Conservatism

Why Republicans Won't Get Specific

This squirrel sees right through you, McConnell. (Flickr/Californian Em)
A few years ago, somebody (forgive me for forgetting who it was) suggested that newspapers should have a daily feature called "Things That Are Still True," which would remind readers of important facts that are still important even if they haven't generated news in the sense of being new. In that spirit, during the current budgetary debate it's a good time to remember what I think is one of the three or four most enduring and important facts about American politics and public opinion. Almost half a century ago, Lloyd Free and Hadley Cantril argued that Americans as a whole were ideologically conservative but operationally liberal, meaning that in broad terms they like "small government," but when one gets specific it turns out they like almost everything government does, and want it to do even more of it. This fact explains practically everything about how the Republican and Democratic parties set about appealing to voters. Republicans talk in broad, ideological terms about small...

Election Officials Defend Their Partisan Status

Flickr/Steve Rhodes
This campaign cycle, even election rules were grounds for partisan fighting. Republican Ken Detzner, Florida’s secretary of state, attempted a purge of the voter rolls, prompting accusations of discrimination. In Colorado, Secretary of State Scott Gessler, also a Republican, tinkered with a similar effort. Pennsylvania’s Secretary of the Commonwealth Carole Aichele, another Republican appointed by Governor Tom Corbett, openly supported the state’s voter-ID law. Most famously, there was Jon Husted, Ohio’s Republican secretary of state, whose decision to limit early-voting hours to keep them consistent across the state prompted cries of outrage. All of the partisan wrangling makes Wisconsin, which has a nonpartisan model for running elections , look pretty appealing. In 2008, the Badger State created Government Accountability Board, a group of retired judges approved by members of both parties who administer elections for the state. While it doesn’t stop legislative tinkering—the state...

Conservatives Get Glum

Flickr/Kristina Alexanderson
A look around the web today makes clear that the crisis of American conservatism in general, and conservatives' relationship to the media in particular, is clearly our topic. First, none other than William Kristol, the very axis about whom the Republican establishment spins, is extremely worried about what has become of his movement: And the conservative movement​—​a bulwark of American strength for the last several decades​—​is in deep disarray. Reading about some conservative organizations and Republican campaigns these days, one is reminded of Eric Hoffer’s remark, “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.” It may be that major parts of American conservatism have become such a racket that a kind of refounding of the movement as a cause is necessary. A reinvigoration of the Republican party also seems desirable, based on a new generation of leaders, perhaps coming​—​as did Ike and Reagan​—​from outside the normal channels...

Political Punishment as Policy

AP Photo/Paul Sancya
Michigan is about to become a right-to-work state and according to Republicans, labor brought it on itself. That’s because on the November ballot, labor groups put a measure to enshrine collective-bargaining rights into the state Constitution. The measure failed, but for daring to wage the campaign, the unions need to be punished, it seems. Governor Rick Snyder previously avoided right-to-work legislation. "One of my concerns was about raising the whole profile of the discussion about labor issues," Snyder said in an interview with MLive . “I said it could stir up the whole topic that we're discussing right now—right to work—or freedom to choose is the way I prefer to look at it.” Greg McNeilly, who runs the pro-right to work PAC Michigan Freedom Fund, put it even more bluntly. “Bob King put this on the agenda,” he told The Washington Post , referencing the president of the state’s most powerful union, the United Auto Workers. “He threatened this state [with the constitutional...

Dick Morris, Con Artist

And I mean that literally

A few weeks before the election, the invaluable Rick Perlstein published a lengthy article in The Baffler titled "The Long Con," about how successful conservative entrepreneurs have been at separating the right-wing rank and file from their money over the past few decades. If you were to sign up for updates from the likes of Human Events or World Net Daily , you'd be inundated not only with come-ons from political groups but with innumerable offers for miracle cures for every ailment under the sun. "The strategic alliance of snake-oil vendors and conservative true believers points up evidence of another successful long march," Perlstein wrote, "of tactics designed to corral fleeceable multitudes all in one place—and the formation of a cast of mind that makes it hard for either them or us to discern where the ideological con ended and the money con began." In today's political universe there may be no pundit more ridiculous than Dick Morris, who never hesitates to offer a prediction...

Can the Republican Party Move Back to the Center?

Those two guys in the front knew how to do it. (White House/Pete Souza)
Shaping the next phase in the history of the Republican party is an ongoing project that won't really be completed until they have another president, and their 2016 nominee could well be that person. Part of what makes this process interesting is that there is no obvious choice. Republicans are famous for nominating the person who is "next in line," usually someone who ran previously and lost. Every Republican nominee dating back to Richard Nixon has fit this pattern, with the exception of George W. Bush in 2000 (and Gerald Ford, who is obviously a special case). But the people who lost to Mitt Romney in 2012 revealed themselves to be an extraordinarily unappealing group; Paul Ryan didn't exactly emerge from the race looking like a giant; and there are multiple governors like Bobby Jindal and Mitch Daniels who could be strong competitors. So the next GOP nominee could be a hard-right conservative, or a relative moderate, or something in between. As E.J. Dionne points out in his column...

Jim DeMint's Smooth Move

Flickr/Gage Skidmore
Today, South Carolina senator Jim DeMint, who was Tea Party before Tea Party was cool, announced that he is retiring just two years into his six-year term. And will he be returning home to Greenville, perhaps to open a general store and be closer to good people of his state? Of course not. That's not what senators do when they retire. They become high-priced lobbyists, cashing in on their years of service by selling their insider status to the highest bidder. But DeMint won't be doing that either. Instead, he'll become president of the Heritage Foundation, the right's largest and most influential think tank, despite the fact that DeMint was never one for thinkin'. As our old friend Ezra tweeted upon hearing the news, "To state the obvious, you don't make Jim DeMint the head of your think tank in order to improve the quality of your scholarship." You might wonder whether DeMint thinks he can accomplish more at Heritage than in the Senate, but the truth is, he probably can. As a senator...

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...

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