Friday, January 9, 2009

Reagan's Heavy Anchor

In a must-read post, Alex Massie inadvertently picks up where I left off in analyzing the problems of the modern Republican Party. But he has a different name for the problem than "talk show dogmatism": "the Cult of Reagan - or more precisely, the Cult of the Idea of Reagan..."

Massie does a much better job than I tracing the history of the problem in its rise from positive momentum-changer to gigantic albatross, but the symptoms of his diagnosis are identical to the symptoms I wrote about previously.

Key 'graph:

In that sense, then. the troubles of Republicanism now and of the Tories in the last 15 years, were built upon their previous successes. The difficulty is that the second (or third) generation is rarely as talented or adaptable as the trailblazers who won power in the first place. Instead of finding fresh ideas and solutions, they inherit positions and prejudices that, because they worked once before, are assumed to be eternal truths rather than particular answers to particular problems at a particular time.
And because they're seen as eternal truths, any deviation from them is grounds for heresy.

He also issues this important rejoinder, which seemed to get lost in the shuffle of some of the discussion of my argument:

Style matters too. The Tory position on Europe in the 1990s (and on immigration and crime more recently) was more popular with the electorate than were Labour's
policies, but the stridency and, to many, the ugly tone in which the Tories expressed themselves turned many voters off. Similarly, the GOP position on, say, immigration is not without its supporters but the manner in which a position is expressed matters almost as much as the position itself. And the GOP has seemed bitter and parochial - qualities with which the electorate is unlikely to wish to associate itself.
Another example? The Terri Schiavo affair: millions of Americans might have been conflicted as to what they felt in what was a horrid, ugly affair. But they knew they didn't like the spectacle of Congressional Republicans stomping all over the case in hob-nailed boots, abandoning any notion of Congressional restraint, let alone respect for States' Rights and due process. The party that says the other mob always want to interfere abandoned all pretence to principle to interfere itself. Voters can spot hypocrisy and while they may sometimes forgive it if its purusued with a modicum of subtlety or on grounds of expediency, more often they dislike it intensely when it seems a flagrant breach of promise or purpose.

As I said - it's a must read.

And, while we're here, E.D. Kain has his own phrase for this problem: "talking points conservatism." (The rest of E.D.'s post is quite the introspective with which I think a lot of us can identify).

For what it's worth, I think of the three phrases, my "talk radio dogmatism" is the catchiest but probably least accurately captures the problem. Massie's "Cult of the Idea of Reagan" is probably the most accurate, but also the most verbose. E.D.'s "talking points conservatism" pretty much splits the difference.

(Belated H/T: John).

UPDATE: See Dennis Sanders also, who succinctly describes the situation thusly: "[For this group] Conservatism is not as much a philosopy as it is a checklist." Sanders' remaining thoughts are, on the whole, quite constructive as well. The one point of contention I'd have with him is that he comes too close to suggesting that moderation and centrism are both unqualified goods, an argument with which I took issue here. To me, centrism is a good only if it is the result of applying fundamental principles to changing facts; centrism for its own sake can be every bit as dogmatic as hyper-partisanship.

(Edited a minor grammatical error).