30 August 2009

They aren't all crazy

I'm sure that he [Obama] does. No, no, I'm serious. I'm sure that he does and I'm sure that he respects the Constitution of the United States, I really do. I am absolutely convinced of it. I just believe, my friends, that there is a fundamental difference in philosophy and about the role of government. That's why we have competition for public office, and competition amongst parties, and competition about different ideas and visions for the future of America. I am convinced the President is absolutely sincere in his beliefs. But he is -- wait a minute, wait a minute -- he is sincere in his beliefs -- we just happen to disagree. And he is the President of the United States, and let's be respectful.

John McCain

McCain made the above comments in response to a question as to whether Obama knows "that we still live under a Constitution". Not surprisingly (these days), he was roundly booed by his conserva-tive audience.

In an era when the right has sunk to the level of Limbaugh, Beck, and dining-room tables, McCain exemplifies that marginalized species, the sane conservative. He's not the only one. David Frum, whose name repeatedly comes up in this context, has recently questioned the Republican mainstream's kamikaze strategy on health-care reform. Lisa Murkowski has done the same. Bruce Bartlett wants conservatives to hold Republicans accountable instead of blaming everything on the Democrats. Venturing back to an earlier time, how I'd love to hear any major present-day politician, conservative or liberal, talk like this!

Such words from an arch-conservative sound unthinkable today, when the right-vs.-left divide has de facto become pretty much a manifestation of the Christian-Right-vs.-secularist polarization, accompanied on the right by the religious-fanatic traits of reality-denial and outraged demonization of all opposition. But this is a relatively recent development. The Christian Right didn't become dominant within the right until the 1990s.

I've speculated that what we're seeing now might actually be the end of conservatism -- that the all-embracing failure of the Bush Presidency and the ascendancy of religious bigotry and delusion have left conservatism a permanently-discredited ideology like Soviet-style Communism. That could happen. More likely, though, the right will eventually regain its senses and thus its broader support. The same April poll that showed only 21% of Americans self-identifying as Republicans also showed 35% self-identifying as conservative "on most political matters" (see questions 901 and 908a). A lot of the 14% difference probably consists of moderate conservatives who can't stomach the current party's extremism or the Bush administration's failures and hypocrisy.

Recall, too, that in the 1980s the situation was almost a mirror-image of today's. Back then it was the left that had wandered off into the wilderness of radicalism and craziness, with attitudes on major issues (crime, political correctness, the Soviet threat) that made it hard to take seriously, while the country had just solidly elected a popular Republican President in the wake of a failed Democratic administration. Pundits seriously speculated about the marginalization of the left as a permanent minority element in American politics. What turned that situation around? Above all, the firm centrism of Bill Clinton, who was not afraid to confront the nutcases on his own side.

Will the right produce such a figure? Will a major Republican leader finally offer a "Sister Souljah moment", telling his own side with Goldwater-like bluntness that all the birth-certificate blather and Obama-is-Hitler ranting and gay-bashing and global-warming denialism and treating every policy disagreement as the second coming of Stalin and all the rest of the nutty stuff has got to go, so that the right can be taken seriously again?

McCain notwithstanding, I see little hope for such a development in the near future. Recall that 1980 and the marginalization of the left led to twelve years of Republican rule. If today's situation follows the same trajectory, the right will not emerge from the wilderness until it rallies behind a moderate centrist to challenge President Biden's re-election in 2020.


Blogger Sue said...

Infidel great post! If it is the end of conservatism, it is by there own actions, but what will take its place? Will the nuts rise up and become the whole party, seems like its already happening and that is frightening! If the sane leaders of the right don't speak up and don't bring forth a leader then I can assume we will keep power long into the future.

30 August, 2009 09:23  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Infidel great post! If it is the end of conservatism, it is by there own actions, but what will take its place?

Thanks! If the right is truly finished as a mainstream political force, then the remaining debates will take place within the left, between different interest groups of the left, and eventually two or three rival political camps will emerge from that.

I still think it's more likely that the conservatives will eventually get their act together. It's not as if they don't have anything to say. There are legitimate questions about exactly how health care should be reformed. There are legitimate questions about the proper size and scope and role of government. The country is not discussing those questions because the right is too wrapped up in death panels and how gay marriage will destroy civilization and the rest of this nonsense.

30 August, 2009 09:46  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Infidel, you may take a look at this.

31 August, 2009 11:28  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Good link, thanks. Here's an interview I found insightful about the right then and now.

31 August, 2009 13:11  

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