In my last post I asked the question: Who are these people?, meaning the new Republicans. They describe themselves as conservatives, but one must ask: what kind? These are most definitely not the conservatives of my younger days. The first conservative voice I became aware of was William F. Buckley, who founded National Review magazine, still a standard bearer for the U.S. conservative movement, and had a television program called Firing Line. Bill Buckley was a Yale University educated intellectual. Following on the heels of Buckley was George Will, who had M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in politics from Princeton University. George is still plugging away but no longer is at the point of the conservative spear. Today’s learned conservative voices are more like David Brooks, who holds a degree in history from the University of Chicago, and is a thoughtful and intelligent man who writes a regular column for the New York Times newspaper (part of the liberal mainstream press!) and appears weekly on National Public Radio’s program News Hour (NPR is a conservative whipping boy). Not the point of the conservative spear either.
At the point of the spear are the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. Limbaugh attended Southeast Missouri State University for a year but, “He flunked everything,” according to his mother. Beck, a Fox News star, had the singular accomplishment of “getting high” on marijuana every day from the ages of 15 to 30. He managed to graduate high school in there. Neither has run for or held political office or even helped run a campaign as best as I can find out. Yet they make millions of dollars a year “commenting” on politics. But these two vigorously describe themselves as being “entertainers” to hide from the impact their hate-filled rhetoric has on our political and social processes.
Where or where have the thinking Republicans gone? Like a teenager, they have gone “out” swelling the ranks of “independents” who now outnumber the Republicans and Democrats as the largest segment of the U.S. electorate.
The remaining Republicans like to claim that the U.S. public is “conservative” and that they represent the core of the country. This untruth (the new civility forbids me the word lie) is hammered away at as it is a featured talking point for Republicans. Say something over and over and it sounds true after a while. Actually this is not true, the U.S. public is schizophrenic. When we feel uncertain, we tend to be conservative, trying to hang on to what we’ve got. When times are good we tend liberal, being generous with part of the spoils. And we are not consistently so, what we exhibit as an attitude does depend on the issues.
What has happened to the Republican Party is what movement conservatives have wanted all along, all but the most extreme conservatives have been purged from the Republican Party, like a river sweeping away the lighter stones, exposing bedrock. The “Tea Party” (which is not a party) is part of the exposed bedrock. It was always there as part of the Republican Party because what other choice did those folks have. But this is a small part of the U.S. electorate, just as liberals are a small part. Let’s be generous and place both blocks at about 20% of voters which leaves 60% in the center. Those in the center are neither conservative nor liberal, they are basically pragmatists, asking for our politicians to do what seems to be needed at the time.
The conservatives of my youth were asking questions like “What would a conservative welfare state look like?” because they admitted that a welfare state was in no way in conflict with conservative principles. True conservatives value social stability through guiding institutions. But true conservatives have been drummed out of business by movement conservatives who think that the institution of government should play as small a part in our lives as is possible. This ignores that fact that conservatives have always granted that government is the only political actor that can protect the poor from the imbalances of free market capitalism, for example.
So, we have the strange situation that President Obama, labeled a socialist and liberal by the movement conservatives, and who actually represents the center (mostly) is behaving like a true conservative as the times and the Great Recession dictate. (President Nixon believed in spending to stimulate the economy and President Reagan, in eight years, killed exactly one federal program.) And the movement conservatives, who are far to the right of where the Republican Party has ever been, are in a position to exercise their will through their control of the House of Representatives.
If you want to know how things will work out I ask this question: Which U.S. President best exemplifies holding true to the principles of the movement conservatives?
The answer: George W. Bush. His faith-based initiatives, his wars of aggression, his tax cuts for the rich, his disdain for the “liberal media” etc. all hewed to the line of the movement conservatives. So we have a preview of how their ideas will work.