Thursday, February 7, 2008

Conservative Intellectualism: Running Out of Agenda

In The Repudiation of Rove, Harold Meyerson argues that McCain is the philosophical heir of Barry Goldwater, and his rejection by GOP insiders speaks to the death of the movement:

With his preemptive war and seemingly permanent occupation in Iraq, and his attempt to privatize Social Security, George W. Bush pushed American conservatism past the point where the American people were willing to go—pushed them, in fact, to the point where they recoiled at the conservative project. And with that, American conservatism shuddered to a halt. In the 2005-06 congressional session, Republicans still controlled both houses of Congress, yet they introduced no major legislation.

This exhaustion of conservatism has been apparent all along in the Republican presidential contest, where the chief point of agreement among the leading candidates has been to make permanent both the Bush tax cuts for the rich and our occupation of Iraq. The conservative agenda has been winnowed down to supporting what remains of Bushism. That's not only a losing formula for November, it also means that intellectually, conservatism is running on empty.

Huckabee's legions have their own cause—a pious populism that doesn't have much sway in urban areas. But consider what animates conservatives' support for Mitt Romney. It's not that they have warmed to his shifting agenda or his elusive charisma. They simply hate John McCain, who threatens their cosmology by waging a campaign that does not put them at the center of the political universe. That, certainly, is what animates Rush Limbaugh and the right-wing talkocracy, who feel their power ebbing with each McCain success.
I think he's on to something. More on this later.


  1. Interesting point, that. McCain as Goldwater. McCain will probably be the nominee, and Republicans will lose big in '08 and '12, but the infighting may be the only chance the party has to redefine itself and reclaim relevance.

  2. The modern John McCain is the embodiment of everything Goldwater was opposed to. McCain argues that more government is the answer to nearly all the problems he sees with America's economy and culture. Goldwater was a small government conservative who argued that getting government out of our lives was the answer to nearly every issue of his day.

    I agree with the point that conservatism as a governing philosophy is dead in the Republican Party but that has more to do with misuse of the conservative label than an excessive use of the philosophy in implementation of policy by recent Republican office holders.

    There is nothing conservative about the pointless war in Iraq, Bush’s Medicare prescription drug plan, rampant protectionism, record deficit spending, insane "1984" style monitoring of citizens, or 90% of the other big government “conservatism” our Republicans have given us over the past 7 years.

    Conservative intellectualism isn't running out of is rotting on the shelves due to neglect. Maybe Republicans will dust it off and give it a try after a few more years of losing to Democrats. Until then I'm inclined to disagree with Meyerson. McCain has succeeded in this primary election because conservatism is split between social conservatives backing Huckabee and economic conservatives who had no one better than the uninspiring Mitt Romney to hitch their wagons to...not because the Republican Party electorate is becoming especially fond of John McCain.

  3. I think the comparison Meyerson makes between McCain and Goldwater is not a policy comparison, but that of a product of the rift in the party. I take it as comparing the philosophical divergence between the candidate and the party, as is what happened with Goldwater (another valid comparison is that Goldwater was never a strong candidate, and received an embarrassing loss... we'll have to wait to see if that one rings true).

    McCain is a product of the split between Conservative ideology and Neo-Con ideology. Your examples of where the GOP has broken off from true conservative policy are important though.

    What is strange to me is that McCain and Bush are so similar, yet receive such a different welcome from the GOP base. Republicans couldn't get in line fast enough in 2000/2004 to sell their soul to Bush, and now (perhaps because of Bush's betrayal) they are going to hang McCain, and their own future in the race, out to dry.

  4. I guess then I have to agree with you 100%.

    As a historical parallel you may be absolutely right. If I have to hear one more journalist or blogger referring to McCain as a "Goldwater Republican" I'm going to puke.

    McCain = Bush squared.