Because the New Yorker was made for ink-on-paper reading and it arrives days and days late here, I didn’t get to the George Packer essay everyone was talking about until Saturday. I read it poolside, presumably in the presence of actual conservatives, based on recent election results.
“The Fall of Conservatism” lays out, perhaps too optimistically for my money, how the political movement that defined my adulthood lost its way and now teeters like a shack on the beach awaiting November’s hurricane. My initial reaction: Well, we’ll see. Pat Buchanan gets the money-shot quote, paraphrasing Eric Hoffer: “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.” I’ve seen the racketeers for some time now; it seems like a hundred years ago that I started telling people the success of buffoons like Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh indicated the right had run out of steak and was selling nothing but sizzle, but obviously I was wrong about that one. Packer mentions in passing the two great rocky shoals conservatism wrecked itself on — Iraq and Katrina, but these were only rocks that showed above the waterline. It’s one thing to argue that government is always incompetent; it’s quite another to staff government agencies with incompetents and then, when they’re revealed as such, yell, “See!? See!?”
I might add that it’s one thing to praise business and unfettered capitalism like some sort of god, and quite another to look the other way when corrupt financial markets can drain billions from American pockets and reward the perpetrators, but that’s another discussion.
Here’s what struck and saddened me: The way the GOP gained power through what Kevin Phillips called “positive polarization.” Divide and conquer, basically, but not only divide — demonize. People who disagreed with you weren’t just wrong, they were evil. In the midst of it, a woman called my newspaper and informed my editor she would be canceling her subscription because a certain female columnist had described herself as a feminist, and this was simply too much to be endured. Packer thinks it’s on its way out. I can only hope so:
Yet the polarization of America, which we now call the “culture wars,” has been dissipating for a long time. Because we can’t anticipate what ideas and language will dominate the next cycle of American politics, the previous era’s key words—“élite,” “mainstream,” “real,” “values,” “patriotic,” “snob,” “liberal” — seem as potent as ever. Indeed, they have shown up in the current campaign: North Carolina and Mississippi Republicans have produced ads linking local Democrats to Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama’s controversial former pastor. The right-wing group Citizens United has said that it will run ads portraying Obama as yet another “limousine liberal.” But these are the spasms of nerve endings in an organism that’s brain-dead.
We’ll see. I lived in deep-red country for 20 years and learned to get along with people who considered a self-described feminist to be a she-devil. Part of my belligerent attitude of late has to do with leaving that place for a more purple-hued environment, but I worry that positive polarization has caught me, too. I certainly wouldn’t pay for a newspaper that carried Ann Coulter’s column. Maybe that’s the real legacy of the last 40 years: We disagree, therefore, you suck.
Anyway, I think Roy gets it right: Do not count out this movement, even with half its teeth missing, syphilis overtaking its bloodstream and the odor of the grave emanating with every howl:
The conservative heavy thinkers to whom Packer gives much credence may feel as if the world has passed them by, but the racketeers really run the show. As formerly grumbling conservative operatives learn to love McCain and go all-in for the big win, philosophy is the least of their concerns, and their whither-conservatism thumb-suckers become mere padding for pages filled with stories about Obama’s Muslim past, inability to bowl, and other such boob-bait. If you think they can’t pull it off because their approach lacks intellectual vitality, you may be overthinking the whole thing.
Josh Marshall makes some good points, too.
That’s what I did on Saturday, when I had to readjust my pool chair six times to find the right balance between out-in-the-sun (too bright to read) and under-the-umbrella (too cold to concentrate). It didn’t even touch 70, but the pool was open (and heated) and by god, we were going. The lifeguards sat around glumly in sweats, hoping no one needed saving. Sunday was warmer and Monday was downright hot — upper 80s. I went to sleep last night with all the windows open and the ceiling fans on, and woke up 90 minutes later with the blinds banging and cold air rushing in to reclaim us. Again. Current temperature: 48, and fuck you very much, Canadian air mass. Frost warning (!!!!!!!) tonight.
