September 30, 2009
Old style conservatives going into the wilderness
(My latest book God vs. Darwin: The War Between Evolution and Creationism in the Classroom has just been released and is now available through the usual outlets. You can order it from the publishers Rowman & Littlefield for $34.95, from Amazon for $25.16, from Barnes and Noble for $26.21 ($23.58 for members), and also through your local bookstores. For more on the book, see here.)
As the previous two posts have discussed, the nutters seem to be taking over the Republican Party. The old style conservatives, taken aback by the enthusiasm with which the party rank-and-file unhesitatingly clasped true nutter Sarah Palin to their collective bosom in 2008, are now feeling even more marginalized, alarming them so much that they see no future for themselves in the party.
David Frum, a former speechwriter to George W. Bush, does not like what he sees and writes:
We conservatives are submitting our movement to some of the most unscrupulous people in American life. This submission disgraces conservatism, discredits Republicans, and damages the country. It’s beyond time for conservatives who know better to join us at NewMajority in emancipating ourselves from leadership by the most stupid, the most cynical, and the most truthless.
Bruce Bartlett, a leading conservative economist, writes:
In my opinion, conservative activists, who seem to believe that the louder they shout the more correct their beliefs must be, are less angry about Obama’s policies than they are about having lost the White House in 2008. They are primarily Republican Party hacks trying to overturn the election results, not representatives of a true grassroots revolt against liberal policies.
For another conservative columnist Rod Dreher, the last straw was the absurd flake-out by people in his party over Obama speaking to schoolchildren. He writes:
It would be a pleasant surprise if conservatives who took the president of the United States addressing youths as an opportunity to stumble toward the fainting couch realized that they had made fools of themselves. Fat chance. Obama Derangement Syndrome is pandemic on the right -- and it's leaving conservatives like me politically homeless.
Dreher took to task Mike Huckabee who on his radio program treated a notorious nutter, actor Jon Voight, like he was sage, even though he was spouting bizarre anti-Obama drivel. Dreher writes:
To his great discredit, Huckabee, a pastor, let this crazy talk pass unchallenged.
Perhaps conservative elites like Huckabee really believe this kind of vicious invective, which right-wing radio talkers routinely disgorge as well. Or maybe they're flat-out cynical. That is, they know that Obama is no more a socialist radical than George W. Bush was a fascist authoritarian, but they're happy to ride the wave of populist spite because it suits their short-term interests.
Which means what, exactly? That winning is the only thing, and to hell with the good of the country, civil society and the possibility of intelligent debate about serious matters? Watching the school-speech insanity blow up on the right, a friend who has been deeply involved for decades at the top of Republican politics, e-mailed to say that she was done. The conservative movement is hurtling off a cliff -- and she was bailing out.
Take me with you, said I.
Dreher correctly identified Fox News and right wing talk radio as the drivers of this movement. He discovers to his surprise that the charges that have long been made against Fox News, that it is a vehicle for right-wing paranoia and fear-mongering, may be actually true.
I've always taken complaints about the Fox News Channel as evidence of liberal whining and intolerance. But I don't watch TV news. And then I tuned in to Glenn Beck's popular Fox show the other night and saw him tutor his audience on the president's conspiratorial plan to institute "oligarhy" (sic) in America. And I thought: How does a paranoid like this get on national TV?
But he should not be surprised. In the world of TV, high ratings and the money it brings in take precedence over ideology or party interests. It takes much smaller numbers to be a cable news leader than it does to win elections. While you need about 50 million voters to win presidential elections, if you get just 500,000 viewers in the 25-54 age demographic (just 1% of those voters) you will easily be a cable news leader. So cable news shows can aim their message at the fringiest of fringe groups and still come out as big winners in TV land while simultaneously driving the Republican Party into the ditch.
David Brooks is another conservative who does not like what he sees:
The one danger -- the main danger of all this, the Glenn [Beck] and the Rush [Limbaugh] and all that -- they're not going to take over the country. But they are taking over the Republican Party.
And so if the Republican Party is sane, they will say no to these people. But every single elected leader in the Republican Party is afraid to take on Rush and Glenn Beck.
MSNBC talk sow host Joe Scarborough (a conservative who used to be a Republican congressman) also warns about the dangers of letting people like Glenn Beck rant crazily. Steve Benen lists other conservatives who are similarly alarmed.
Frum, Bartlett, Dreher, Brooks, and Scarborough are right to be concerned. The capture of the Republican Party by the nutters is not only bad for that party, consigning them to the electoral wilderness for years to come, it is also bad for the Democratic Party and democracy in general. Only highly partisan Democrats who think that winning is the only thing that matters can be happy watching the Republican Party walk into the wild.
A thriving democracy needs two vibrant parties that can articulate different visions of where they want the country go, and also to keep each other honest by exposing their lies. We have seen the rot that has set in because the US has already effectively become a one-party state when it comes to the interests of big business and war. If the Republican Party moves completely into the asylum, as it seems to be doing, the situation will get even worse. The Democratic Party can then serve unchallenged the interests of the wealthy even more easily than it does now, no longer feeling obliged to pay even lip-service to progressive causes. It can start new wars and continue old ones, continue to torture people, imprison them indefinitely without trial, and enhance wiretapping and other encroachments on civil liberties, all of which is what the Obama administration and the Democratic-controlled congress is currently doing.
POST SCRIPT: Cute
I came across this clever commercial online. I assume that it is running on TV as well.