I think George Packer’s combination of reported article and review essay on the state of conservatism is clearly your big think political must-read of the week. I think he completely sums a take on things I share when I’m in a good mood, and advances the ball significantly in terms of fleshing that take out. You need to read and understand and think about this article.
But this morning I’m in a bad mood.
So in a bad mood, one wonders if it didn’t feel this way in 1976 — or even more so in January of 1977. Conservatism triumphant, yet unmoored from principle in the figure of Richard Nixon, then brought into a disgrace from which the more moderate Gerald Ford couldn’t solve it. A new president from the outside promising change, and a new bumper crop of “watergate class” members of congress ready to shake things up. But it all went to shit. I am, personally, an apologist for the Carter administration which I think was doing good things and got torpedoed by an unfortunate combination of objective reality (oil shocks, the need to curb inflation) and blinkered behavior by congressional leaders. Others read those events the other way ‘round and see Carter as brought down by his deficiencies. You could even push the analogy further by considering the looming shadow of the Kennedy family and its circle of retainers, convinced that they deserve to rule and more interested in seizing the mantle than in cooperating to make a success out of the Carter administration.
So I dunno. Maybe none of that will happen. Certainly it would be bizarre for history to repeat itself precisely, so doubtless some of it won’t happen. But I’ll be ready to write the conservative movement’s epitaph when (a) Barack Obama is inaugurated, and (b) Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid enact some stuff with more lasting impact than the meager results of 1977–80 or 1993–4. There’s real reason to believe a congressional party much less dependent on the votes of white south moderates will, in fact, be able to deliver more. But I’ll believe it when I see it. I think it’s very plausible to imagine a conservative movement that’s still strong enough to frustrate progressives’ main legislative goals, force Democrats to unilaterally make the tough moves to get the fiscal situation in control, and then once that’s done return to power on a new platform of tax cuts for rich people.