The End of Conservatism As We Know It?
by Mark Wilson, Editor
October 15, 2008
As the days pass, the news gets better and better for progressives. Republican pundit Bill Kristol had to publicly contradict himself about the efficacy of the McCain campaign strategy he once pushed for. McCain and Palin are in disagreement about whether they should create pitchfork-wielding mobs or not. Sarah Palin, an independent investigation concluded, had abused her authority as governor. That bailout bill had to pass without any debate even though it gave the Treasury unlimited power to do anything it wanted and had no oversight and no guarantees. But that doesn’t matter because any legislation is good legislation right now, and if we don’t pass this thing then the Earth will crash into the sun! Remember that one? And how, once it passed, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has continued to tank, now roughly a mere 25% lower than it was a month ago?
Oh, crap. And Paul Krugman won the Nobel Prize for Economics.
It’s not a great time to be a conservative. The party that has run the country — first the executive branch, then the legislative branch, then both — for the last twenty-eight years (with only two years completely on the outside) is on the outs. The Republican Party, once the object of admiration by even the most liberal admen for its unified, coherent image, is publicly fighting with itself over what tactics to use next.
Extreme conservatism is on the way out. Eight years of extreme conservatism has turned the United States into a shell of its former self. That stuff’s poison!
Consider that unilateral militarism has proven to be, not a force of good, but a force of confusion, corruption, and destruction. Supply-side economics has made the poor poorer, the rich richer, and the middle class smaller. The United States is no longer regarded diplomatically; a ludicrously botched war has made us the laughingstock of the international community — when, that is, that laughter isn’t interrupted by contempt. Health care costs are rising, but the response of conservatives is to let the very same market that permitted those costs to double in eight years continue as is. In fact, McCain even wants more deregulation of health care.
But that’s just a start. You get the point. As a theory of governance, extreme conservatism should never work with government, anyway. In fact, many extreme conservatives never believed the government should be there in the first place. It’s hard to do your best at a job that you don’t think should even exist. The best-case scenario would be that the government gets dismantled, everything becomes privatized, and everyone goes home to the consulting firms they started in order to get lucrative government contracts. Grover Norquist would like to drown the government in a bathtub, but not drown it so much that it can no longer sign checks.
The nation is at a crossroads, except this crossroads is over a river of liquid-hot magma. Which direction will you choose? Liberalism? Or conservatism? Make it fast because your shoes are melting, and you can’t afford to buy new ones. If this election goes the way it looks like it might go, with Obama and the Democrats handily defeating the Republicans, extreme conservatism will have to pack its bags and redefine itself in a more moderate form.
The fact that the southern vote might be in question is proof enough that something’s going on, here.
Extreme conservatism — and with it, the mantra that The Market is a powerful force to be feared and obeyed — has failed to deliver on its promises for every American. True, it has enriched a few, but that has too often been at the expense of the poor or the American taxpayer. Apologists of the completely unchecked Wild West Market want to privatize the gains, but socialize the losses. This is why we are now paying $700 billion, on the outside, for a few firms to enrich themselves tremendously. We went through this before, remember? In 2001, with Enron, Worldcom, and Tyco. We put those guys away because they found new and interesting ways to purchase a $15,000 umbrella stand and then leave taxpayers with the bill once it all came crumbling down.
It’s not just people with investments who stand to win with more regulation and less reliance on The Market to police itself. Consider the 47 million Americans without health care–conservatism could continue living out the rest of its days unencumbered in the knowledge that people might be dying of curable ailments, if only they had enough money to afford them.
The people who claimed to know best are now unable to solve the problems plaguing our democracy. The Bill Kristols of the world, championing the cause of William F. Buckley, are powerless to help us get out of Iraq, fix our economic problems, and repair our world image. All they offer, to quote Joe Biden, is “more of the same.” Because it’s that same that has hurt us for so long. After a person has been punched in the face for eight years, it’s easy to find a cause for that person’s headaches. President Bush’s stock response of “trust me, I know what I’m doing” is now obviously a facade.
A weary nation realizes that the policies of the past eight years are no longer sufficient to solve the problems caused by the policies of the past eight years. Too little, too late? Perhaps, but better than not at all.