November 27, 2008

The Stab in the Back

In the frantic post-election scramble for a plausible narrative of How Things Went So Wrong, we see the outlines of the future battle for what’s left of the conservative movement, and the party it fitfully influences. The spin could be decisive, as spin often is. The spin that prevailed in Germany after World War I—“We were stabbed in the back”—bore no relation to the truth. German arms were massively overwhelmed by America’s intervention. But the lie saved face, so it won the day, and it led Germans to a more catastrophic defeat and moral disgrace.

Few remember it, but Pat Buchanan’s eloquent 1992 convention speech—compare it to any delivered at this year’s festival of ass-covering and breast-beating—was an enormous popular hit. The convention crowd, which whooped and wept, and the general public (as measured by the overnight polls), were deeply moved by Buchanan’s heartfelt, carefully crafted words. It took several days for GOP commentators (like “virtue” addict Bill Bennett) to make the news circuit informing America that our nation had been frightened by Pat’s “extremism.” That shaped the consensus that Buchanan’s speech had spoiled the convention. When George I limped through the rest of the campaign, shrugging and shambling like he didn’t actually mean it, and lost to the brilliant demagogue Bill Clinton, the way had been prepared to blame Buchanan (and by extension, his populist supporters) for this defeat. Thus began the purges on the Right. Their results we can see all around us:


  • The White House in the hands of a 1/3 term senator who promised Americans the moon on a grilled cheese sandwich.

  • The Senate a couple of shaky votes away from a lockstep, debate proof supermajority.

  • The House, where real conservatives used to breed, in the bony claws of Nancy Pelosi.

  • The Supreme Court, which hangs in the balance on Roe and so many other issues of crucial importance, like a turkey awaiting stuffing.

  • The popular conservative magazines and radio shows dominated by jingoists who favor leaky U.S. borders and big-government bailouts of irresponsible Wall Street banks.

  • A conservative movement that uses as its litmus test for membership one’s support for a spectacularly unproductive war.

  • A spectacularly unproductive war.

  • A manufacturing sector that makes up less of the economy than the government sector.

  • Borders out of control and a crackpot legal immigration policy—which between them allow some 2 million mostly unskilled workers each year into an economy that’s outsourcing most such jobs. The result: In constant dollars, the average wage of a middle class American has been flat for more than 30 years. No wonder we’ve been putting things on credit cards.

  • An economy ruined by reckless speculation—encouraged by “conservatives” in the government who pumped up financial bubbles, spent wildly on useless Cold War weapons, expanded entitlements, then hacked down whole forests printing money to pay for it all.
  • We are now in another 1992 moment, when the narrative that dominates in the wake of a catastrophe will determine whether we climb out of this hole, or dig to a depth of six feet and bury ourselves. It’s no surprise that a consummate opportunist like David Frum chose this occasion to blame the defeat of John McCain on… the only people who bothered to vote for the old senator, the religious right. Yes, the problem with conservatism is conservatives. We lost the war because the Christians stabbed us in the back. Frum’s callous treatment of over-the-top Christian Zionist Sarah Palin should teach the Christian Right a few things about the wisdom of crawling over broken glass to please the Israeli lobby. It earns you a kick in the face.

    Karl Rove warned of dire consequences if Republicans continue to resist mass immigration. We might… hold your breath… forfeit the black and Hispanic vote. Which otherwise would have gone massively for McCain. I won’t rehearse Steve Sailer’s and Peter Brimelow’s devastating analyses of just how many shades of stupid this argument is. And let’s be fair to Rove: Perhaps he’s simply lying. Maybe he really has been bought by the cheap labor lobby. Otherwise, the architect of our “permanent Republican majority,” really is a Special Ed Machiavellian (Mongovellian for short).

    David Brooks is sticking to his pre-election story, that Republican chances were ruined by… anti-intellectualism. Now there’s plenty of that floating around in GOP circles, as Brooks and his friends should know—since they’re its principal architects. To dismiss sophisticated conservative critiques of the cultural and economic impacts of immigration as “nativism,” and reluctance to start risky foreign wars as “isolationism” amounts to little more than teaching the sheep to bleat: “Four legs good, two legs bad.”

    The victory of California’s Proposition 8 gives me one more chance to remind people of the infamous column in 2003 when Jonah Goldberg warned conservatives to back away slowly from losing issues like heterosexual marriage in favor of slam-dunk winners like… going to war in Iraq.

    On all of this the verdict is clear: The neocons are wrong about everything. They’ve attained a negative infallibility that makes the papacy’s claims seem modest. If you have a question about empirical reality, politics, economics—even Thai cooking—just ask it of a neocon. Then do the opposite.

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