Did Gop Lose Because Of Bush? Or Because Conservatism Is No Longer Relevant?

January 25th, 2009 at 9:45 pm | 23 Comments |

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The key question for worried conservatives is whether the last two years of elections represents a repudiation of conservatism, particularly of the Reaganite brand, or is merely a rejection of George W. Bush and his perceived failures? In the 1950s, Sam Lubell argued that, at any time in history, one party is the dominant political force and the other merely reacts to it and fights on its terrain. Michael Lind argues that the Democrats are now the Sun party again. Being Lind he does it in as annoying a fashion as possible, and bases it on a number of false premises, but here is the argument in its strong form.

So, do the demographic and social transformations of the last 20 years–transformations likely to continue–make a Reaganite conservatism impractical and doomed to defeat? Right now, the Republican party has virtually no presence in black America, is weak in Hispanic America, is rejected by the young, and also completely out of touch on social issues (as the argument goes), and the college educated (or miseducated) all flee from the Party as a vampire from light.

The spectacle of Republicans in 2008 trying to “out Reagan” one another was dispiriting–but understandable. Even still–in a year with an unpopular Republican President, during an economic downturn and uncertain wars–a very old candidate with problems within his own party still garnered 47% of the vote. And this despite John McCain’s weak ability to address people’s economic and health concerns in an lucid way, and the fact that he was outspent by as much as three to one while running in the teeth of media scorn.

The Democratic Party is not the Sun. It is the beneficiary of a perfect political storm. I was around in 1992, kids. George H. Bush, moderate, Greenwich prep school educated, bipartisan, tax-raising, and internationalist did not get 40% of the vote. That was a drubbing.

We have work to do. The horizon is not unclouded. We will shortly be dealt hard blows by an uncongenial political consensus. But socialism has inexplicably survived the permanent collapse of the Soviet Union; conservatism will survive a temporary collapse in the markets. Basic Republican values still prevail: Americans do not like to be overtaxed. They do not like to be overregulated. They mistrust establishments. They resist assaults on their religious values. They expect people to take care of themselves. These traits did not change when Barack Obama was elected. They are the key to understanding what conservatives need to do, and to create tensions within the Democratic coalition that can be exploited. Time to start thinking up concrete–and relevant–ways to do that.

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23 Comments so far ↓

  • senorlechero

    Or because of the economy?

  • senorlechero

    I was around in ’92 also, and so was Ross Perot, who got 18 or 19% of the vote. Clinton got 43% and HW Bush 37%. That is not a “drubbing” Contrary to Democratic spin, the vast majority of Perot’s voters were conservatives or conservative leaning moderates. Without Perot HW Bush would have won. Perot also messed with the 96 election and got 8%, Dole (the weakest candidate the Republicans have run in my lifetime….52 years), and Clinton got 48%. Again, not a drubbing. Maybe you should have just written the last paragraph, which I agree wholeheatedly with.

  • GA Conservative

    It’s pretty simple – we have not made conservatism relevant anymore to the lives of ordinary citizens.

    I cast my first vote in 1992 and even though I am a die hard Republican, I cast my vote for H. Ross Perot. I would argue that his conservative populism was stronger than the status quo positions put forward by GHWB.

  • greg_barton

    Yes, socialism survived: A Republican administration just bought it a $700 billion summer home, too. If Republicans mistrust establishments, why did they just preserve the status quo with the biggest financial bailout in history? And, I’m sorry, but the future of the Republican party should be constructive. Creating tensions and exploiting them should be a tactic of the past, for everyone.

  • suey

    You lost because the last 8 years was a failure. The GOP/Bush polices just did not work. More spending, and more spending, and more spending did not work. Tax cuts for the rich, depressed earnings for the middle class. Treat the minorities like mushrooms. Ignore young people. Pander to your diminishing base of old, white men. That in small part is why you lost in 2006 and 2008. There were a lot of other factors like never ending war, trashing the constitution and spying on your own citizens, but that’s enough to go on with.

  • Euro_Anarchist

    For the time being, throughout this Recession, Conservatism and Free-Market economics will become less and less promenent, as it is Conservatism and Free-Market economics that have caused this recession (namely the balooning of the sum-prime mortgage market), and the people can see this, left wing politics (namely the election of the Liberal Obama and the use of Neo-Keynesian economics (nationalisation of banks)) will become more and more prominent as the people realise that this is the only way that the world will start to grow economically again.

    “But socialism has inexplicably survived the permanent collapse of the Soviet Union; conservatism will survive a temporary collapse in the markets”

    The Soviet Union wasn’t socialist, it was totalitarian Stalinist Communism, many even argue that Stalinism isn’t even a true form of Communism. Also, ideas cannot be destroyed.

  • dragonlady

    The GOP became ossified and abandoned many conservative principles (like fiscal responsibility). Also, I think it was more anti-Bush and the economy than an embrace of socialism.

  • dragonlady

    Euro_Anarchrist, the subprime market balloned because the government insisted the banks lend $ to folks w had no business owning a me (no $ down, no closing costs, no income verification).

  • mpolito

    John is completely right: suld be concerned? Of course. Suld we feel that we have to totally overhaul our principles to be relevant again? Certainly not. Running moderates in blue states is fine with me; after all, Democrats regularly run pro-gun and pro-life candidates in the South and the Plains. wever, I oppose any serious move leftward for the national party.

  • tarazeigler

    While I understand why Reagan is so respected in the GOP (and beyond), I could not understand the obsession with Reagan during this last election. If the GOP is to be successful, the language of the party needs to change. Leadership needs to realize that there is a new generation of voters for wm Reagan is just another historical figure (an important one but historical nonetheless). The GOP can certainly still espouse a lot of the same values but the language needs to reflect the fact that this is no longer the 1980s and that party leadership has a strong grasp on the issues of today. I never got that impression in 2008.

