
There's a phenomenon I've long noticed among liberals dissatisfied with Barack Obama, whereby they'll say, "He's never said X!", with X being some kind of defense of liberal values or articulation of the liberal position on a particular issue. But if you look through his speeches and comments, you'll find that just about every time, he has in fact said whatever it is he's being blamed for never saying. Maybe he hasn't said it often enough for your liking, but the real problem is probably that saying it didn't have the effect you wanted. I thought of that reading this article by Molly Ball about a gathering of conservatives yesterday at which new senator Ted Cruz of Texas was the headliner: "More than a few conservatives say, well, if the voters want to bankrupt our country, let them suffer the consequences," he said. But the real problem, Cruz said, was that "Republicans were curled up in the fetal position, so utterly terrified of the words 'George W. Bush'" -- for whom Cruz once...

Grover's World

Flickr/Donkey Hotey
(Flickr/Gage Skidmore) Grover Norquist W ashington is full of advocates and lobbyists, working in organizations both large and small. The ones that we think of as the most powerful, like the AARP or the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, are huge operations with armies of people swarming Capitol Hill and deluging reporters with press releases. Then there's Grover Norquist. One guy (actually a guy with an organization, Americans for Tax Reform), with one issue who has done such a spectacular job of bending Washington to his will that he has become a national figure. In the upcoming Congress, there will be 234 Republicans, 219 of whom have signed The Pledge, the promise never to raise taxes. In the Senate, there will be 45 Republicans, 39 of whom have signed. The Pledge (you can see it here ; it's all of 60 words) commits its signatories not only to "oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and/or businesses," but also to "oppose any net reduction or...

The Rewards and Pitfalls of Ideological Dissent

Bruce Bartlett, talking to a bunch of liberals.
At any given time, there will be a few people celebrated among partisans on each side in Washington because they have left their own tribe and come to the other side to assure them that their opponents are just as terrible as they imagined. The apostate promises not only a validation of what you believed, but a thrilling insider perspective on the other side's true nature. Becoming one of these dissidents is surely painful, but it also promises both professional opportunity and intellectual satisfaction, as you may well find yourself lauded more often and more loudly than you had been when you were just one of hundreds of operatives or thinkers on your own side. In the American Conservative , Bruce Bartlett, a longtime conservative who served in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, worked at numerous conservative think-tanks, and was a member in good standing of the right's intellectual elite until he turned on George W. Bush and began rethinking some of his ideas about...

Remember that Provisional Ballot Problem?

(Flickr/Joe Hall)
Ohio has finally begun to tally provisional ballots. This was supposed to be the moment we were all waiting for—back when the presidential election was going to be airtight and everyone was worried about elections administration in the ultimate battleground. Instead, the Obama campaign won a decisive victory, so few kept following the counting in Ohio. But even without an audience, the state's court battles continued well after Election Day. While the presidential race may not hang in the balance, the outcomes of two legislative races will determine a whether Republican lawmakers have a supermajority—which would allow them to easily pass a conservative agenda, including more attempts at voter suppression. “I think Ohio dodged a proverbial bullet,” said Ned Foley, the head of Ohio State’s Moritz Law Center. Still, Foley is quick to point out, “The focus has gone away but that doesn’t mean the vulnerabilities don’t exist.” The most recent fights have been over how to count provisional...

No, Conservatives, Benghazi Is Not Worse Than Watergate

Richard Nixon delivering his resignation speech.
On Friday, I got into a little Twitter tete-a-tete with Jim Treacher of the Daily Caller over this post I wrote last week, which argued that the reason conservatives are acting as though the aftermath of the events in Benghazi is the scandal of the century is that they're frustrated that Barack Obama hasn't had a major scandal, so they're making as big a deal as possible out of whatever's handy. What ensued opened my eyes to something I found surprising, though I suppose I shouldn't have been so naïve. It turns out that many conservatives not only believe Benghazi is far, far more serious than Watergate was, they seem to have no idea what Watergate was actually about or how far-reaching it was. After the number of Treacher's followers tweeting me with "How many people died in Watergate? Huh? Huh?" reached triple digits (each tweet no doubt considered by its author to be a snowflake of insight), I decided that since the story broke 40 years ago, we all might need a reminder of why...

Putting Faith in the Conservative Creed

(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
As Democrats continue to bask in the post-election schadenfreude of watching Republicans weep and gnash their teeth at losing the presidential election, the sense that conservatives are the architects of their own misery is only enhancing liberal glee. It seems the initial shock hasn’t warn off: In a conference call with his fundraising team, Mitt Romney is still blaming his loss on those freeloading Americans who wanted stuff. Clearly, the only explanation for all this delusion is that conservative media and campaign consultants, steeped in years of confidently lying about everything from global warming to the causes of the deficit, got a little too bold about their ability to create their own realities. The only question is whether conservatives will learn their lesson and exhibit more skepticism about their self-selected news media in the future. The answer is almost surely no, for a very good reason: Conservative credulousness is so baked into the culture of the right that it...

When Majorities Don't Mean Control

(Flickr/ johan weiland)
In the Empire State, winning elections doesn’t always translate into power it seems. Next year, Democrats will likely have a majority of seats in the state’s upper chamber. But they aren’t likely to control it. It’s one of the stranger outcomes of the latest election. Just getting a majority of seats was impressive. Since 1965, the Democrats only controlled the chamber once, in the 2009-2010 session. The party had conceded easy victories, agreeing to a deal in which the GOP drew Senate districts in exchange for a more favorable Democratic map in the state Assembly. But in the end, they had a lot to celebrate. Two Democratic incumbents held their seats against tough challenges, while an open seat in Rochester, previously held by the GOP, switched hands. Perhaps most exciting for the long-suffering party, in the “super Jewish” district, former Councilman Simcha Felder beat the incumbent senator with a commanding 67 percent. In total, Democrats have a 31-30 majority, with two races still...

Colorado Voters' Power of the Purse

Current and former lawmakers are taking the Taxpayer Bill of Rights to court for a second opinion.

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
(AP Photo/Ed Andrieski) Workers install a large U.S. flag and a Colorado State Seal on the west side of the Capitol in Denver on Friday, January 7, 2011, as part of the decoration for the inauguration of Governor-elect John Hickenlooper. M any states have provisions designed to limit the amount of taxes their legislatures can raise, but only Colorado has gone so far as to pass the Taxpayer Bill of Rights. Known as TABOR, Colorado’s unique constellation of confusing laws prevents the state legislature from raising taxes without public approval and caps the amount the government can spend in a way that’s designed to shrink it over time. All levels of government—city, county, and state—are limited in what they can spend by a complicated formula, which basically indexes revenue to inflation plus population growth. If the tax revenues the state and local governments collect in any given year are higher than the cap, which happens in good economic times or when there is an influx of new...

Progressives: The Biggest Winners of State Ballot Measures

(AP Photo/Reed Saxon)
Liberals had a lot to celebrate on election night, from the outcome of the presidential race to a number of major Senate wins. But less noticed on the whole was the stunning display of progressive power in ballot measures across the country. From gay marriage to marijuana legalization, from teachers unions to school funding, voters on the whole supported a progressive agenda in the 2012 election. State policy not only carries major implications for the lives of state residents, it also helps set the stage for national debates on issues . In a number of states, voters were deciding the direction of public education; in others, the fate of union power. Election night brought some big victories for liberals, albeit with a few defeats. Here are the most notable winners and losers. WINNERS Teachers Over the cries of teachers' groups, legislatures around the country have passed a number of reform laws, expanding the role of testing and decreasing educators' contract protections. But on...

Land of the "Free Stuff," Home of the Brave

(AP Photo/Jeff Christensen)
If you want to explain why your party lost a presidential election, there are a number of places to look. You can blame your candidate and his campaign (which usually means, "If only they had listened to me!"). You can blame your party and ask if it should examine its ideology or its rhetoric. You can blame the media. Or you can blame the voters. As the old political saw says, "The people have spoken—the bastards." And that is what one conservative after another has been saying over the last week. They aren't saying that the voters are uninformed, or that they allowed themselves to be duped. Instead, Barack Obama's re-election is said to be a moral failing on the part of the American public. They got what they wanted, conservatives are saying. And what was it they wanted? Universal health coverage, higher taxes on the wealthy, strong environmental regulations, legal abortion? Nope. They wanted free stuff. Because that's just how those people are. This was perhaps articulated most...

Democrats Make Gains in Statehouses, but Republicans Still Dominate

(Flickr/Jim Bowen)
After the Republicans swept to power in state legislatures across the country in 2010, the situation for state-level Democrats couldn't get much worse. The Grand Old Party won control of 21 house and senate chambers, and gained supermajorities in several states. Progressive and independent-leaning states like Maine and Minnesota were suddenly dominated by conservative legislators. Democrats had little power to stop the wave of cuts to public education, health care, and other social services that the new Tea Party lawmakers pushed for—decisions with long-term costs, particularly to marginalized populations . And when the new Census results came in, it was those Republican majorities that redrew political districts to favor their own party. In spite of partisan redistricting, Democrats fared much better in the states this year—though not nearly as well as the party did in federal elections. Democrats retook seven chambers, including both house and senate in Minnesota and Maine (where...

The Future of the White Man's Party

(AP Photo/Nick Ut)
(AP Photo/Nick Ut) Former California governor Pete Wilson with his wife Gayle in 1995. During his tenure, Wilson promoted Proposition 187, which would have denied all public services to undocumented immigrants—a move that is credited with turning Latinos in the state against the GOP. O ver the past 15 years, California’s electorate has changed so dramatically and so quickly that Democrats have often won victories they weren’t even anticipating. In 1998, no one expected Gray Davis to win the governor’s office by 20 percentage points, and the tightly wound Davis, who had no life outside politics, was plainly bewildered by his own emotions during his victory speech on the night of the landslide. This week, no one expected the Democrats to win two-thirds of the seats in the state Assembly (they did expect to win that many in the state Senate, which they did), yet the Democrats won those seats going away. As California law requires a two-thirds vote in both legislative houses to raise any...

A Letter to Conservatives

Flickr/Macxbebe
Dear Friends, This is a hard time, I know. We've all been there—it hurts when your candidate loses, and you realize that all the people and policies you hate will be in place for the next four years. But let me suggest that while you're perfectly justified in crying, wailing, beating your breasts and rending your garments, you should try to keep your sanity. Not only will it be good for the country, it'll be good for you too. There are some in your party who will be driven insane by Barack Obama's re-election, and will try to pull you down with them into a pit of fear and hate where there is only suffering and political defeat to be found. They will be spinning out conspiracy theories and talking of impeachment. Don't listen to them. Barack Obama has done many things you don't like, and will continue to do so over the next four years. But being (something of) a liberal is not the same as being corrupt, and policies you disagree with are not the same as tyranny. If you can't tell the...

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