by Charles Lemos, Fri Sep 25, 2009 at 01:07:42 AM EDT
"We want our country back!" is a cry often heard these days coming from the tea-party set and fringe conservatism. This past week, Bill Moyers interviewed Sam Tanenhaus, editor of the New York Times Book Review and author of the recently published The Death of Conservatism. In the interview , Mr. Tanenhaus says that far from signifying a resurgence of conservative ideals, the Tea Party protesters and shock jocks like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh spell the doom of the conservative movement.
This exchange at the start of the interview is rather telling.
BILL MOYERS: So, if you're right about the decline and death of conservatism, who are all those people we see on television?
SAM TANENHAUS: I'm afraid they're radicals. Conservatism has been divided for a long time -- this is what my book describes narratively -- between two strains. What I call realism and revanchism. We're seeing the revanchist side.
BILL MOYERS: What do you mean revanchism?
SAM TANENHAUS: I mean a politics that's based on the idea that America has been taken away from its true owners, and they have to restore and reclaim it. They have to conquer the territory that's been taken from them. Revanchism really comes from the French word for 'revenge.' It's a politics of vengeance.
And this is a strong strain in modern conservatism. Like the 19th Century nationalists who wanted to recover parts of their country that foreign nations had invaded and occupied, these radical people on the right, and they include intellectuals and the kinds of personalities we're seeing on television and radio, and also to some extent people marching in the streets, think America has gotten away from them. Theirs is a politics of reclamation and restoration. Give it back to us. What we sometimes forget is that the last five presidential elections Democrats won pluralities in four of them. The only time the Republicans have won, in recent memory, was when George Bush was re-elected by the narrowest margin in modern history, for a sitting president. So, what this means is that, yes, conservatism, what I think of, as a radical form of conservatism, is highly organized. We're seeing it now-- they are ideologically in lockstep. They agree about almost everything, and they have an orthodoxy that governs their worldview and their view of politics. So, they are able to make incursions. And at times when liberals, Democrats, and moderate Republicans are uncertain where to go, yes, this group will be out in front, very organized, and dominate our conversation.
Demographics are political destiny, especially in the near-term. There's no doubt that the country is undergoing a major demographic transition. To begin with, the country is simply less white by the day. According to the US Census Bureau, the dominance of non-Hispanic whites, who today account for two-thirds of Americans, will be whittled away, falling steadily to less than half in 2042 and just 46% by 2050. In the opposite trajectory, those who describe themselves as Hispanic, African-American, Asian and Native American will increase in proportion from about a third now to 54% by 2050.