It must have all looked so appealing back in the winter. Why not publish The Death of Conservatism by New York Times Book Review editor Sam Tanenhaus on September 1? The book is, the Economist reviewer says, "an appeal for unilateral disarmament by the right." It would appear just in time to celebrate the passage of health care reform, cap and trade, a robustly stimulated economy and the utter rout of the evil Republicans.
It all began when Tanenhaus published "Conservatism is Dead
" in The New Republic
in mid February.
He wrote that President Bush's presidency had failed because it was carrying on a useless culture war against the mainstream consensus.
[Bush's presidency] failed, in large part, because of its fervent commitment to movement ideology: the aggressively unilateralist foreign policy; the blind faith in a deregulated, Wall Street-centric market; the harshly punitive "culture war" waged against liberal "elites."
Conservatives are still trying to reverse the tide of the New Deal, writes Tanenhaus. They could learn from conservative Whittaker Chambers, who observed 50 years ago how enthusiastically his conservative farmer neighbors cashed their price-support checks. And really, how far can you get railing against the "new class" of
scientists, teachers and educational administrators, journalists and others in the communication industries, psychologists, social workers, those lawyers and doctors who make their careers in the expanding public sector, city planners, the staffs of the larger foundations, the upper levels of the government bureaucracy[?]
Back in the winter liberals owed themselves a modest triumph and a taunt or two at the defeated Republicans. So it made sense for The New Republic to run Tanenhaus's article to tell conservatives that they were so over. Conservative commenters were reduced to insisting that the conservative parrot was not dead but just resting.
But now, just as the book comes out, nobody is talking about dead parrots any more.
Now the liberal "new class" looks like a great big juicy target, as the author of a stimulus that doesn't stimulate, a cap-and-tax bill that's a special interest feeding trough, and a health reform bill that nobody has read. The conservative movement is looking very much alive, what with Tea Parties and Town Halls and Recess-rallies and activists busy organizing and demonstrating.
I'd never understood this business of political meetings and organizing. Whenever I'm in a meeting I get irritated listening to other people and start to think about ways in which their opinions are wrong. I guess I'm just a loner. Then I read an excerpt of Cass Sunstein's new book Going to Extremes in the London Spectator.
When people are isolated, he writes, and feel they have limited information, they tend to be cautious in their actions. But when they belong to a network of like-minded people their opinions get confirmed and the group as a whole becomes more confident and more inclined towards action.
You mean, like the lefty netroots?
Harvard Professor Sunstein illustrates his "group polarization" theory with references to fascists and Islamic terrorists.
But here's a nickel to say that within a couple of months most liberals will be talking about the real danger of extremism in the Tea Party/Town Hall movement. They will get it from NPR and The New York Times, and NPR and the Times will get it from Sunstein.
And there is a danger. The danger is that ordinary Americans will get together and find that there are lots of other people out there that think the way they do. The danger is that they won't listen to President Obama and the state-run media telling them to get with the program. They'll ratchet up their movement another notch and start inquiring into the voting record of their local Democratic congressman.
There's no doubt that many elite liberals are shocked and offended by the rotten tomatoes conservatives keep throwing at them. How dare the unwashed blame "scientists, teachers... journalists... foundations... government bureaucracy" for all their troubles when liberals have done so much for them!
No doubt every governing class has felt this way as the peasants marched up the royal driveway brandishing their pitchforks.
But really, how deluded can you get? The "new class" liberal elite is a power elite and it uses its power to build vast administrative structures through which it fashions and doles out pensions, education, health care, and welfare. The average American finds himself bumping up against that power all the time.
The average American isn't stupid. When the government spends one third of the Gross Domestic Product and dominates far more through its detailed economic and social regulation, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out who's to blame when things go wrong.
And suppose the conservative movement should die, just as Sam Tanenhaus and his pals at The New York Times so dearly hope. The next day another loyal opposition would appear to challenge the power of the liberals.
And chances are that the liberals of that era, flinching from the brickbats of a vigorous insurgency, would long for the kindly Republicans of the Bush-Gingrich-DeLay era, just as today they long for the nice tractable Eisenhower Republicans of the 1950s.