Thursday, December 08, 2005

Here's Brooksie

Running Out of Steam
Published: December 8, 2005

Conservatives are in power but out of sorts. Fifty years after the founding of the modern right, conservatives hold just about every important government job, yet the conservative agenda has stalled. Federal spending has surged. Social Security reform is dead. And when voters are asked which party they trust on key issues, they decisively reject conservative ideas.

On the economy, Democrats are trusted more, 56 to 34. On education, it's Democrats 55 to 32. On taxes, Democrats 48 to 38. On health care, Democrats 54 to 29.

For members of a movement that is supposed to be winning the battle of ideas, conservatives are in a mess.

So what's gone wrong? First, most of the issues that propelled conservatives to power have been addressed. Modern American conservatism was formed by people who wanted to defeat the Soviet Union, reduce crime, reform welfare, cut taxes, deregulate the economy and reintroduce traditional social values. All those problems are less salient today.

Second, conservatism has been semi-absorbed into the Republican Party. When conservatism was in its most creative phase, there was a sharp distinction between conservatives and Republicans. Conservatives chased ideas, while Republicans were the corporate hacks who sold out. Now that conservative Republicans are in power, that distinction is obliterated.

There are a number of consequences. A lot of the energy that used to go into ideas is now devoted to defending Republican politicians. Many former conservative activists have become Republican lobbyists. (When conservatism was a movement of ideas, it attracted oddballs; now that it's a movement with power, it attracts sleazeballs.)

Most important, there is greater social pressure to conform to the party's needs. Even writers and wonks are supposed to stay on message. In the 1970's, supply-siders mounted an insurgency against the Republican House leadership and against some sitting G.O.P. senators. If any group tried that today, it would be crushed by the party establishment.

Third, conservative media success means intellectual flabbiness. Conservatives used to live in a media world created by people who thought differently than they did. Reading certain publications and watching the evening news was like intellectual calisthenics. Now conservatives can be just as insular as liberals, retreating to their own media sources to be told how right they are.

Fourth, conservatives have lost their governing philosophy. In 1994, the Republicans thought their purpose was to reduce the size of government. But when the government shutdown failed, they never developed a new set of guiding principles to clarify which things government should do and which things it shouldn't. George Bush came up with a philosophy of compassionate conservatism, but it remains fuzzy and incomplete.

Fifth, conservative Republicans have lost touch with their base. To win, Republicans depend on white rural and suburban working-class voters making $30,000 to $50,000 a year. Conservative Republicans offer almost no policies that directly benefit these people. Americans at that income level tend to be financially risk-averse. But the out-of-touch Republicans offered a Social Security plan that increased risk.

Sixth, conservatives have not effectively addressed the second-generation issues. Technological change has really changed the economy, introducing new stratifications. Inequality is rising. Wage stagnation is a problem. Social mobility is lagging, and globalization hurts hard-working people. Global warming is real (conservatives secretly know this). The health care system is ridiculous. Welfare reform is unfinished. Conservatives have not addressed these second-generation issues as effectively as their forebears addressed the first-generation ones.

The good news is that we are about to enter a political season with no obvious conservative standard bearer, leaving plenty of room for innovation. Also, the current conservative crisis has produced some new thinking. A few weeks ago, two young writers, Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam (my former assistant), unveiled a fresh conservative agenda in a Weekly Standard essay called "The Party of Sam's Club." These writers, 26 and 25 years old, are closer to the future than the party leaders.

And the final bit of good news for the right is the left. No matter how serious the conservative crisis is, liberals remain surpassingly effective at making themselves unelectable.


Give Brooks credit that he seems to recognize the fact that since they control the government and the media, conservatives have little cause for crying the blues, and that their agenda is stumbling largely on account of their own failures.

What I think Brooks fails to acknowledge is the inherant contradictions between the movement's libertarian and authoritarian wings, specifically between its "less government" and christian taliban sections.

And Brooks is probably too grandiose about the conservative movement's supposed accomplishments. Welfare is dead, yes, in the sense that AFDC was radically altered. But AFDC was never the big ticket item of the social welfare state. Those would be Social Security and Medicare. And this conservative government EXPANDED Medicare by adding a prescription drug benefit. Yeah, this addition might have been more geared to the drug companies than to the recipients, but the point is it was a major addition, both financially and substantively, and the government is picking up the tab.

