Adaptation

michael-steeleLots of blame to go around in the current decimation of the conservative movement.  I wanted to just break down my own thoughts on some of the competing interests here.  So far we have social cons blaming hawks and neocons; hawks and neocons blaming social cons; fiscal cons blaming hawks and social cons; paleocons blaming the movement; the movement blaming the paleos.  So who’s to blame?  I mean, Michael Steele doesn’t want any more apologizing (was there any?) about the GOP’s past mistakes, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be lots of blame-shoveling.  I say the blame falls predominantly amongst the leadership of the conservative movement over the past eight? sixteen? years, and this falls into two camps: the social conservatives and the neocons.

The Social Conservatives

The social conservatives – namely the religious right, the moral majority, the evangelical partisans, whatever you want to call them – got into bed with the hawks early on in the Bush administration.  There have been many social conservatives who have adopted a “who me?” attitude now that the war in Iraq has proved so unpopular, but in the beginning the social conservative/neoconservative marriage was one of convenience, and both sides played a big role in the Bush policies.  I don’t recall much opposition to Bush policies coming from the social conservatives, who it must said, are largely in the movement camp.  Those who remain outside it – generally paleo-catholics and other indie-cons like Daniel Larison – are the exception to this unholy alliance, not the rule.  So yes, blame can be laid at the feet of the social conservatives for much of the mess the conservative movement finds itself in.

The social conservatives also are responsible for adding to the rancor surrounding conservatism, and more tragically, Christianity in modern America.  The PR failure of the conservative movement is also a PR failure of the evangelical movement.  Christianity and conservatism are taking hits because, quite frankly, they look bad these days.  Current leaders in both camps aren’t doing much to curtail this.

The Hawks a.k.a The Neocons

To my mind there are several types of neocons.  Some are pretty much liberals “mugged by reality” as the saying goes, who are generally still very liberal on all matters save national defense.  They are essentially neo-Wilsonian hawks who believe in humanitarian intervention, democracy promotion, and so forth.  Then there are the real social/neo hybrids who these days really dominate the conservative movement.  They are of the hawkish and socially conservative variety – though their social conservatism rarely is the priority, but rather a sort of added arsenal.  These types of neocons generally oppose gay marriage, abortion, immigration, and so forth – putting them much at odds with their liberal neocon allies.  Most movement conservatives fall into this second camp.  Both types pretty much push for lower taxes and against a ‘nanny state’ (if not against a ‘police state’ which their national security interests almost guarantee).  Both are champions of the Imperialist Executive and their national security dogmatism is unshakable enough to make their social differences less important.

Both view the realists with suspicion and even outright animosity.  At the heart of the current mess the conservatives find themselves in are these mainstream neocons.  These are the talking-points-conservatives – or talk radio conservatives – or Reagan worshippers – who have so eschewed any new ideas, and have bit by bit shrunk the big tent to fit a narrow ideology that hinges explicitly on low taxes, a “limited” government with an “unlimited” executive, and an endlessly expanding military.  This is the nexus of the movement – its rotten core.

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Solutions have been offered up by a number of various voices within the GOP (and without).  Many suggest that the problem is with the so-called “moderates” or “apostates” and that the party should veer Right.  Of course this means different things to different people.  For a staunch movement conservative this means sticking even more closely to the talking points.  For a Paulite this might mean really, truly slashing up the federal government, axing whole departments, etc.

I will wrap this up by saying I don’t think it really matters that much if conservatives move toward a reform or moderate camp or go for more purism – at least not pragmatically.  The thing that matters in the end is message and delivery.  The Fox News approach is the wrong one.  The Rush Limbaugh loud-mouth, blustering, wheezing approach is not sustainable.  The Glenn Beck crazy googly-eyed tactic will backfire.

