Friday, February 26, 2010


In today's Washington Post, ex-Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson defends Teddy Roosevelt against Glenn Beck, Ron Paul, and others on the right who think TR was a dirty socialist -- but I don't think Gerson really understands how his own side functions: was [Teddy] Roosevelt's political purpose to avoid a revolution. He sought to preserve the market system by regulating its health, safety and fairness. This is not laissez faire, but it is an authentic conservative tradition -- the use of incremental reform to diffuse radicalism. And few today would wish to return to 19th-century labor, health and antitrust standards.

All those few, however, seemed to be in attendance at CPAC, determined to sharpen an ideological debate. In the name of constitutional purity, they propose a great undoing. Not just the undoing of Obamaism. Undo Medicare and Social Security. Undo the expansive American global commitments that proceeded from World War II and the Cold War. Undo progressive-era economic regulations. Undo the executive power grab that preserved the union. Undo it all -- until America is left with a government appropriate to an isolated, 18th-century farming republic.

This is a proposal for time travel, not a policy agenda....

A candidate running recently in Virginia, New Jersey or Massachusetts on a Beck/Paul platform would have duplicated Ron Paul's results during his 1988 presidential run. (Paul gained less than one-half of 1 percent of the vote.)...

Is it really true that "few today would wish to return to 19th-century labor, health and antitrust standards"? Among right-wing elitists -- Beck, Limbaugh, Grover Norquist, et al. -- I'm not sure it is. I think they really might wish to return to those standards. They're well off -- nothing terrible will happen to them. They certainly talk as if they do.

Among the rank and file of the far right? Well, they may not wish to return to those standards when they hear the details -- hell, they don't even want Medicare modified, much less eliminated -- but they think that's what they want. The delicious absolutism of it, the sense that it's the utter antithesis of allegedly communist Obamaism, just thrills them.

And the evidence that Ron Paul lacks mass appeal on the right is that he fared poorly as a third-party presidential candidate 22 years ago? That's absurd -- we know he's much more popular on the right now, and it's impossible to know what the limit of his popularity would be if he liked war as much as the rest of his party does.

But fine -- let's assume for the sake of argument that a candidate who advocated undiluted Paulism wouldn't fare very well in a major election. The secret is to do what so many mainstream Republicans do -- suggest you're a pure Paulist, while also taking more mainstream-right positions. Give the rabble the thrill of thinking they're revolutionaries, then act like a regular old Republican when you're in office.

The genius of this is that if you pump up your electorate with absolutist wingnut rhetoric, then pursue only gradualist right-wing change, there's always some goal on the horizon -- some tax cut, some budget cut -- that the evil liberals are making unattainable. And then another after that, and another after that. This is more or less how the gun and anti-abortion lobbies work these days -- they're sustained by gradualism, because the enemy (us) is never fully defeated, and there's always one more incrementalist defeat we can suffer.

Of course, a consequence of this is that the Overton window is gradually pushed further and further to the right the more this strategy is adopted. The country becomes more wingnutty gradually.

So relax, Mike. Your guys are still playing the game quite skilfully. The country's going to have to become a lot saner before Beck and Paul really manage to do you serious harm.

No comments: