The Conservative Movement 1964-2008 R.I.P.

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:


The conservative movement is dead.

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.

Tags: conservative movement, George Packard, John McCain, New Yorker magazine (all tags)

Comments

17 Comments

Re: The Conservative Movement 1964-2008 R.I.P.

Sorry, George. The author of the New Yorker article is George Packer (not Packard).

by wolff109 2008-05-20 12:06PM | 0 recs
Re: The Conservative Movement 1964-2008 R.I.P.

I would like for it to be so, but I'm not counting on it.  The GOP might be in crisis right now, but the conservative impulse still runs pretty strongly in this country.  I think we're winning the war of ideas right now, but I don't see that battle ending anytime soon.

by Fuzzy Dunlop 2008-05-20 12:12PM | 0 recs
Re: The Conservative Movement 1964-2008 R.I.P.

Ditto.

Also, the Conservative Movement that began in 1964 by Barry Goldwater is NOT the same as the Conservative Movement of today.  Goldwater was pro-choice, pro-gay and did not think that social programs should be shitcanned.

so, the so-called Conservative movement of today is based on social issues, not fiscal issues or limited government into your personal, private life.

big difference.  While I can support Goldwater's platform, there is nothing out there anymore in the republican party that adheres to his principles.   Alas, the social conservatism will be here for a long, long time.  It will never go away

by colebiancardi 2008-05-20 12:18PM | 0 recs
Re: The Conservative Movement 1964-2008 R.I.P.

more likely, the thread title should be:

The Neo-Con Movement: 2001-2008 R.I.P.

by colebiancardi 2008-05-20 12:19PM | 0 recs
Re: The Conservative Movement 1964-2008 R.I.P.

I'd say on foreign policy and race, he was of the modern conservative movement of today. He was the first to want to bomb every communist country into oblivion. You're right tho, on gays and abortion, he was a liberal. But he turned the south GOP, by opposing the Civil Rights Bills in the 1960's. I know he supported them in the '50s, but because 1964 was the year of his nomination, what he did around then mattered. He was the first Republican since reconstruction to carry the entire Deep South. He was the first to begin the Southern Strategy, but Nixon really elaborated on it. I believe the social parts will still stay for a while, but his foreign policy, which was his longest lasting legacy will be gone.

by DiamondJay 2008-05-20 12:24PM | 0 recs
Conservatives today.

The roots of modern conservatism began in the 1968 Nixon campaign's Southern Strategy.  His decision to sew racial fear and hatred was the point at which the modern Republican Party was wedded to Southern evangelical Christianity and voila! a coalition was born...

by jarhead5536 2008-05-20 12:50PM | 0 recs
Re: The Conservative Movement 1964-2008 R.I.P.

I am a native Southerner, and even more skeptical than you.  There is no ideological realignment going on here.  Democratic ascendancy results directly from anger at Shrub, nothing more.  The base of the Republican party is uniformly cultural conservatives that vote on the three G's and not much else.  Cultural conservatives are not going away until they are all dead.

by jarhead5536 2008-05-20 12:19PM | 0 recs
Re: The Conservative Movement 1964-2008 R.I.P.

and they won't die, because they pass their traits to their children via homeschooling.

it ain't going away.

now, neo-cons - yes, I can see that.

by colebiancardi 2008-05-20 12:21PM | 0 recs
Re: The Conservative Movement 1964-2008 R.I.P.

Good point, jarhead. But I think the key here is that we have before us the opportunity to create a realignment, if we capitalize on the fissures in the conservative movement.

by wolff109 2008-05-20 12:38PM | 0 recs
Re: The Conservative Movement 1964-2008 R.I.P.

The best we could hope for would be a split in the party between fiscal conservatives and cultural conservatives.  Thing is, some Democrats would leave our party to join one of the other two I think...

by jarhead5536 2008-05-20 12:45PM | 0 recs
Re: The Conservative Movement 1964-2008 R.I.P.

This all well and good, but nothing is assured until we are able to unify our party. If we are not able to forge a unity of our two powerful forces, the reports of the conservative demise will be seen as premature. We have lot's of work to do.

by pollbuster 2008-05-20 12:16PM | 0 recs
Re: The Conservative Movement 1964-2008 R.I.P.

Sure, we need to unify as a party, and we have work to do. But the GOP has even more work to do.

We stand for something, namely to use the power of government to address the problems of society to benefit the common good.

What do Republicans stand for, anymore?

The media has focused so much on Obama vs. Clinton that they've barely touched upon the challenges McCain faces in unifying a splintering party. This article touches upon the heart of the matter, that conservatives are out of ideas.

by wolff109 2008-05-20 12:48PM | 0 recs
Re: The Conservative Movement 1964-2008 R.I.P.

I don't buy it. I don't care about what the media is doing with the republicans. Our job is to build a unified party, that can win in November. As for the republicans, they always seem to get it together, so don't count on them being splintered.

by pollbuster 2008-05-20 02:09PM | 0 recs
Re: The Conservative Movement 1964-2008 R.I.P.

more like the Neo=con movement, which Goldwater began is going to die. Nixon, Reagan, and the Bushes kept it going. The financial conservative movement is over, but the social and cultural one remains. That one won't die until the current college age generation is in their 40s.

by DiamondJay 2008-05-20 12:25PM | 0 recs
Re: The Conservative Movement 1964-2008 R.I.P.

Yeah, seems more fitting for the neo-con movement. But I was following the logic of the article, which considers it as a single thread since Goldwater.

by wolff109 2008-05-20 12:39PM | 0 recs
Don't get me wrong

I absolutely love the New Yorker. I'm a subscriber and I read it cover-to-cover every week. But... it is not known for having its finger on the pulse of mainstream America. Ironically, it mainly speaks to/for the "élitist, amoral, disorderly, condescending few" that the artilce talks about.

My advice... don't get overly confident or cocky. Get to work instead.

The Democrats are in for quite a fight. This will NOT be the historic landslide you predict. Nor will it redraw the political divide between red states and blue states in any dramatic way. It will be a squeaker if we win it at all. I've seen too many crushingly disappointing elections to think that this one will be any different. Obama simply is not that gifted, not that special (sorry, but it is true). Frankly it freaks me out when I hear Obama supporters who think that the General Election is in-the-bag. Far from it.

by twinmom 2008-05-20 12:26PM | 0 recs
Re: Don't get me wrong

Agreed. The general election is FAR from won, and the right thing to do is get to work.

But I think the article reminds us that beyond the nuts and bolts of organizing, canvassing, and GOTV, a larger plate tetonic shift is taking place, and this presents an opportunity for the party best able to capitalize.

by wolff109 2008-05-20 12:36PM | 0 recs

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