Lots 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.
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.