And as Thomas Franks pointed out in What's The Matter With Kansas?, the conservative movement's Cultural War has been a complete bust. Since the conservative movement's modern inception in about 1954-1955 the country's become more secular, individual freedom has been increased, and restrictive social mores have loosened. The country's better educated, more urban, and well, by definition, younger. And the television/movie/music industries have exploded since the 1950's, providing, ironically, ample competition to conservative "ideas". And now of course, we've had the whole information revolution thing, another development that has not boded well for conservative attempts to make the country conform to its worldview.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Merry and Happy

Dear Mr. President,

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and Happy Festivus. I was sorry to read this morning that the holiday/christmas/hanukkah/festivus card you sent out this year has not been received joyously by one and all.

Many people are thrilled to get a White House Christmas card, no matter what the greeting inside. But some conservative Christians are reacting as if Bush stuck coal in their stockings.

William A. Donohue, of the Catholic League, had this to say:

"This clearly demonstrates that the Bush administration has suffered a loss of will and that they have capitulated to the worst elements in our culture..."

And then this:

At the Catholic League, Donohue had just announced a boycott of the Lands' End catalogue when he received his White House holiday card. True, he said, the Bushes included a verse from Psalm 28, but Psalms are in the Old Testament and do not mention Jesus' birth.

"They'd better address this, because they're no better than the retailers who have lost the will to say 'Merry Christmas,' " he said.

Donohue said that Wal-Mart, facing a threatened boycott, added a Christmas page to its Web site and fired a customer relations employee who wrote a letter linking Christmas to "Siberian shamanism." He was not mollified by a letter from Lands' End saying it "adopted the 'holiday' terminology as a way to comply with one of the basic freedoms granted to all Americans: freedom of religion."

"Ninety-six percent of Americans celebrate Christmas," Donohue said. "Spare me the diversity lecture."

Mr. Donohue's not a happy fellow. And he's not the only one.

"Bush claims to be a born-again, evangelical Christian. But he sure doesn't act like one," said Joseph Farah, editor of the conservative Web site "I threw out my White House card as soon as I got it."

First, who the blog is Joseph Farah? WorldNutDaily? Anyway, at least Jerry Falwell was partially appeased by the Psalms quotation:

"There's a verse from Scripture in it. I don't mind that at all, as long as we don't try to pretend we're not a nation under God."

Hopefully he and Pat won't call upon God to thrash you like they want to do to those poor folks in Dover, PA.

But good grief. What's a president to do? I have a few suggestions

1. You could try dividing your true Christian supporters, those like Mr. Donohue, from the rest of the rabble, particularly the ones that just send cash and are good enough to shup up the rest of the time, and send each group a different greeting card. Mr. Donohue, Mr. Wilmon, and Mr. Farah could get Merry Christmas cards (that is, if they've donated to your campaigns--if not, screw 'em). Big Money supporters could get the generic Happy Holidays.

2. You could create four separate greeting cards, one for Merry Christmas, one for Happy Holidays, one for Happy Hanukkah, and one for happy festivus, and send them out randomly. I'd be funny if Mr. Donohue got the Happy Hanukkah one.

3. You could make sure to cut anybody who complains off your greetings card list all-together. If Farah wants to throw your card in the trash, you shouldn't have to send him a card.

3a. You could have Vice drop by the homes of anyone who complains about your greetings cards and let them know that there are some delightful accommodations that can be prepared for them and their families by the CIA in other countries (and make sure Vice repeatedly states the fact that neither of you condones or encourages torture).

4. Maybe you could contract out the greeting card development to one of those outfits that produces all those Charlie Brown/Dilbert/Calvin and Hobbes/Boondocks cartoon strips. This way the cards would contain the cartoon characters, which everyone loves regardless of religion, and maybe the cartoon characters would be saying something about how great it is to have some time off and get lots of presents and how you and Laura and Jenna and NotJenna hope they just have a smashing time.

5. Just stop sending the greetings cards completely. Don't you have more important things to do?

Anyway, best wishes for this happy holiday/christmas/hanukkah/festivus season to you and yours.

Senator Jay B. Bulworth

P.S. The wife and I have not received our card yet. I'm sure this is a temporary oversight. But can you look into it?

