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"America has two great dominant strands of political thought - conservatism, which, at its very best, draws lines that should not be crossed; and progressivism, which, at its very best, breaks down barriers that should never have been erected." -- Bill Clinton, Dedication of the Clinton Presidential Library, November 2004

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Thursday, February 07, 2008


The McCain Mutiny

posted by Aziz P. at Thursday, February 07, 2008 permalink View blog reactions
The Obama-Clinton horserace on the left seems headed towards fabled "brokered convention" status which has long been the holy grail of preesidential punditry (though in practice, is hardly worth cheering for its anti-democratic nature). But in many ways the dynamic on the right is more important, since the very future of the Republican Party itself is at stake.

The main issue is whether "conservatives" are truly a movement or just another faction within the GOP coalition. Prior to Romney's dropping out of the race, the view among the party elite was that McCain's ascendancy represented raw political expediency over genuinely conservative ideals - witness this roundtable between contributors at where despite a few voices to the contrary, the mainstream answers affirmatively he question, "did the primary process fail conservatives?". However, Josh Trevino's comments after Romney's withdrawal strikes rather deeply at the pretension implicit in the very question. Josh writes,

Beyond the breaking of trust between the social conservatives and the right-wing media — which is now, unfortunately, exposed as the largely coastal, largely urban, largely fiscally-oriented complex it is — there is the simple matter of judgment. The average Republican voter never could quite figure why we should take Romney at his word, and the average Republican voter was quite right: and so it was mystifying, for example, to see Hugh Hewitt proclaim “Romney Rising” dozens of times unto the end; and it was baffling as to just why National Review believed “he is now on our side — and we trust him to stay there.” The common sense that informs ordinary personal judgments was wholly absent in these things — why believe a man who has ignored you all his life, but is now asking you for $100 and proclaims his heartfelt friendship? Rightly or not, the impression thus generated is of a conservative media establishment that is too easily duped or bought by a wealthy candidate with sufficient charm.

The Editors at RedState - itself a wholly-owned subsidiary of that same right-wing media to which Josh refers - have been second to none in their utter disdain for McCain (they do quote a portion of Josh's essay approvingly, but tellingly, not the part I quoted above). And yet, within hours of Romney's withdrawal, the troops are exhorted to fall in line:

John McCain is the nominee and he sounded both Presidential and conservative.

Conservatives may not have gotten the whole loaf of bread they wanted, but they know where McCain stands, and he's willing to fight on grounds the Democrats would abdicate to the socialists within and terrorists without.

I find this turnaround really quite extraordinary, though other bloggers have used more colorful terms. The irony here is that McCain is indeed an authentic conservative, with a conservative voting record not all that divergent from (by way of example) that of Fred Thompson. And yet it was the latter - christened FDT in an attempt to heighten his gravitas to Roosevelt/Kennedy statesmen levels - who was hailed as the second coming of Reagan.

So if a conservative establishment Republican cannot satisfy the conservative base, then what does that say about the base, rather than the candidate? An insightful diary at RedState provides the answer:

Conservatism isn't going deeper into the abyss of Hell while McCain makes kissy face with the Democrats. In fact, if he does HALF of what he promised at CPAC, he'll only help buy we purists some time to resist the relentless reshaping of what Conservatism means over the next 4 years. If a Democrat is in the White House, that whole conversation becomes a joke...yawned at and ignored by the media who already THINK Conservatism is dead.

Conservatism is therefore not a core set of ideals, but an ongoing war, one in which self-professed purists seek to mold to their liking (and accept that other factions seek to mold to theirs). In all of this, there is no single accepted definition of what being a conservative actually means, apart from the simple argument that conservatives are everything that liberals are not (this requires a definition of liberalism, which is the only thing more elusive than a definition of conservatism, as far as the conservative purist is concerned).

Whither conservatism after 2008? Is there even a conservatism left worth fighting for?

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About Nation-Building

Nation-Building was founded by Aziz Poonawalla in August 2002 under the name Dean Nation. Dean Nation was the very first weblog devoted to a presidential candidate, Howard Dean, and became the vanguard of the Dean netroot phenomenon, raising over $40,000 for the Dean campaign, pioneering the use of Meetup, and enjoying the attention of the campaign itself, with Joe Trippi a regular reader (and sometime commentor). Howard Dean himself even left a comment once. Dean Nation was a group weblog effort and counts among its alumni many of the progressive blogsphere's leading talent including Jerome Armstrong, Matthew Yglesias, and Ezra Klein. After the election in 2004, the blog refocused onto the theme of "purple politics", formally changing its name to Nation-Building in June 2006. The primary focus of the blog is on articulating purple-state policy at home and pragmatic liberal interventionism abroad.