The Conservative Movement 1964-2008 R.I.P.
by wolff109, Tue May 20, 2008 at 11:57:50 AM EDT
On the morning of Wednesday, November 5th -- when we celebrate an historic Democratic landslide -- we will know that the moment John McCain lost this race was the exact moment he embraced the conservative movement at the expense of his own hard-earned perception of being a maverick.
His latest attacks on Obama, which sadly rely on the tired, old smear and fear tactics of Bush/Cheney/Rove, only belie McCain's understanding of a deeper political reality:
In this New Yorker piece, George Packard outlines the conservative movement's rise and fall, and how its central strategy has always been one of polarization. Its explicit goal has been to sow and exploit division through fear and prejudice.
Packard chronicles the lack of intellectual creativity that now paralyzes a movement bereft of ideas, but touches upon some interesting notes:
The strategy for building a Republican majority, called "positive polarization," was to actively exacerbate divisions in society to "create the impression that there were two Americas: the quiet, ordinary, patriotic, religious, law-abiding Many, and the noisy, élitist, amoral, disorderly, condescending Few."
In other words, create a climate of fear and appeal to Americans' worst instincts to divide us.
This strategy is still central to national Republican politics, especially recent attempts to link Obama and Congressional candidates to the outlandish pronouncements of Jeremiah Wright, and in efforts to portray Obama as a cultural elitist.
Packard notes the recent special elections in which three Democratic underdogs won in heavily Republican districts, despite polarizing attacks against them, to say that "political tactics have a way of outliving their ability to respond to the felt needs and aspirations of the electorate." He dismisses those unsuccessful tactics as "the spasms of nerve endings in an organism that's brain-dead."
And there we have it, the bare naked truth.
"Among Republicans, there is no energy, no fresh thinking, no ability to capture the concerns and feelings of millions of people."
And ultimately, the lack of ideas undermined conservative's ability to govern. Newt Gingrich and his minions knew how to win elections with conservative principles, but they had no positive policies around which to organize a government.
Upon taking office, President Bush abandoned "compassionate conservatism" and actively sought to use the presidency as a platform to make the Republicans a majority party.
As former Senator Lincoln Chafee recalls for Packard, Dick Cheney insisted "We would seek confrontation on every front. . . . The new Administration would divide Americans into red and blue, and divide nations into those who stand with us or against us."
With that commenced the most blatantly partisan administration in history.
Had McCain given his own party some straight talk, ran as a true moderate, and openly rejected the recent failures of conservative extremists, he could have re-branded conservatism along mainstream lines, and he might have won.
Instead, McCain will take his place alongside his fellow Arizona Senator, Barry Goldwater, as the historical bookends of what has been the modern conservative movement.