As the previous post demonstrates, I finally took up Alan’s fancy shotgun and took my chances on the skeet range. The double I got on that station wasn’t typical, but I did pretty well — hit maybe 30 percent of the
faces of my enemies rendered in brittle ceramic clay pigeons, some fairly tough. I didn’t get any of the “rabbits” — targets launched to roll along the ground — but I came close, and I nailed a few in the incredibly satisfying ways they blow apart. I thought “vaporizing in midair” was my favorite, but then I experienced “breaking into three pieces, each spinning off on its own symmetrical trajectory,” and that was the new standard of excellence.
For what its worth, none of the targets carried the face of the president. Hey, I’m evolving!
So, bloggage of a related note: Anyone see “Recount”? What did we think? I found it surprisingly engaging for being unafraid to take on fairly complicated legal concepts, but nearly unwatchable just the same, if only for its arousal of the old we disagree/you suck anger. I came away hoping someone learned a lesson or two in that mess, and maybe, by 2006, we did — the corrupt GOP establishment that nearly turned Ohio 2004 into a rerun of Florida 2000 was ejected on its ear. But the elements that let the fiasco happen are, most likely, still in place somewhere. I thought Gore did the right thing at the time, but when I see what actually happened as a result of that election, maybe not so much.
Skipped Rob’s torture session this morning, so I’m off to ride my bike until my legs fall off. Make merry in the first day of quasi-summer, when the furnace will likely come on.
Joe K. said on May 27, 2008 at 11:47 am
When you see what” ACTUALLY” happened? Come on Nancy, it was a freakin movie. It was someones opinion, It will be like the new movie about Bush that Oliver Stone has coming out, fabricated and made to fit what ever he wants to think actually happened. I wouldn’t believe any thing Hollywood put out on the Republicans or the Democrats.
As far as what you wrote at the start of your blog today. I honestly do not think one party or the other gives a rats butt about you, me, or anyone else but them selfs and how they can snow us into re electing them for the next term.
On a side note, girls with shotguns are HOT.
Enjoy the weather, the sun is shining at 4,000ft
LAMary said on May 27, 2008 at 12:01 pm
If it makes you feel any better, we didn’t get out of the sixties for the whole weekend and it was in the forties here last night. I love it. Last week it was 103. I remember a summer about fifteen years ago when it barely went above 75 all summer. Heaven.
coozledad said on May 27, 2008 at 12:15 pm
I went skeet shooting once with my dad and my brother. They were convinced that I was hooked on marijuana, and about to sprout a pair of mantitties (such was the state of anti-drug pseudoscience back in the day). It was decided some gunplay would shake me out of my torpor and convince me to take up something more wholesome, like cigarettes.
I actually happened to be moderately stoned the day they dragged me out to do some shooting. I’d never even fired a gun before. I don’t know if it’s because my head was so fucking empty I did the Zen thing and “became the arrow”, but I couldn’t miss. My uncle brought his 30.06 out and we started shooting at cans 100 yards away with the same result.
The ride home was awfully quiet.
Ultimately, pot turned out to be a gateway drug for me. I took up beer drinking in my thirties and haven’t looked back.
LAMary said on May 27, 2008 at 12:28 pm
I had a similar experience with my father and older brothers who thought I was at least a heroin addict. Interestingly, dad and one of the bros was a major alcoholic, but that was legal. I was a good shot. I was also good at several other guy things that they assume I would be incapable of doing, being handicapped by a uterus and possible reefer use. Docking a boat, installing drywall, driving stick. Lots of silence from the guys when I proved them wrong.
Danny said on May 27, 2008 at 12:30 pm
I’m with you, Mary. Give me the cooler temps.
Nance, demonization is an equal opportunity employer. Pot called and says, “Hello, Kettle.”
And that’s all I have to say on politics. You all have fun.