  • larryo

    The problem is that American conservatism is a sham – a s game, in which the general welfare is moved around and purposefully obscured.

    Look at the current crop of Republican senators, trying to get the President’s AG nominee to promise not to investigate or prosecute the wlesale official lawbreaking of the last 8 years as a price of confirmation. These are the “law and order” types. They had no trouble confirming Al Gonzales, w now stands exposed for the lying weasel that everyone with any sense already knew he was.

    As Dorothy Parker said, there is no “there” there.

  • suey

    Larryo they are shaking in their ses at the prospect of an investigation. They want everything just swept under the carpet. The Drive behind the lder thing is Rove, still pulling the strings to try and keep himself out of prison.

  • suey

    Larryo they are shaking in their ses at the prospect of an investigation. They want everything just swept under the carpet. The Drive behind the lder thing is Rove, still pulling the strings to try and keep himself out of prison.

  • sinz54

    Even before 1980, Reagan had put forward a coherent philosophy, rooted in American ideals, as to what conservatism suld stand for. His ideas were considered unortdox by the GOP at first, but later adopted as their new philosophy. But Obama has NEVER done the same thing for liberalism. He has never been as eloquent a defender of liberalism as FDR was. If he doesn’t, he will be for liberalism was Eisenwer was for conservatism: Possibly a successful president, but not someone w ushered in a lasting political transformation.

  • sinz54

    Larryo: That’s not the reason. The reason is that American politics will take a severe blow if members of one party take it upon themselves to prosecute members of the other party for past acts after leaving office. It will be impossible for such an action to not be regarded as pure political vengeance, both by the party affected and by the general public. (Do you deny that vengeance partly motivates you?) That will be catastrophic for the principle of tolerance we have in this country, which keeps our politics from degenerating into what they have in Third World countries. If you want to see “lawbreakers” brought to justice, first appoint a truly BIPARTISAN commission to look into alleged violations of the law before charges are ever brought. If even Republican members agree that charges suld be brought, then so be it. But under no cirstances suld this devolve into “just Democrats prosecuting Bush Administration officials.”

  • Kaz

    “They expect people to take care of themselves.”

    There is a growing majority that doesn’t believe this.

    When Obama talks of “responsibility”, he means your responsibility to take care of others via the state. He doesn’t mean get-your-act-together and take care of yourself.

  • larryo

    sinz54 – no, the reason is what suey says it is. These are supposed to be the tough-on-crime guys! What happened to that?

    Is the Republican definition of “crime” restricted to black teenagers selling crack? More to the point, is the effectiveness of deterrence – the theoretical cornerstone of our criminal law – limited to cases where the decision to prosecute is bipartisan?

    Prosecution is not done by political parties unless they are under the thumb of Karl Rove. Prosecution is done by prosecutors, w for the most part make their decisions based on facts and law.

    Where are you on the subject of Monica Goodling politicizing the DOJ? Do you think that was good for the country?

  • senorlechero

    sinz….great points to Larryo. I would just add that GWB did not go after Janet Reno or any other Clinton official for their actions in the Elian Gonzalez case, Waco, or Ruby Ridge, all which were highly political cases where it could have been said laws were clearly violated

  • InTheMiddle12

    I’d rather take the long view historic perspective and recognize this is a political cycle, which has gone on since America’s inception. A cycle that swings from right to left to right to left again. This is a swing to the left. One can over analyze this or get into odd defensive and offensive postures, but the bottom line is this is how society evolves in the USA, and I’m grateful for it.

    The Dems spent the last 20+ years basically in the wilderness, with the exception of Clinton’s 8. Now it’s the GOPs turn to be thrust out to contemplate their positions and reform their messages. Ask Morris has said in the past, and trust me I think he’s generally not very bright but right on this one point, their is a genius to the American electorate.

  • MarkG555

    I buy the concept, with one exception: any new enti-tlements Obama puts in place will be nearly impossible to simply cancel.

  • senorlechero

    good comment inthemiddle. I wish more liberals thought like you on the matter.

  • suey

    Quote the author ” and to create tensions within the Democratic coalition that can be exploited. Time to start thinking up concrete–and relevant–ways to do that.”

    Why not just get some decent new ideas instead. Oh! that would require some thought and intelligence. You amaze me. Lets exploit and ferment division within the democrats rather than persuade the electorate with the right solutions to their problems. Or present decent alternative policy and government that actually works. And you wonder why you lost. Really.

  • sinz54

    larryo: When angry liberals call for Bush administration officials to be prosecuted, they’re usually talking about alleged Bush violations of civil liberties and alleged “war crimes” with respect to the War on Terror. And that kind of stuff is very, very political. Because a war against entirely non-uniformed civilian terrorists is unprecedented in modern American history. There’s no common consensus on the legalities; conservative and liberal legal scholars have been furiously debating that for years. (That’s why several such cases went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.) All those Americans–and they aren’t all Republicans–who in the aftermath of 9-11 wanted the Bush Administration to do whatever was necessary to prevent another terrorist attack, are going to regard punishing Bushies for their actions to fight al-Qaeda as political revenge. If you Democrats truly believe that the Bushies committed war crimes or civil liberties violations, try convincing the other half of the nation that what Bush did in Iraq was worse than what Truman did to Japan. Try convincing the other half of the nation that what Bush did to the terrorists in Gitmo was worse than what FDR did to the German saboteurs captured by the FBI during World War II, or what Eisenhower did to the German saboteurs captured by the U.S. Army during the Battle of the Bulge. For starters, how about trying to convince me first.