Monday, December 05, 2005

Signs of Life

Redskins 24
Rams 9

If you were listening to ESPN's Countdown to Kickoff Sunday you would have heard Mark May predicting a Ram's win. And to be honest, after the debacle that was the last three weeks, I wasn't sure I disagreed with him. Most alarming was the thought of how the Skins would handle Stephen Jackson, a big, bruising back, the type of which the Skins have not adequately defended all year. And the Rams also have, what we in the spectator sports world know as "skill players" of offense--Torry Holt, QB's the Rams seemingly rotate in and out who routinely throw for 300+ yards, just as the rookie Ryan Fitzpatrick did against the Texans last week. But as Tony Kornheiser mentioned this morning, give a professional coaching staff a week of game film, and they can usually figure people out. Which the Skins did yesterday, and thanks again to the return of Cornelius Griffin, the Skins gutted out a win yesterday, behind 100+ yard rushing days by two running backs, Portis and Cartwright.

Having said all of this, the Rams have not been among the league's elite for a while, and the Redskins win shouldn't be overestimated. On top of that, as Doc Walker said on 980 this morning, next week is at Arizona, Arizona has what we in the spectator sports world know as "skill players" on offense, the Skins have had problems with Arizona in the past, and this is no time to look ahead. And the team is still only 6-6.

Bills 23
Dolphins 24

I went off to a movie yesterday (Aeon Flux) with the Bills up 21-3 and came back to find they lost. And Sage Rosenfels, who fans here will remember as a backup on Marty's Skins team, led the Fish back in the final seconds, throwing a TD pass to Chris "Time Has Come Today" Chambers.

Vikings 21
Lions 16

Break up the Vikings. Brad Johnson, another former Skins QB, leads Vikes to fifth straight win. Mike Tice, who looked like he might not last the year, may end up as coach of the year.

Broncos 27
Chiefs 31

A very good TV game yesterday. Broncos go for 4th and a long one with two minutes left from their own 46.5. The officials initially said they made it, but with 2:01 left on the clock, Vermeil was able to challenge it, and the spot on the field was overturned. I don't blame Shanahan for going for it in that situation, they just didn't get it done.

Bears 19
Pack 7

Bears are an unbelievable 9-3, and Farve through an unfathonable interception that was returend 95 yards at the end of the first half and converted to a field goal for Da Bears. The Bears are 9-3; the Seahawks, who play tonight in phila, are 9-2. The Redskins have beaten both this year. If the NFL had the BCS, maybe the Skins would be in the Fiesta Bowl.

Bengals 38
Steelers 31

The other very good TV game yesterday, and the Bengals finally break through by winning one of the "big ones". They'd lost earlier in the year, badly, to the Steelers in Cincy, and lost a shootout with the Colts.

Texans 15
Ravens 16

Because I live in the Balt-DC area, the other TV game was this monstrosity.

Dallas 10
Giants 17

I don't know why this game wasn't televised yesterday. The Fox networks played movies. This will happen if both the Ravens and Skins have 1 pm games, but the Skins played at 4 yesterday.

College Bowl Special

After blowing out the Buffaloes and the Bruins Saturday, the Texas Longhorns and the USC Trojans advance to the Title Game, which as 980 pointed out this morning, we have to now wait a month to see.

How mad do you think the Oregon Ducks are? At 10-1, they get shut out from the BCS bowl games (basically the four top tier games: Sugar, Fiesta, Orange, and Rose) and then they get shunted back to Dec 29's Holiday Bowl with 7-4 Oklahoma. Could be an ugly game for the Sooners if Oregon brings its peaved off game to play.

I'm one of those odd guys that likes the bowl games, but we could do without the corporate brand naming. This year we have the Meineke Car Care Bowl (So. FL vs. NC State); The GMAC Bowl (UTEP vs Toledo); the MPC Computers Bowl (Boise State vs. Boston College); the Capital One Bowl (Wisconsin vs Auburn) and the Champs Sports Bowl (Clemson vs. Colorado). We also have the Poinsetta Bowl, which I think is a new one, but if a new bowl name was needed, somebody could have come up with something better.

The Alamo Bowl features Michigan vs Nebraska, both 7-4. I'm glad to see Nebraska in a bowl game, but this game could be ugly, as I think Michigan is much better than its 7-4 record, and Nebraska is probably not as good as its 7-4. The Big Ten, in which Michigan plays, is a very strong conference, especially this year. The Big 12 can't say the same.