Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Is the Conservative Movement Worth Emulating?

Even when it is judged on its own terms--as a struggle over values, patriotism, national honor, and the correct way to worship the Almighty, the (conservative) backlash has pretty much been a complete bust. Culturally, it has achieved almost nothing in the past three decades. TV and movies are many times coarser than they were in 1968. Traditional gender roles continue to crumble. Homosexuality is more visible and more accepted than ever.

This is a basic earmark of the phenomenon, absolutely consistent across its decades-long history. Abortion is never halted. Affirmative action is never abolished. The culture industry is never forced to clean up its act.

This is vexing for observers, and one might expect it to vex the movement's true believers even more. Their grandstanding leaders never deliver, their fury mounts and mounts, and nevertheless, they turn out every two years to return their right-wing heroes to office for a second, a third, a twentieth try. The trick never ages; the illusion never wears off.

Thomas Frank, What's The Matter With Kansas: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America, p. 121; pp. 6-7.

Since George Washington ran for reelection in 1793, there have been 53 presidential elections...twenty-nine of those elections involved incumbents running for reelection, of which the incumbent won 20, or 69 percent. The other 24 elections were open races with no incumbent, and in half of them, the party out of power won the election. In other words, if you take incumbents out of the picture, a party has a 50-50 chance of winning the next presidential election. I take this to mean that winning elections is a random sort of thing and not something that parties have much control over. Any sort of effort to rethink the Democratic Party and what it stands for is a rather futile proposition because events will outrun even the most perspicacious observers.

Philip Klinkner, "The Winds of Change", in The Stock Ticker and the Super Jumbo: How the Democrats Can Once Again Become America's Dominant Political Party; pp. 98-99.

There is more I intend to say about these references, but for now, I think it's enough to use them as a bit of context as Democrats look to 2006 and beyond. In surfing liberal blogs, there's an almost unstated awe and fear one finds on the part of liberals when assessing the Conservative Movement. They have big, well funded Think Tanks. They have a stable of wealthy, conservative financiers. They have a monopoly on Talk Radio. Now they have Fox "News". They have the TV evangelists, mega-churches, and "family" advocate groups on their side, completely dedicated to them and committed to eradicating us. Many liberal bloggers, and even this blog from time to time, have expressed an interest in replicating the conservative success, of restoring Democracy's golden era, much as down and out conservatives once teared up and plotted to restore their own heritage.

But is the conservative movement successful and is it worth emulating? The above quotations provide some evidence that the answer to these two questions is no. First, because despite its nominal hold on federal power, the conservative movement has not come close to achieving its aspirations, a fault line that has been at least partially exposed in the Harriet Miers nomination. Two, because despite all their money, organization, and rhetoric, they're success rate isn't much better than 50-50. And given that the last century was a liberal era, both politically and socially, it stands to reason that even if only by chance, Republicans were bound to win a period of elections at some point.

So what I conclude, at least part of the time, is that the conservative movement isn't all its cracked up to be. Liberals shouldn't necessarily fear it, and shouldn't worship it. On the other hand, that doesn't mean Democrats shouldn't confront conservatism's excesses and warn the voters of the harmful choices the Republican Party and its sponsors are offering.

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