Dan is right that the hard work of movement-building is exactly what needs to be done to avoid being slaves to circumstance. (Or focusing on who might be the lesser evil in a presidential race.) It’s also part of what I was getting at in my last post: Not enough of it has been done and, with a few notable exceptions, paleos have done even less preaching to the unconverted. Our opponents on the right are very skillful at adapting to changing political circumstances. In electoral politics especially, you often have to make your own luck.
Sure, paleos were dealt some good hands during the 1990s: No Cold War and no 9/11, the Republicans had many weak leaders who were unpopular with grassroots conservatives, there was a nation-building Democrat in the White House. But much of what paleos oppose has become less popular with the country as a whole — if not the Right — rather than more. Most U.S. military interventions of the 1990s went better, at least from an American perspective, than many critics predicted while the Iraq War has been a fiasco. George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole look like Republican statesmen compared to their successors.
Yet a decade ago, it was neoconservative magazine writers who were often perplexed by the attitudes of congressional Republicans and the ’90s version of red staters. Pat Buchanan’s opposition to the popular and successful Gulf War was not disqualifying in the eyes of grassroots conservatives in the way that Chuck Hagel’s criticism of the widely panned sequel has been. While Buchanan never won the nomination, he did well enough that Bob Dole felt the need to pander to the Buchananites on trade and immigration, just as George W. Bush did with his “humble foreign policy” line. It wasn’t a golden age, but I prefer it to the political scene we have now. And it ought to make us look for opportunities in what comes next.