The New Yorker’s George Packer writes a brilliant piece this week chronicling the downfall of the conservative movement. He talks to all of the major conservative players and his analysis is both cogent and fair. It’s a long piece, but well worth the read. Here are a few key passages.
The fact that the least conservative, least divisive Republican in the 2008 race is the last one standing—despite being despised by significant voices on the right—shows how little life is left in the movement that Goldwater began, Nixon brought into power, Ronald Reagan gave mass appeal, Newt Gingrich radicalized, Tom DeLay criminalized, and Bush allowed to break into pieces. “The fact that there was no conventional, establishment, old-style conservative candidate was not an accident,” Brooks said. “Mitt Romney pretended to be one for a while, but he wasn’t. Rudy Giuliani sort of pretended, but he wasn’t. McCain is certainly not. It’s not only a lack of political talent—there’s just no driving force, and it will soften up normal Republicans for change.”
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Yuval Levin, a former Bush White House official, who is now a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, agrees with Gingrich’s diagnosis. “There’s an intellectual fatigue, even if it hasn’t yet been made clear by defeat at the polls,” he said. “The conservative idea factory is not producing as it did. You hear it from everybody, but nobody agrees what to do about it.”
Pat Buchanan was less polite, paraphrasing the social critic Eric Hoffer: “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.”
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Instead of just limiting government, the Gingrich revolutionaries set out to disable it. Although the legislative reins were in their hands, these Republicans could find no governmental projects to organize their energy around. David Brooks said, “The only thing that held the coalition together was hostility to government.” When the Times Magazine asked William Kristol what ideas he was for—in early 1995, high noon of the Gingrich Revolution—Kristol could think to mention only school choice and “shaping the culture.”
One of the clear lessons of the dialogue on this blog is that the conservatives really don’t have anything they are “for”, except the War in Iraq. Until they begin helping the progressives in this huge reform process ahead of us, they will have nothing to offer the American people.