And as we approach the ’06 race, the question looms again – is it better for conservatives if the GOP loses control of the House or the Senate? For now, my tentative answer is yes. Not just because the Congressional Republicans increasingly seem like “a bunch of bungling, spend-thrift, unreformable, tin-eared, unimaginative, hysterical pols,” as Rich Lowry puts it, and because the odor of the K Street Gang still hangs thick around the current leadership – though that has something to do with it. But more importantly, 2008 is shaping up to be a tremendously significant election: perhaps I exaggerate, but at the moment it seems as if the whole future of post-Bush conservatism might be determined by whom the GOP nominates in ’08 and whether he can win. Bush’s presidency will be an albatross around that nominee’s neck no matter what happens, but as Rich points out, the Republican Congress is actually far more unpopular than the President – and having Frist, Hastert, Boehner and company to kick around for another two years is only likely to strengthen the Democrats’ hand. At the same time, winning – or not-losing, at least -in the midterm elections exponentially increases the chances that the Republican Party, ever an establishment-minded institution, will select an “establishment” choice for the 2008 nomination . . . which in this case probably means a Bush-lite (shudder!) choice like George Allen, rather than someone – anyone! – who’s willing to consider breaking with certain orthodoxies, and backing away from certain blind alleys. ~Ross Douthat
I like playing at political prognostication as much as anyone (after all, I’m largely a political blogger–what else do I have to talk about in an election year?), and I happen to agree with Mr. Douthat on the question of the ’06 elections in that we both think it would be best if the GOP lost. But he phrases it in an interesting way: would it better for conservatives if the GOP lost in ’06? Without wanting to be too flip or idealistic (I’m not good at being either one), given the GOP’s track record of governance over the last ten years it is difficult to imagine how anything but a GOP defeat in ’06, in ’08, in ’10, etc., would be good for conservatives. But that’s not what really caught my attention here.
What struck me about this post is that it laid out very sensibly all the possibilities for what might or might not happen over the course of the next two elections, just as many speculations on American politics go (I’ve written up a few myself), working on the assumption that the “whole future of post-Bush conservatism might be determined by whom the GOP nominates in ’08 and whether he can win.” If that were the case, it would be time for conservatives to start drinking heavily. There are some (Taki among them) who might relish the opportunity, but there would be nothing left to do but that.
Not only because, as the esteemed W. James Antle III wrote in TAC recently, there are no real conservatives running for the nomination in ’08 with any remote prospect of becoming the nominee, but because if “post-Bush conservatives” have not learned by now, after the disaster of Bushism, to stop defining conservatism in terms of what the GOP wants, likes or needs most of them are even sorrier cases than I have imagined them to be. It would be like an ex-heroin addict who goes back to using because he is convinced that he just got a bad batch laced with something else, and he believes the new heroin won’t mess him up like the old stuff did. It is the subordination to the party that has put conservatives in their sorry state and netted them practically nothing in return for being used. Yes, the Roberts and Alito nominations are fine, but this sort of thing is basic and sine qua non–it is hardly something to get enthusiastic about! We might as well praise the trees for providing shade if we want to be thrilled that the GOP managed to fulfill one or two commitments out of dozens of promises to conservatives.
Someone wrote in recent years that conservatives had a dysfunctional codependent relationship with the GOP–they were the battered spouse who would not leave an abusive situation, mainly because they were in denial and also because they kept expecting the abuser to change his ways. Maybe if we just supported the GOP a little more this time, it would treat us well…That has worked out brilliantly. There is no doubt that conservatives generally, with some notable exceptions here and there, have subordinated their principles to the interests of the party. Call it pragmatism if you like, but there it is. My view is that conservatives in the GOP can continue to play the role of the quiet, longsuffering Cinderella who, in this telling of the story, vainly awaits her Prince (“Maybe George Allen won’t be too bad!” she cries hopefully), or they can be like a quick-witted Scheherazade who escapes her imprisonment and death and rises to become Queen. Part of that escape would involve imagining what it would mean to be conservative independent of the litany of party-line issues, and the constructive ways conservatives could shape society outside of the narrowly defined political process.
Allowing a party leader and his cronies to define or determine what ought to be a broad intellectual, cultural and only partly conventional political “movement” (or better yet a humane persuasion that does not need an institutionalised “movement” to keep it going) has been pure poison for conservatives over at least the last decade. As I was trying to explain the ins and outs of conservative infighting to a colleague of mine here at the University, the thought came to me: “Changes in ‘mainstream’ conservatism over the past six years have been a little bit too much like the shifts in doctrine enacted at General Party Congresses in the USSR, complete with a gaggle of appointed yes-men to parrot the new phrases and arguments that the party leader wants and the necessary purges of personnel when someone does not join in on the latest version of the NEP.” It could give a creepy new relevance to the old name of Red Republican.
Rallying to the banner of the next clown with his appointed slogan-as-philosophy will in all likelihood permanently shatter the “movement” and lose large swathes of the real natural conservative base in the rising generation to conservatism because of its all-too-close alliance with the party of Immigration, Imperialism and Insolvency. The fate of the other center-left party of this country should be less on our minds than the fate of conservatism, and the first step towards recovery is in recognising that their fates never necessarily had to be connected.