Pop Politico: “The Twilight of Conservatism”

Written by Current Events, Pop Politico

If you were a conservative back in the days of the New Deal, lobbing verbal grenades like “A traitor to his class” at Franklin Roosevelt was as common as clearing your throat. Indeed, the political right in the U.S. spent a good many years in the proverbial wilderness as WWII, the post-war boom, and the collective embrace of modernism ascended.  By the time Barry Goldwater took the political stage to demand “a choice, and not an echo,” many within his own party saw him as a crank. 

New Deal liberalism was the dominant paradigm (to use a fancy-pants term), the middle class — a good many of whom were ensconced in suburban bliss – were happy to vote for Republicans who were basically “Democrat-lite,” and big business groomed and nurtured company men who would enter the “system” as eager drones, and exit with a pension and a golden retirement.  “Pleasantville” for some? “Happy Days” for the fortunate?  Maybe so, but the culture within this paradigm was clearly no haven for those who inhabited it.  If it were, there wouldn’t have been the rebellion of the mid-to-late ‘60s.  Sure, the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement had a great deal to do with the rebellious ‘60s, but they also gave Goldwater conservatives an opportunity to revolutionize their party. 

It took over a decade from the late ‘60s for the Reagan Revolution to come into its own, and for political prognosticators to suggest a new paradigm was on the rise.  Interestingly enough, the telltale signs of a political realignment did not come into fruition and, frustrated, movement conservatives (in another political parlance they would be known as radicals) have done what they can to change the direction of political allegiances in this country.  If liberals dominated the academic realm, conservatives would convince millionaires to fund think tanks. If liberals dominated the media, conservatives would convince millionaires and billionaires to fund their own media ventures.  If the book publishing world had too many pointy-headed liberals greenlighting books written by lefty pinkos, then conservatives would convince millionaires to fund their own publishing houses where they could crank out their own titles to “push back.”  Need to change the laws?  How ‘bout an organization like the Federalist Society, where members attain positions of power (like being a judge) and then bring other like-minded individuals into the fold to continue the revolution?  There’s no denying the gains the conservative movement has made in 20-plus years.

However…

John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee for President, is trying to woo many factions that make up the Republican base, but it’s tough for him to unify the growing split among social conservatives, economic libertarians, Straussian-inspired imperialists, suburbanites, and — if there are any left — country club Republicans.  Instead, McCain is left floundering for a message that’s going to resonate with voters.  With oil prices as high as they are (never mind the recent drop), the economy generally in recession, the real estate/credit/banking mess, a large deficit in the federal budget, and perpetual war in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s not easy for McCain to say “I’m the guy for the job” when all these horrible things have happened on his party’s watch. 

Moreover, there are many Republicans who probably agree that the Republican Party is looking like a loser these days and are already writing off this cycle while setting their sights on the 2010 midterm elections. If Republicans can’t “go back” to their salad days of the Reagan Revolution, then perhaps they can “go back” to 1993-1994, when Bill Clinton effectively blew all his political capital on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” health care reform, trumped up non-issues like the so-called “Travelgate,” and, of course, the tax hike.  Nothing turns ‘em out to the voting booth like anger, and the “Angry White Male,” coupled with evangelical Christians, turned out to be the ace in the hole for Republicans donning the robes of revolutionaries and offering a Contract with America. It worked then, and it seems Republican strategists are hoping it will work against the young, inexperienced Barack Obama.  Because right now, McCain is only offering two things:  tax cuts and drilling for oil off the coast of California and in the Artic National Wildlife Refuge.

To say the Reagan Revolution has run out of steam may be premature, but according to the NY Times, young Republicans are thinking that a few years in the so-called wilderness might not be such a bad thing.  Why?  Simply put, Republicans and conservatives have become comfortable in seats of power, only talk to themselves, and rarely reach out to groups who traditionally don’t vote for them.  Moreover, there’s too much attention on opposition to abortion and homosexuality, and not enough energy devoted to addressing poverty, social mobility, and the environment. 

It will be interesting to see what a new group of conservatives comes up with, and it will be even more interesting to see if they can address these economic and environmental problems without buying into what old papa Reagan preached all those years ago:  “Government is not a solution to our problem, government is the problem.”