July 21, 2008

The Lady Loves Conservatives

There?s little controversy that the American conservative movement is in decline and disarray and that whether John McCain wins in the fall or not, there will be tectonic shifts in the near future, perhaps a little bloodletting. ?May you live in interesting times.? Breakdown and defeat mean an opportunity for a new intellectual movement, new institutions, and, generally speaking, I?m optimistic.   

But then so is the New York Times, which gives me second thoughts about my great hopes. Yesterday, the Lady announced, ?Conservatives Thinkers Think Again,? and gave sympathetic coverage to some mainstays and under-30 bloggers who are willing to break with movement orthodoxy. 

Two notable examples from the story stand out: 

? David Frum is now saying critical things about George W. Bush (an easy way to score points with the Times) and, better yet, he?s departing from limited government principles and advising conservatives to stop focusing on lowering taxes?indeed, perhaps they should add on some new ones that ?would look exactly like the carbon tax advocated by global-warming crusaders.?
? Ross Douthat thinks ?social conservatives have gotten stuck and need to move beyond their focus on gay marriage and abortion ? a focus, he said, that does nothing to help a single African-American mother trying to raise a family.?

Put simply, conservatives have discovered liberalism?a new, Green liberalism in the case of Frum and with Douthat a rather retrograde ?save the family? liberalism of the New Deal and Great Society. While I suspect some triangulation on the part of Frum, Douthat?s motives seem more genuine. He really does think that with just a little more imaginative welfare policy, the illegitimacy rate will plummet and social atomization will be transcended.

As I wrote in my review of his new book, ?Retread liberal policies are presented as ?outlandish? new rightwing ideas, which Douthat and [co-author] Salam are positive will work just fine this time because they?ll be implemented by Republicans and have conservative-sounding objectives.? At the very least, Douthat?s ideas are sure pleases the Times.

What I find most striking about the Lady?s embrace of Frum and Douthat is how the Left, much like the neocons, finds it so convenient to use support for the Iraq war as the distinguishing characteristic of the real right winger. Throughout the hullabaloo over Bill Kristol getting hired to submit one editorial a week to the Times, only a few noted that, outside the war and the surge, Kristol is on the same page with most Times subscribers on issues ranging from abortion to immigration to spending.

Douthat is also considered conservative because he backs the war (however tepidly). If he starts sounding a lot like the Times editorial board on domestic issues, that just means he?s learned to think again.

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