The conservative movement is irredeemable. What William F. Buckley and Barry Goldwater launched decades ago was perverted into a corporate theocracy. In recent days, Kevin Phillips new book American Theocracy, has received much attention for his scholarly analysis of the movement’s legacy. It’s worth reading because Phillips also wrote The Emerging Republican Majority while working on the Nixon campaign. It was published a year later and proved prescient. This time Phillips documents the legacy of a movement he helped launch.
The rumblings of conservative intellectuals such as Phillips and Bruce Bartlett illustrate that the Republican crusade is sucking wind. Even President Reagan’s former speechwriter Peggy Noonan openly asks whether Bush is a liberal.
Bartlett’s and Noonan’s futile efforts to distance conservatism from Bush is reminiscent of Gorbachev’s attempt to distance Communism from Stalin. Gorbachev’s reforms failed to save Communism from its evil ghosts. Similarly, conservatives will never succeed in distancing their failed ideology from Bush. His biography blends all the threads of modern conservatism that is really a marriage of corporate interests and theocracy.
He’s a mediocre man born into wealth, who never had to prove himself in a meritocracy and found religion. Through the network of his family name Bush became President and launched a war that appealed to corporatists and theocrats alike. How much more conservative can one be? Conservatives like to portray their ideology as a celebration of self-made men with optimism. In reality though, the poster boy for conservatism is not Ronald Reagan. It’s George W. Bush – a man with wealth he didn’t earn honestly who believes the apocalypse is just around the corner.
The current attack from Bush by conservatives is a canard. They attack him for reckless spending but as Paul Krugman recently observed, spending is not the cause of our fiscal mess. It’s the tax cuts for the wealthy combined with the Iraq War that they all supported enthusiastically. In criticizing Bush, these conservatives are hoping to define the terms of their surrender.
Hence, an epic political battle is now engaged for what replaces the ugly boil known as modern conservatism. It’s a contest that may take a decade or longer to shake out. Democrats have two choices. Their first option is to be risk averse and opportunistically ride a wave of discontent to power. This can be achieved over time if corporatists are seduced into believing their self-interest resides with the Democrats.
It’s not hard to see that happening. Republicans are in distress and the Democratic Party is rife with corporatists. Simply recall how many Democrats supported the hideous bankruptcy legislation that passed last year. Furthermore, wealthy corporatists typically enjoy a hedonistic life style and might find the Democratic rhetoric of social tolerance more appealing.
If the Democrats pursue this course they may enjoy some short-term political victories. Pro-choice plutocrats, who don’t say mean things about gays and exploit globalization at the commoner’s expense, would then govern the country. Our civil liberties would still be at risk, global warming not addressed, and the threat of illegitimate war always a possibility. Remember, the former nomenklatura of Communist Russia reinvented themselves into a mob-controlled oligarchy. Similarly, the corporatists will simply exploit the Democrat's brand to achieve their ends if we surrender our principles.
I prefer a second option: lancing the boil. It is imperative that authentic progressives, "Crash the Gate" and win on a mandate that expunges both corporatism and theocracy from our body politic. A half victory with Democrats enjoying nominal power while corporatists pull the strings behind the scenes is not acceptable.
To achieve the victory we progressives all want means not compromising out of convenience or expediency. Let’s not simply take back Congress this year by campaigning as if it's 1946 and asking if the American public has “had enough.” Why not earn a mandate for real change and put forth a progressive program of specifics such as national health insurance? The time is ripe for boldness as I wrote on March 18th.
It also means not surrendering to the Hillary Clinton juggernaut in 2008. She is a corporatist in Democratic clothing. Nominating her probably means defeat in the general election for '08. If she did win then the progressive cause would be set back as she is certain to govern in the corporatist ideological center. The tone of a Hillary presidency would be different but her rhetoric a placebo.
As the Republicans continue to collapse in ’06 and ’08 our principles are going to be challenged. Victory’s sweet temptation will make it easy to compromise on values of fairness and social justice. That’s human nature when victory appears and feels close at hand after years in the wilderness. It will be easy to rationalize campaigning not to lose instead of pushing for real change. Let’s keep our eye on the prize. A real victory for progressive values is within our grasp if we continue to push relentlessly. Now is not the time for Democrats to be mealy mouthed and faint hearted. Let's go for the jugular and save our country.