What conservatives need is new leadership that is thoughtful, intelligent, and charming enough to win over both the so-called “base” but also the vast swath of independents in this country.  Steele might be right – apologizing might not be the best way forward.  But is the bumbling Steele who, like so many of his contemporaries, is deep in the intellectual pockets of Rush etc. the way forward either?  Republicans need someone who can talk about ideas in a persuasive manner that voters will like.  It’s pretty simple really.  Quit acting like a bunch of jerks and see what happens.

This is politics.  Adapt or be eaten.

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20 thoughts on “Adaptation

  1. Again – I’d say it doesn’t even necessarily need to be “centrist” – it just needs to do a good job at communicating a vision in terms that are both coherent and appealing. No more of this shrill, divisive nonsense. Check out David Cameron in the UK, though, for an example of what the conservatives here might think of trying should they find the right leadership.

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  2. A distinction ought to be made between “social conservatives” and “theocons”. Social Conservatives care about a lot more than merely the Focusy stuff. They also care about such things as “immigration” and “cultural” issues. The Theocons, specifically, had reason to think of Bush as one of them. Social Conservatives in general? Eh. I mean, Ron Paul is Socially Conservative. He was the most pilloried of all Republicans running for the Presidential seat by Neocons and Theocons.

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  3. Jaybird – indeed. But I was referring generally to the social-con-movement. Hell, even I am to some degree socially conservative. (not very, I might add, but I recognize there is a wide diversity of views in this realm)

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  4. E.D., two questions.

    One, who did you have in mind when you wrote, “Some are pretty much liberals ‘mugged by reality’ as the saying goes, who are generally still very liberal on all matters save national defense. They are essentially neo-Wilsonian hawks who believe in humanitarian intervention, democracy promotion, and so forth.”

    I’m sure you had someone in mind but I can’t think of a single person fitting that description. I guess I don’t follow conservative thinking close enough.

    Two, I know you are reluctant to get into specific, one of my tiring criticisms of this site, but could give an example of needed policy change?

    I’m thinking that Republicans/conservatives need more that a pretty face, Palin, or toning down the message to recover.

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  5. Bob, just look at the legacy of Henry “Scoop” Jackson. Then too there are bloggers like my friend Roland Dodds or Harry’s Place or Michael Totten and many others.

    Re: policy prescriptions – well, yes, that wasn’t really what this post was about, but I suppose if I had my way I’d suggest that conservatives moderated a great deal, and also pushed back against big business and moved more in the direction that the UK Conservatives are – toward a more localist-driven approach, which I think can be very appealing to independents.

    I’m not really sure, though. I suppose I’m not really a “conservative” so what can I say? I find more and more that where I would like to see changes are often as not against three things – A) big business, B) big military/powerful executive branch, and C) a slow down of globalism in general. Whichever party tends more in those directions will appeal to me. Right now the Democrats appeal more to me because there is at least some shred of hope that they’ll cut back in some of these areas, though I’m not in the least hopeful.

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  6. E.D., thanks for the links, I’ll check them out.

    Scoop Jackson came to mind but he has been gone so long I was looking for the living that matched your statement.

    As I’ve told you before, there is a lot in your philosophy that I admire, agree with. Your A B C’s fall into that category. The “localism” thing not so much. It’s not so much that I find the idea obnoxious, it just seems undoable. Perhaps it’s more doable in the UK. I’m very skeptical.

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  7. The localism thing, Bob, is a work in progress for me. There are great leaps and bounds between a practical rebuilding of community/localism and where we are now. But I think in the end, recreating walkable communities, smaller businesses/banks (and so forth) can all lead to environmental and economical benefits as well as real social gains. I don’t think this requires moving toward a “small” town system or agrarianism or anything – I think it can be done neighborhood by neighborhood.

    But hey, with this new “car tax” (which I support by the way – and wish they’d go further) being foisted on us (damn fuel efficient vehicles!) maybe there is hope for new urbanism….

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  8. People need to understand that Hannity, Limbaugh, Levin and others of the shrill talk radio set contribute nothing to the success of conservatism as a whole. They rabidly preach to the choir without realizing that the pews are emptying out because the less devoted laypeople can’t bear to listen to them.

