The Problem is Conservatism

Right-wing theorists have a strategy for dealing with the impending conservative crack-up, from Iraq to the economy - blame it all on the Bush administration:

The neocons develop an exit strategy -- a political one

President George W. Bush may have no military exit strategy for Iraq, but the "neocons" who convinced him to go to war there have developed one of their own -- a political one: Blame the Administration.

Their neo-Wilsonian theory is correct, they insist, but the execution was botched by a Bush team that has turned out to be incompetent, crony-filled, corrupt, unimaginative and weak over a wide range of issues.

We cannot let them get away with this.

The new conservative political strategy extends far beyond the neocon foreign policy nutcases:

For [Corporate CEOs], Bush's handling of Katrina was, and remains, a mortal embarrassment to their class, which Bush is supposed to have represented -- at least to some extent. . . .

The vivid images from the Superdome were just too much for these folks. Recently, a prominent Republican businessman, whom I saw in a typical CEO haunt, astonished me with the severity of his attacks on Bush's competence. And Bush had appointed this guy to a major position! Amazing.

Fineman believes that Bush still has the "supply siders" on board. But check out what Bruce Bartlett, the supply-side guru recently fired by the hard-right National Center for Policy Analysis, has to say about Bush's economic policy:

In Sign of Conservative Split, a Commentator Is Dismissed

Mr. Bartlett was an early proponent of supply-side economics, and in the late 1970's was active in promoting the tax-cutting philosophy that later became the basis for President Ronald Reagan's economic agenda. . . .

Like many economic conservatives, he has grown increasingly disenchanted with the current administration's fiscal policy, arguing that Mr. Bush has tolerated if not encouraged a federal spending spree, dashing conservative hopes for progress toward a smaller, leaner government. . . .

In his next column, to be published on Wednesday, Mr. Bartlett wrote that it is dawning on many conservatives "that George W. Bush is not one of them and never has been," citing the administration's positions on education, campaign finance, immigration, government spending and regulation. The choice "of a patently unqualified crony for a critical position on the Supreme Court was the final straw," he wrote. . . .

In The Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy which is scheduled to be published in April by Doubleday and has already attracted attention on conservative Web sites, Mr. Bartlett expands on many of the themes he has struck in his columns and other writings. He is critical of the administration for policy decisions like backing away at times from its commitment to open trade and for failing to sell conservative ideas like introducing investment accounts to Social Security.

So there we have it. A political strategy for saving the conservative ideology based on the argument that the failures of the Bush administration are not about ideology, they are about competence.

Again, I repeat: we cannot let them get away with this. Paul Waldman explains why in the American Prospect:

Which brings us to what may be the most important feature of ideological competition in America today: Unlike liberals, conservatives don't simply criticize specific candidates or pieces of legislation, they attack their opponents' entire ideological worldview. Tune into Rush Limbaugh or any of his imitators, and what you'll hear is little more than an extended discourse on the evils of liberalism, in which specific events are merely evidence that the real problem is liberal ideology. Liberals may write best-selling books about why George W. Bush is a terrible president, but conservatives write best-selling books about why liberalism is a pox on our nation (talk radio hate-monger Michael Savage, for instance, titled his latest book Liberalism Is a Mental Disorder).

Indeed, large portions of the conservative movement can be understood as an effort to crush liberalism in all its manifestations. Conservatives understand that their main enemy is not a law, government program, or social condition they don't like. Their main enemy is a competing ideology, and that is what they spend their time fighting.

In contrast, liberals spend very little time talking about conservatism. They talk about their opposition to President Bush or the policies proposed by the Republican Congress, but they don't offer a critique of conservatism itself. When was the last time you saw a book-length polemic against conservatism? Liberals have failed to understand that a sustained critique of the other side's ideology not only defines your opponents, it helps to define you by what you are against.

We must make the case that the failures of the present administration are NOT simply due to the incompetence of one or a few people at the top.

Our current economic and national security predicament is a direct outgrowth of the application of modern conservative ideology to governing the country.

All of our economic problems - slowly rising living standards, rising inequality and poverty, massive and unsustainable private and public, domestic and international debt levels are all, each and every one, a direct outgrowth of the application of "trickle-down,""supply-side" economics to the making of economic policy.

At home, reckless tax cuts skewed to the wealthiest segments of the population, the evisceration of labor unions, government regulation of labor and financial markets, and social programs that are a prerequisite for broadly distributed prosperity, skyrocketing health care costs driven by an inefficient private-sector health care delivery and insurance system, and so on. Despite the whining of people like Bartlett, is there anything on this list that is not a direct outgrowth of conservative "free-market,""low-tax,""small-government,""pro-business" economics?

