Friday, August 04, 2006

The end of the right?

I think this qualifies as wishful thinking on E.J. Dionne's part, but he's got some interesting points interspersed through his latest column.

Is conservatism finished?

What might have seemed an absurd question less than two years ago is now one of the most important issues in American politics. The question is being asked -- mostly quietly but occasionally publicly -- by conservatives themselves as they survey the wreckage of their hopes, and as their champions in the Republican Party use any means necessary to survive this fall's elections.

All true, but that hardly means their finished. Conservatives have successfully altered the playing field on a lot of topics, notably welfare, family and the role of government. They retain strong influence within the GOP, which at a minimum will still be a strong minority after this fall's elections. Their fundraising ability remains enormous.

There is the looming threat of a schism, as the GOP takeover exposed a strong and growing tension between small-government conservatives (who have varied social views) and social conservatives (who like using government to achieve their aims). If that schism occurs it won't kill conservatism but it could dilute its power.

Still, that's probably a good thing. Such a split would better reflect the actual influence of each faction, and allow for more cooperation between each faction and the liberal and moderate groups they agree with on individual issues. We might see more consensus, more pragmatic solutions to longstanding problems.

It does seem clear, though, that conservatism's grip on the GOP is slipping as the Republicans find it increasingly incompatible with the demands and seductions of incumbency and majority status. And, warming my heart, that means the influence of moderates is growing.

Most conservatives oppose the minimum wage on principle as a form of government meddling in the marketplace. But moderate Republicans in jeopardy this fall desperately wanted an increase in the minimum wage.

So the seemingly ingenious Republican leadership, which dearly wants deep cuts in the estate tax, proposed offering nickels and dimes to the working class to secure billions for the rich. Fortunately, though not surprisingly, the bill failed.

The episode was significant because it meant Republicans were acknowledging that they would not hold congressional power without the help of moderates. That is because there is nothing close to a conservative majority in the United States.

He goes on to note the many and sharp conservative criticisms of the Republican government. My favorite is the National Review's description of Republican fiscal policy: "Incontinence."

What does this mean for the political landscape? Probably less than you might think. Conservative influence on Republicans might be slipping, but it's not like Democrats are actively courting them. So to the extent that conservatives vote, they'll probably keep voting Republican. And the more the Democrats move to the left, the more motivation conservatives will have to vote Republican simply to keep Democrats out of power.

The Democrats can neutralize that in one simple way: moderation. By not appearing to be a radical threat to conservative goals, they can avoid motivating conservatives to vote for Republican candidates they have only lukewarm love for. By finding issues where they can work with conservatives, they can weaken the stranglehold that the GOP has on those voters and show themselves to be principled partners, not a wild-eyed enemy.

By claiming the middle Democrats can simultaneously court the moderate majority and neutralize the GOP's conservative base. Yes, it may cost them with the netroots in turn; but that's a trade-off that is well worth it. It's a rejection of extremism, of polarization, of partisanship. Even without the political advantages, it would be the right thing to do.

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2 Comments:

Anonymous Marc Schneider said...

Unfortunately, that's not how the Kossacks and other left wing blogger-types see things. They see this as an opportunity to move the party and the nation to the left. That includes purging the party of Lieberman. I am pretty convinced, unfortunately, that the Democrats are going to screw things up again. The bloggers assume that because the Republicans rode an ideological agenda to power, the Dems can do the same thing. But I don't think that's true because the way the system is structured, conservatives have an advantage electorally (lots of small, red states).

8/08/2006 2:12 PM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

I'm sort of neutral on the Lieberman thing, since it's just one race and while I don't think Lieberman is a Bush lap dog, I also don't agree with all of his stances. I don't think that race represents a battle for the soul of the party.

But I don't walk with the Kossacks. I think it's fun to see a leftist counterpart to the conservative shouting, but I don't want them to take over the Dems any more than I like the conservatives hijacking the Reps.

8/08/2006 6:33 PM  

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