Friday, November 14, 2008

Whither Conservatism?

After the election of president-elect Obama and the drubbing the Republican party has taken nearly all across the country in the last two election, we must now ask the question: what direction will the Republican party take? On the Colbert Report William Buckley Junior commented that he hoped that a Obama victory would cause soul searching all over the Republican party, then added "it probably won't happen".
It probably won't happen. There's been a moderate amount of sniping between conservative intellectuals (George Will, David Brooks) and the populist conservatism, but it hasn't been nearly enough to begin to remake the movement. Jonathan Freedland reminds us of the time the Tories have spent in the wilderness. Freedland tries to make the op-ed a chance for Republican's to learn the lesson of their sister across the Atlantic, but I wouldn't be surprised if the story has some predictive power: it will be a long painful process for the Republicans to modernize their party.
Conservatism's wings are clearly discontented. The base clearly connected with Sarah Palin in a way that no one else did. Sarah Palin clearly inhabits an alternate universe, and the base lives there with her. Everyone else, including most of the rest of the GOP, finds her laughable and scary. However much of a crush the base has on Sarah Palin, they won't be able to get her past the corporate establishment. Palin 2012 is the new Thompson 2008: a dud. Similarly, the harsh economic time offers the Republicans a chance to become the party of Tancredo, blaming Mexican immigrants for the problems our nation is having, but as long as the corporate elite holds on, the party can never fully become the party of nativism.
The Republican could still be a problem though. My guess is that the party will double-down, taking refuge in the comforting belief that their losses came because they deviated from the conservative faith. I suspect they will become the party of neo-Hooverism, opposing increases in spending precisely when such increases are needed to stimulate the economy, and simultaneously attempting to blame Obama for the economy. This isn't as bad as it sounds at first. Ezra Klein:
he question is not whether the Republican leadership is cowed, but whether their ability to impose broad party discipline erodes and moderates decide that they're better off playing a constructive role in the first few years of the Obama administration. Ask yourself this: What leverage does Mitch McConnell -- whose party affiliation almost cost him reelection in Kentucky -- have on Susan Collins, who just rode her bipartisan credentials to a landslide win?

The Democrats weren't effective as opposition to Bush because there were always a few who were willing to play ball. The Republican party, even if the leadership decides to resists, probably doesn't have the party discipline to block Obama's agenda. We'll see.

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