    How can an intelligent leader rise to prominence if Hannity and Limbaugh are the gatekeepers?

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  9. There have been many social conservatives who have adopted a “who me?” attitude now that the war in Iraq has proved so unpopular, but in the beginning the social conservative/neoconservative marriage was one of convenience, and both sides played a big role in the Bush policies. I don’t recall much opposition to Bush policies coming from the social conservatives, who it must said, are largely in the movement camp. Those who remain outside it – generally paleo-catholics and other indie-cons like Daniel Larison – are the exception to this unholy alliance, not the rule. So yes, blame can be laid at the feet of the social conservatives for much of the mess the conservative movement finds itself in.

    This is a good point, and definitely true. I do think, though, that quite a lot of people (particularly reformist conservatives) are misinterpreting that idea to suggest that specifically social conservative policies are to blame for the Republican Party’s current state, and the road to success is to ditch them.

    The Republicans really need two things: at least the credible appearance of some domestic policies on things like education and health care, and someone to voice those policies who people actually like. It would be nice if they dropped neoconservatism, too, but it’s very unlikely and may not be essential – people’s views on foreign policy are shaped by the moment and the media, and if the Republicans can whip up a new threat it could even help them.

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  10. Well done! You, my man, are right.

    On this related to “smaller communities” (in your response above to another commenter)

    But I think in the end, recreating walkable communities, smaller businesses/banks (and so forth) can all lead to environmental and economical benefits as well as real social gains.

    I think this was a direction attempted in “new” real estate development 20 years ago. I think it is what was referred to here as: “smarter growth”. Then, the 1990-91 recession hit. Community organizers attempted to revitalize and gentrify Main Streets in order to attract tenants for vacant commercial r.e., …fast forward to today.

    I think that may be where skepticism comes in to play as “undoable”; especially in the context of current economic conditions…”nobody knows the trouble” we may see before this cycle – in terms of unemployment percentages – bottoms out next year. Maybe it will. Maybe it won’t. We shall see what takes place in the next building boom.

    I’d love to be wrong, and frankly, I agree with you. I’d love to see sustainable communities as seen in the UK and Northern Europe.

    Now, { blisfull dreaming, here } if there was a way to make nuclear energy safe…hell, I might even go as far as to endorse that too…but… you didn’t hear that from this social liberal/fiscal conservative.

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  11. E.D., Thoughtful analysis.
    I have no idea where this ‘new leadership’ is going to come from; probably just a redo of the neocons. However, I see some signs, already, of a Obama backlash, that may stir the pot.
    If or when, he screws up the economy it’s liable to get ugly for the Dem/socialists plus they have a tendency to overreach, politically, in their hunger for the ‘new tomorrow!’.

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  12. Here’s a thought experiment using this jive from Mr. Cheeks, “If or when, he screws up the economy it’s liable to get ugly for the Dem/socialists plus they have a tendency to overreach, politically, in their hunger for the ‘new tomorrow!’.”

    Okay, let’s pretend it’s late 2007. I comment about Bush, If or when, he screws up the economy it’s liable to get ugly for the Rep/fascists plus they have a tendency to overreach, politically, in their hunger for the ‘permanent Republican majority.’

    Just saying.

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  13. “Here’s a thought experiment using this jive from Mr. Cheeks, “If or when, he screws up the economy it’s liable to get ugly for the Dem/socialists plus they have a tendency to overreach, politically, in their hunger for the ‘new tomorrow!’.”

    Okay, let’s pretend it’s late 2007. I comment about Bush, If or when, he screws up the economy it’s liable to get ugly for the Rep/fascists plus they have a tendency to overreach, politically, in their hunger for the ‘permanent Republican majority.’

    Just saying.”

    It’s encouraging to see more and more people stating the real problem — both parties are made up of over-reaching statists.

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