Abroad, worldwide distrust of the United States, a failed war, rising levels of terrorism, a broken Army, unchecked global poverty and disease; again, anything here, Bill Kristol's protests to the contrary, that cannot be directly attributed to the conservative vision that rejects liberal internationalism in favor of a world dominated by unchecked U.S. military and business power?

We must make the case that the problems we face as a nation are not just about incompetence. They are also about ideology. They are about the abject failure of conservatism in its modern American form. The problem is conservatism.

Don't let them get away with it.

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Comments

18 Comments

Actually
the primary problem is religion, which has always been and continues to be an abomination on the face of the earth.

Secondly, America's highly overvalued infatuation with an outdated constitution crafted over two centuries ago by slaveholders who would have choked at the notion of universal suffrage is almost as formidable a barrier to meaningful progressive change as the Bible itself.

Without god and America's collective anal fixation on a mythical form of constitutionalism which has never really existed, we'd have....well...France and perhaps their healthcare system, the best in the world, which doesn't sound all that bad at this particular time.

As long as we remain passively trapped in this paradigm which is continually enhanced and re-enforced by the current ruling Wall Street monarchy and its lackies for their own purposes, there will be no escape and resistance will unfortunately remain an intellectual fantasy in futility.    

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by Seldom Seen Smith 2005-10-18 06:45PM | 0 recs
The Problem is the human mind.
and it's tendency to dichodomize the world.  With our pathetic educational system and a anti intellecualism that is rooted deeply in our culture doing anything about that is highly unlikely.  
by strrbr 2005-10-18 07:18PM | 0 recs
Attack conservatism, not just conservatives.
Something like this appeared on the Washington Monthly blog recently, I believe.  Conservative pundits write books attacking progressivism.  Progressive pundits write books attacking GWB.  We need to start going after the bankrupt ideology that characterizes people like W, DeLay, etc.  As lousy as Alan Colmes is as a pundit and a polemicist, he had the right idea in his book by defending progressivism and attacking conservatism.  How is it that we blog commenters and diary-writers can get this idea into the heads of the people who actually write books and columns, etc.?
by jleith 2005-10-18 08:41PM | 0 recs
Re: Attack conservatism, not just conservatives.
Become the people who write books!

I just posted a detailed description of how we might launch an anti-conservative book publishing effort on my blog, Planting Liberally.  I'll  cross-post a diary about it in a few minutes.

by myddaholic 2005-10-19 07:04AM | 0 recs
It's Not So Simple.
The master neocons are just about uniformly bloodthirsty pirates, although there is a huge base of hoodwinked quasi-neocons whom they have fooled.

The paleoconservatives are, on an average, people who want to do good, but who have an odd set of perspectives that have evolved in a very complex history.

The progressives are, on an average, people who want to do good, but who view the world through a number of somewhat different perspectives. They also have a very complex history.

It really is not as simple as many people seem to think. I see things from a type of progressive perspective, but I do not think it reasonable to just assume that "progressive" equals good, "conservative" equals bad. There are many not-so-nice folks who claim liberal ideals, and there are many very fine people who identify with the conservative perspectives. It is politically crucial to understand these relationships.

by blues 2005-10-18 10:04PM | 0 recs
Yes, it really is that simple.
Who cares if conservatives "want to do good" deep in their hearts? I'm sure many of them think (literally) that they are doing the Lord's work. So what?

What I care about are the practical effects of their policies, which are disastrous, and ultimately sping from a wprldview that is fundamentally flawed.

That, and the fact that too many people who call themselves "progressives" have zero idea of what we are up against, and zero idea of what needs to be done to combat it and reverse the damage.

by tgeraghty 2005-10-18 10:31PM | 0 recs
If It's Really So Simple...
Then, why do the paleoconservatives despise the neocons??? I do not agree with the paleoconservatives, but I do share some of their perspectives. The master neocons need to be treated like the total creeps that they are. They need to be viciously attacked. But I will not viciously attack the paleos. They need to be argued with, but certainly not all-out-attacked.

Look; the neocons could care less about the paleos that they have tried to take up residence with. They would be just a comfortable living off of socialists (look up Stalin). In the final analysis, reality does matter.

by blues 2005-10-19 06:32AM | 0 recs
standard operating proceedure
It is standard operating proceedure for the incumbent party to start distancing themselves from the lame duck president.

He's not running again and they are. When the president is unpopular these steps just start earlier and are more obvious.

In fact, the Bush admin has not followed the neo-con line (except in foreign policy) and thus, you can expect the neo-cons to be unhappy with him.

