I understand Conor Friedersdorf's point, but I think there's a lot he's overlooking:
What Has Movement Conservatism Accomplished in the Last 15 Years?What movement conservatism has accomplished is the imposition of severe limits on how far U.S. policy can move to the left on most issues, even when support for a leftward shift is overwhelming, and even when the liberal (or moderate) policies clearly work.
... have we seen any evidence of success since 1997 or so? George W. Bush created a new bureaucracy, expanded the federal role in education, approved a massive new entitlement, exploded the deficit, abandoned any pretense of a "humble foreign policy" that eschewed nation building, and left office having approved a massive government bailout of the financial sector.... the country has gotten more socially liberal. Gays can serve openly in the military and marry.
A majority now supports legalizing marijuana.
Circa 1997, if you'd told the average conservative that all those things would happen in the next 15 years, would they have declared the conservative movement finished? I suspect as much.
...what has Fox News accomplished? What has the Tea Party accomplished? What has any movement institution accomplished in the last 15 years? Enough that the movement isn't a failure? ...
Think back: In Bill Clinton's first two years as president, he and a Democratic Congress raised taxes on the rich and passed an assault weapons ban. Movement conservatism threw a hissyfit, Democrats lost both houses of Congress, and it's been impossible to pass gun-control laws or raise tax rates ever since. President Obama promises now to raise taxes on the rich, but we still don't know if he can pull it off. That's a victory for movement conservatism (as is his openness to a "grand bargain" and to massive spending cuts).
Financial deregulation late in Clinton's term was evidence that he'd internalized the movement-conservative view of financial regulation. The failure of the Obama administration to jail any fat cat in the wake of the financial meltdown is further evidence of movement conservatism's success in defining how we approach corporate malfeasance.
Obama embraces a slightly modified version of the right-wing approach to the "war on terror -- that's a movement-conservative victory. Efforts to deal with climate change are all but abandoned (and are demonized) -- that's a movement-conservative victory. The union movement continues to lose ground, as do abortion rights at the state level -- those are movement-conservative victories. Campaign financing is more corrupt than ever -- that's a movement-conservative victory. It's getting harder and harder for students and poor people to vote because of voter ID laws, which the public supports -- that's a movement-conservative victory.
How do movement conservatives win these victories? By demonizing Democrats and liberals at every opportunity. Clinton is a murdering, raping, coke-snorting drug-trafficker. Obama is a race-war-leading Muslim Marxist. Nancy Pelosi is a witch; Ted Kennedy was a murderer; Al Gore is a serial liar; John Kerry won war medals via fraud. They all hate Jews and Christians and people who listen to country music; they all want to enslave America.
How much progress could we have made if movement conservatives hadn't spent the last generation standing athwart history, yelling "Oogabooga -- liberals must be destroyed"?