Julie Robinson said on May 27, 2008 at 12:43 pm
I’m enjoying the coolness before I head back down to summer in Florida, land of baked brains.
No cable means I’ll be available to discuss Recount in about 6 months, when it comes out on DVD and Netflix. However, my sister lives in Palm Beach County and experienced it all firsthand.
She voted at the end of the day, and despite what the election board later claimed, no one alerted her to the problems with the butterfly ballot. It had to be physically held open and the lines did not even up on either side of the fold. She actually used a pen to physically trace the names from side to side. There were no signs explaining what to do, but there were lots of workers hurrying voters along, stating they had to finish the ballot in three minutes.
One precinct whose entire population consisted of a Jewish retirement building voted overwhelmingly for Pat Buchanan. Given his blatant anti-Semitism that seems unlikely.
There were also many precincts that ran out of ballots and never restocked. Oddly enough these were Democratic precincts in poor areas with large minority populations. Former prisoners who now had the right to vote were turned away because electoral records had not been updated.
I have read that there were inaccuracies in the movie but the basic truth is still there: the election was stolen and Jeb Bush was responsible.
Jonathan said on May 27, 2008 at 12:47 pm
Sounds like you should read “Great American hypocrites : shattering the big myths of Republican politics” by Glen Greenwald. He starts by skewering the myth of John Wayne, where style over substance on the right began, esp. if you can froth at the mouth, hypocritically, at your enemies.
Or maybe not… I’m going to try to make it to the end, before the bile rises too high, but like most of these books (“Broken Government”, “Shrub”, etc), I probably can’t. But I did find Molly Ivins’ swan song “Bill of Wrongs” a short, solid read along those lines.
coozledad said on May 27, 2008 at 12:52 pm
Yeah Mary. I think as far as my dad was concerned I was female. I couldn’t play football and weighed about 100 pounds soaking wet until my late twenties. I was also interested in music, which clearly meant I was a candidate for becoming a homosexual, despite clinical dehydration from constant exposure to titty magazines. Anyone who is nostalgic about their adolescence had a lot more enlightened parents than mine, or is simply batshit.
nancy said on May 27, 2008 at 1:00 pm
All due respect to the rest of you, but coozledad is becoming my favorite commenter here. “Mantitties” — I’m still snickering.
John said on May 27, 2008 at 1:01 pm
Run, do not walk, from anyone who claims that high school was the best years of his/her life.
Andy Vance said on May 27, 2008 at 1:06 pm
Methinks Packer missed one of the central theses of Perlstein’s book: never, ever turn to David Brooks for political insight.
nancy said on May 27, 2008 at 1:09 pm
I knew someone for whom that was true. He ruled the high school roost like the cock of the walk, went away to college and got kicked out in his second semester after being arrested for pot possession. I saw him sometime after this, drunk, fat and revealed as the stupid dork he always was inside. A truly sad sight, that.
His sister, a similar success in the pre-graduation years, was reduced to pulling trains at parties to get attention afterward.
And Andy, don’t you know David Brooks’ unofficial title? “Every liberal’s favorite conservative.” (Note: Not this one’s.)
Sue said on May 27, 2008 at 1:12 pm
If that’s what it takes, Nancy, I’ll never even make your top ten. I’m still blushing from last Friday’s “Internal Derangement” remarks.
nancy said on May 27, 2008 at 1:15 pm
It’s not the ammo. It’s how he fires it.
Julie Robinson said on May 27, 2008 at 1:35 pm
Pulling trains? Had to look that one up! Clearly I have led a sheltered life.
MichaelG said on May 27, 2008 at 1:58 pm
LAMary, Danny, we had the same swing here from 100’s to 60’s. I don’t mind so much but my tomatos could use a little sun. Also I’m very, very tired of the wind.
I had a good time in high school. I wouldn’t call them the best years of my life but I did enjoy that time.
coozledad said on May 27, 2008 at 2:16 pm
Thanks, Nancy, but it’s the quality of the blog. Must be all the newsfolks here that remind me of my bartending days. I used to sling beers at Val’s Upstairs in Durham, NC, and this guy was one of my regular customers:http://www.indyweek.com/gyrobase/Content?oid=157267http
I never knew he’d been an editor at Esquire. he didn’t mention it. Sometimes I think I’m channeling him when I comment here, but he’d say I am totally full of shit.
Dorothy said on May 27, 2008 at 3:26 pm
You’re not the only sheltered one, Julie. I too turned to Urban Dictionary for help with that one. Who comes up with these sayings anyway?!
brian stouder said on May 27, 2008 at 3:53 pm
Don’t count them out.
Well, even if we don’t count them out, don’t bet on them, either! Looks like a good ol’ fashioned country ass kickin’ is in the wings, waiting to descend upon ‘them’….and it appears that McCain’s dead candidacy and fundraising efforts are now forced to exist as members of the ‘undead’, dependant on Bush (despite his spectacular unpopularity across the nation, just now!) and his fundraising abilities, even as we speak, underlining how few of the GOP money-people are willing to throw good money after bad….at least unless they get to snap a picture with the president
I’m betting on Barack the Vampire Slayer, myself
Dave said on May 27, 2008 at 4:04 pm
I don’t really comment politically but I seem to recall with the rise of Ronald Reagan nearly thirty years ago, there were similar articles predicting the demise of liberalism. It seems to me that everything has its cycle, I also seem to dimly recall that after the 1964 election, when Goldwater was soundly trouced, the Republican party was done.
I look back on high school with fondness, if I think of it at all, but I went all twelve years through a small school, graduating class, only about 56, as I recall. In 1968, which dates me.
joodyb said on May 27, 2008 at 4:52 pm
Dorothy and Julie, nor is it is new slang. i first heard the phrase in the first month of my freshman year at a LUTHERAN college. my more sophisticated floormates were all too happy to educate me as to the definition, which they claimed to have learned at CHURCH CAMP.
Jolene said on May 27, 2008 at 4:56 pm
Your post made me laugh, joodyb. I learned a LOT of things at church camp, some of which had to do with “knowing”, in the, you know, biblical sense.
Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on May 27, 2008 at 5:01 pm
The short version of my comment would be “i agree with Dave on everything having its cycles.” For those with patience, for which i thank you, here’s the longer take —
In seminary, one of the best teacher/professors i had was/is a major figure in ecumenical circles, and he never tired of telling us that you only increase understanding and move towards solutions when you engage with the best of the thought of your counterparts, not their weakest areas.
He meant it in terms of denominational talks (Protestant/Catholic or Methodist/Lutheran, that sort of thing), but i’ve found it applies broadly. So i feel both frustrated and sad to see George Packer et alia using Ann Coulter as a point of reference with conservatism. Her biggest income source is getting booked to appear on college campuses where she incites the crowd and her security detail (negotiated into the contract, three zeros and climbing), then smirks as the beefy fellows hustle pie-wielding divots away from the stage.
This makes Ann conservative how, exactly?
I wouldn’t dispute that conservatism has lost a certain amount of vertebral integrity with the end of global communism as a meaningful threat, and with the largely effective reduction of taxation to the level where it is today (some no-hopers are still hiding in spider holes arguing for further reductions, but that’s not gonna happen). Those two poles defined much of conservatism for a generation or two, and those are completed tasks, for the most part. The alliance with the religious right over the last twenty years has been much more complicated than incantations of “Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson” can justly sum up — along with Hagee and Parsley on the moonbat fringe you’ve got Bill Hybels and Rick Warren and Brian McLaren, google ’em and see if you can pigeonhole them (ha!) — but may yet be a new burst of energy as evangelicals engage with the environment and economic policy.
Rod Dreher can be puzzling sometimes (ok, lots of times), but he has a platform because there are LOTS of Christian folk who think Consumerism is a bigger, more active evil than Communism ever was, and are looking for something a little stronger than Libertarianism to shape an effective society that isn’t made of toxic substances, chemical and cultural alike. CrunchyCons may not make it much farther, but the energy behind it is clearly not going to find a home in the Obama/Axelrod/Dean Democratic Party, even as they feel alienated from much of the current GOP.
And for those conservatives, religiously inclined or not, that war is close to home and feels much more important than the one in Iraq . . . you can find pro- and anti-Iraq invasion CrunchyCons in almost equal measure, but the idea that it’s the signal affair of our modern times has no traction with either faction, which has them already turning from an early fascination with Obama to relative indifference.
Where will the child-raising, church-going, live-and-let-live but keep your naked wimmen offa my billboards, let me own a gun or three, since i shoot varmints with ’em, home-canning, married twice but don’t like to talk about it, least of all to a head-shrinker, flag on Memorial Day conservatives go on Election Day 2012, let alone 2008 (or 2010)? No one knows for sure, but they’re a factor in that big red gap between the blue coasts in the middle of the country when they do the red/blue electoral college maps.
I’m just sayin’.
Dexter said on May 27, 2008 at 5:16 pm
I have watched “Recount” three times so far, cuz I fell asleep after half of it the first time and then watched the third time because of the wonderful Laura Dern as Katherine.
John Hurt just nailed Warren Christopher, too, and Dennis Leary is always great. I am a pol-junkie; I listened to POTUS 08 as well as Randi Rhodes on Air America already today, both on XM Satellite Radio. So I followed the entire show easily , but had probably disassociated from the Lieberman angle…that sonofabich sabotaged his own candidacy by encouraging the republicans to fight for a no-recount of all those previously accepted bogus military votes…and in the end, most of my hardcore fellow pol-addicts believe that one aspect is the one that killed all hopes for a Gore presidency. Oh, words cannot express my deep hatred for that rat-bastard Joe Lieberman, Iraq war champion, turncoat, lousy bastard.
Dexter said on May 27, 2008 at 5:25 pm
…and skeet shooting is fine, but for me it reminds me of that goddam Ken Blackwell cuz he comes to Edon , Ohio, near me to shoot skeet with his Shrek-like wife.
I learned years ago what thugs the republicans are, and Blackwell is a prime example. His rotten project of disenfranchising poor voters and students (and many others) in Kerry-country areas is already legend here in Ohio…I have even mentioned this before here on this blog…if you are doubting my comments here, just Google Ken Blackwell, Sec’ Of State, Ohio. Many sites there explain it.
I place Ken Blackwell right up there with Katherine Harris in The Great Hall of Shame. (can’t get over that Laura Dern’s Harris in “Recount”, though…)
Dexter said on May 27, 2008 at 5:34 pm
It’s nice to know this blog is populated by ladies who don’t even know what a “train” is/was, let alone been involved with one.
First one I knew about was at a drive-in movie. A girl a year younger was pulling a train in the backseat of a car. I was watching a movie and kept seeing guys going into the car and leaving quickly, but hell, I was just 14 years old and had no idea…the girl was just 13. That seems horrible now, truly awful.
I didn’t know what had happened until the next day when most of my peers were bragging about their “conquest”. Jeez…it still seems creepy and it was 44 years ago. The girl later married and had kids and by now I suppose grandkids…and I wish I never had even known about the train.
joodyb said on May 27, 2008 at 7:01 pm
dexter, a little present in case you haven’t read (though by the looks of your epithets, you already may have)
… a further sobering illumination on the genesis of that crazy mixed-up joe.
Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on May 27, 2008 at 8:53 pm
Of Conason, one could also say “He will say whatever serves his ambitions at a given moment.” The fact that one was against the Vietnam War doesn’t mean you’re a moral monster by being in favor of completing an overseas intervention thirty years later.
Or we’d be talking about a crazy mixed-up Bill Richardson. Maybe he just changed his mind. Why assume it has to be selling out . . .
I still don’t get all the fuss about model trains — is this that HO gauge dispute raising its ugly head again?
joodyb said on May 27, 2008 at 9:51 pm
i’ll defend neither joe on that basis. and certainly the vietnam albatross hangs over many elected officials 30+ years on (my own Norm Coleman, for one!) i am fascinated by Joe L’s ability to pretend he’s never bent over or kissed up to extremist racketeers along the way.
HO. you are funny.
Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on May 27, 2008 at 10:08 pm
Conason says Lieberman lied about the effectiveness of the “surge” in Iraq — really? Too optomistically, we could say, but lied?
Wall Street Journal: Attacks in Iraq Reach 4-Year Low
U.S. and Iraqi military officials said violence in Iraq has decreased significantly in recent weeks to levels not seen in four years.
That offers some hope to officials that Iraqi security services may be making gains, following recent Iraqi-led military campaigns in Basra in the south, Baghdad’s Sadr City, and Mosul in the north. But similar ebbs in violence have fizzled, the latest as recent as earlier this year, and it was far from clear whether the most recent gains can hold.
U.S. military spokesman Rear Admiral Patrick Driscoll said at a news conference here Sunday that weekly attacks in Iraq are down to March 2004 levels, which were about 300 attacks a week.
beb said on May 27, 2008 at 10:16 pm
I’ve heard the term manboobs from various sources including fair public ones so I’d say the term was well establed before the variant mantitties. Not that it matters. When you have you just have to leave with them. But having that fact pointed out when you’re thirteen, is a bit of a killer. School was never a happy place for me.
I think I first heard about pulling trains while reading Valley of the Dolls. Or maybe it was some other bestseller of the times. Oddly, I think the porno a read a few years later was less explicit than the mainstream fiction.
Ann Coulter has said one outrageous thing after another, so far as to suggest that liberal don’t deserve to live. What makes her a bellweather for contemporary conservatism is that no conservative has ever repudiated anything Coulter has said. Liberal are constantly being asked to repudiate various extreme leftist. And they have. Liberals have asked Republicans to repudiate various Coulter comments, none have. Thus we have to assume that Coulter does in fact speak for the Republican party and conservatism as its spoken today.
Sorry to hear about the knee. Maybe you’ll run into one of those sports superstars when you go in for your surgery.
Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on May 27, 2008 at 10:58 pm
She was fired by National Review when she said after 9-11 that Arab countries should be conquered and their leaders forcibly converted to Christianity. Terminated. Without a backward glance. Deleted. Control-Q.
I could google more, but what’s the point? Coulter is a provacateur, plain and simple. She represents her agent and her banker, that’s about it.
John said on May 28, 2008 at 9:57 am
In other news:
McClellan admits that some of his own words from the podium in the White House briefing room turned out to be “badly misguided.” But he says he was sincere at the time.
“I fell far short of living up to the kind of public servant I wanted to be,” McClellan writes. He also blames the media whose questions he fielded, calling them “complicit enablers” in the White House campaign to manipulate public opinion toward the need for war.
Thanks for the candor Scott, but the time to take a courageous stand is before the fact, not when you start wondering how history may judge you.
LA Mary said on May 28, 2008 at 9:57 am
On another subject, I read last night that Sharon Stone said China brought the earthquake upon itself by mistreating Tibet and “her good friend, the Dalai Lama.”
Terry WAlter said on May 28, 2008 at 9:59 am
So you are shooting at renderings of your enemies in brittle ceramic. Want me to send you a picture? If, perhaps you were thinking, ‘aww, he’s not that bad’, consider this fact. On my URL dropdown menu, NN.c is right below michaelsavage.com. Your % will be up to 50 in record time.
brian stouder said on May 28, 2008 at 3:14 pm
Mary – now THAT made me laugh! Looking over previous threads, I suppose we can grant Ms Stone the Hairy-Holster Humanitarian award – or maybe the Taco Tao Tribute