The fact that it is impossible to follow the neo-con, libertarian economic policies in any real world is what makes these people so remarkable. Just like true believers of any religious or economic stripe they are constantly looking for scape goats when their utopian ideas don't pan out.

Just stand back and let the infighting continue.

by rdf 2005-10-19 05:37AM | 0 recs
Re: standard operating proceedure
"Just stand back and let the infighting continue."

Now that is a loser's strategy if I ever saw one. We must keep on working to take out the neocon creeps. This is definitely not Miller time.

by blues 2005-10-19 06:38AM | 0 recs
Re: standard operating proceedure
I think I didn't express myself clearly enough.

When I said to stand back what I meant was that if one part of the right wants to criticize another than we should not get involved. It's like a family argument.

We should, of course, continue to press our progressive ideas in those areas where we feel something needs to be said.

I do this all the time in the essays on my web site, for example.

by rdf 2005-10-19 07:40AM | 0 recs
Re: standard operating proceedure
The real conservatives have far, far more in common with the progressives than they do with the neocons. If you look around at diverse political groups on the internet, this will become quite obvious. Not only that, but it should become obvious that real conservatism has little to do with "keeping the status quo." (And far more obviously, neoconism has nothing to do with "keeping the status quo.") How can these things be unimportant?
by blues 2005-10-19 05:52PM | 0 recs
An unsustainble world can't be conservative
we don't have the luxury of clinging desperately to the status quo. We have an ever growing population and an every shrinking resource base. The right generally tells people to "relax, it'll be OK." No. It won't be OK. We need the people to get off their bottoms and start doing something. We need change.
by Paul Goodman 2005-10-19 06:46AM | 0 recs
Bush is the problem
I am conservative and I don't think almost anything that Bush has done represents neo-conservative values.  I didn't think we should go to war, I didn't think we should keep spending massive amounts of money, lower taxes and not cut anything substantial and in fact to increase spending on multiple programs.  I can point to virtually nothing that Bush has done that represents my values as a conservative.  Many conservatives voted for Bush, not because they liked Bush, they just hated the alternative.  That is the unfortunate problem of having so much power in the federal government, started in large part by your beloved FDR, when each individual vote is insignificant and of course based on the dynamics of voting explained by Kenneth Arrow which make an ideal candidate impossible, we get a president that everyone hates, conservative and liberal alike.
by Freedom Fighter 2005-10-19 08:33AM | 0 recs
Re: Bush is the problem
Ditto.
A true conservative is horrified by what happened with Terry Schiavo.
A true conservative is fiscally responsible.
A true conservative is frightened by the Patriot Act.
A true conservative is for conserving the environment (wow, what a concept).
A true conservative doesn't go to war for no damn good reason.

I am a true conservative. This is no longer a battle between conservative and liberal. It used to be that both camps had ideals to which one could subscribe. We are now engaged in a war between right and wrong, good and evil. And there is no guarantee that good will prevail.

by Bob Miller 2005-10-19 09:50AM | 0 recs
Re: Bush is the problem
To Bob Miller:

I am a progressive who has no problem agreeing with all of your points (if we can agree on the meaning of "fiscally responsible"). Those are points that, I would venture, most progressives and liberals could support.

by blues 2005-10-19 06:10PM | 0 recs
Re: Bush is the problem
Correction: I was in the minority of progressives regarding the Terri Schaivo incident. I did not agree that she should have been allowed to perish.
by blues 2005-10-19 06:13PM | 0 recs
Re: Bush is the problem
There is a place for a principled, realistic conservatism in politics.

But the conservatism we have today is neither principled, nor realistic.

I don't mean to put you in the "unprincipled," "unrealistic" camp, by the way. This is not a personal attack.

You say:

I didn't think we should keep spending massive amounts of money, lower taxes and not cut anything substantial and in fact to increase spending on multiple programs.

And that is a principled conservative position. Let's debate about what programs would have to be cut in order to sustain the permanently lower taxes that conservatives want.

I personally think that my side would win the debate, or at least I hope so, but it is an open question.

Your position, however, is emphatically not the position that most "supply-side" conservatives have been peddling for years, which is that tax cuts by themselves will produce so much growth that we don't even have to worry about program cuts because revenues will actually increase.

Those conservatives are the kind of unprincipled, unrealistic "we can have our cake and eat it too" conservatives that have actual power in this country.

by tgeraghty 2005-10-19 10:26AM | 0 recs
Re: Bush is the problem
I don't know about "beloved," but I really think FDR was the greatest. It was Woodrow Wilson and company that contributed most of the major parts of the madness. The initial problem was that we started off having slavery, and then had to create a powerful central government to deal with the repercussions of that. Slavery is what we are all paying for now.
by blues 2005-10-19 06:02PM | 0 recs

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