Tuesday, April 28, 2009


That's what Ross Douthat says in his first New York Times op-ed column, in which he argues that it would have been a good thing if Dick Cheney had been the Republican nominee in 2008:

...Imagine that he'd damned the poll numbers, broken his oft-repeated pledge that he had no presidential ambitions of his own, and shouldered his way into the race. Imagine that Republican primary voters, more favorably disposed than most Americans to Cheney and the administration he served, had rewarded him with the nomination.

At the very least, a Cheney-Obama contest would have clarified conservatism's present political predicament. In the wake of two straight drubbings at the polls, much of the American right has comforted itself with the idea that conservatives lost the country primarily because the Bush-era Republican Party spent too much money on social programs. And John McCain's defeat has been taken as the vindication of this premise.

We tried running the maverick reformer, the argument goes, and look what it got us. What Americans want is real conservatism, not some crypto-liberal imitation.

"Real conservatism," in this narrative, means a particular strain of right-wingery: a conservatism of supply-side economics and stress positions, uninterested in social policy and dismissive of libertarian qualms about the national-security state. And Dick Cheney happens to be its diamond-hard distillation....

Don't misunderstand -- Douthat does think Cheney would have lost, and lost badly. As a not-truly-crazy conservative, he's saying this would have taught the crazies a lesson.

Well, that's part of what he's saying. He clearly enjoys the fantasy that the "diamond-hard" Cheney would have strapped on the jackboots, grabbed the riding crop, and marched into battle:

As a candidate, Cheney would have doubtless been as disciplined and ideologically consistent as McCain was feckless. In debates with Barack Obama, he would have been as cuttingly effective as he was in his encounters with Joe Lieberman and John Edwards in 2000 and 2004 respectively.

Douthat says he would have suffered a "landslide loss" -- but a pure conservative landslide loss. Not like the one we actually saw.

Um, was Douthat out of reach of newsprint, TV, radio, and the Internet throughout the fall of 2008? John McCain may have vacillated, and he didn't fully parrot the Bush/Cheney line on torture (which didn't matter because the issue barely came up), but the message most Americans got from the McCain/Palin/Wurzelbacher/Lieberman/Graham ticket was that Barack Obama was a scary socialist America-hating pawn of ACORN who was from either Jihadistan or Hollyweird, or possibly both. Would crowds at Cheney rallies have been less feral? And Palin's foreign policy pronouncements, in particular, were Cheney's, except two octaves higher and with 90% fewer grammatically correct sentences.

On the other hand, if GOP crazies think "conservatives lost the country primarily because the Bush-era Republican Party spent too much money on social programs," how would running Bush's vice president have changed their minds? You know -- Dick "Deficits Don't Matter" Cheney? Dick Cheney the guy whose administration approved the initial TARP program (which, even now, he doesn't apologize for)? Running him and losing was going to persuade wingnuts that their ideas had been rejected at the polls?

Wingnuts will never believe their ideas have been rejected at the polls. If a Palin/Sanford ticket loses 49 states in 2012, or even Limbaugh/Beck, they'll find some deviation from Correct Thinking on the part of their candidates and insist that, well, we still haven't had a true test.

No comments: