Skip to comments.For Conservatives, Mission Accomplished
Posted on 05/18/2004 9:06:43 PM PDT by neverdem
Last week Washington was the site of the biggest birthday party you never heard of. The occasion was the 40th anniversary of the American Conservative Union, and the guest list included all the grandees of right-wing America, from Senator Mitch McConnell to Phyllis Schlafly to Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association to, of course, President Bush.
In his speech, the President promised that "for our blessed land the best days lie ahead," and was greeted with several foot-stomping ovations and cries of "Four more years!" But the real flavor of the event was captured by what the president called the "fine group of decent citizens" gathered at the tables in front of him members of the N.R.A., the Heritage Foundation, the Family Research Foundation and countless other groups that make up Conservative America. One man wore a tie with the Ten Commandments; women carried handbags in the colors of the American flag; and when the narrator of a film about the conservative union used the phrase "right-wing nuts," the room roared its approval.
This is the type of partisan anniversary that only one side of America pays attention to the side that watches Fox News Channel (the host for the evening was that network's Tony Snow). Yet every Democratic politician in the land could have learned a great deal by attending. It would be going a little far to say that the A.C.U. ought to have celebrated under a banner labeled "Mission Accomplished," but it is because of such groups that the right has out-organized, out-fought and out-thought liberal America over the past 40 years. And the left still shows no real sign of knowing how to fight back.
To consider the ground that liberals have ceded, one must look back at the union's founding in a cramped living-room in 1964, a few days after Lyndon B. Johnson had thrashed the first fully paid-up conservative presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater. Back then, the self-styled "Mr. Conservative" seemed to come from another planet. "When in all our history," asked the political theorist Richard Hofstadter, "has anyone with ideas so bizarre, so archaic, so self-confounding, so remote from the basic American consensus got so far?"
Fast forward to today. A Republican Party that is more conservative than Mr. Goldwater could have imagined controls the White House, Congress, many governors' mansions and a majority of seats in state legislatures. Back in 1964, John Kenneth Galbraith smugly proclaimed: "These, without doubt, are the years of the liberal. Almost everyone now so describes himself." Today, a Gallup poll tells us, twice as many Americans (41 percent) describe themselves as "conservative" than as "liberal" (19 percent).
Democrats have come up with all sorts of excuses, from the evils of Richard Nixon's "Southern strategy" to the "stolen" election of 2000. They usually ignore the fact that the right has simply been far better at producing agenda-setting ideas. From welfare reform in Wisconsin to policing in New York City, from the tax-cutting Proposition 13 in California to regime change in Baghdad, the intellectual impetus has, for better or worse, come from the right. As President Bush bragged at last week's party, the right is "the dominant intellectual force in American politics."
Yet many Democrats insist this will change once Mr. Bush is ejected from the White House. This shows how little they have learned. First, the right has a history of advancing its agenda under Democratic executives (welfare reform came about under Bill Clinton). More important, it has organized itself for a much longer battle. Whenever it has been forced into retreat as after Watergate the flame has burned eternal at places like Heritage, the American Enterprise Institute and the Cato Institute, and at their smaller cousins in virtually every state.
Brains are nothing without political brawn. That's why the American Conservative Union disciplines Congressional Republicans by rating them according to their purity (the average rating for House Republicans has risen from 63 percent in 1972 to 91 percent in 2002). Yes, liberal environmental and abortion rights groups rate members of Congress too, but those figures are more effective as fodder for conservative attack ads than as a way to keep Democrats in line.
There are other battalions of foot soldiers, too. Americans for Tax Reform, which had a table at the dinner, rigidly enforces the party's pledge not to raise taxes. Focus on the Family (which has a campus in Colorado Springs so big that it has its own ZIP code) concentrates on promoting family values. Sometimes these groups feud Cato libertarians have plenty of differences with Focus on the Family's social conservatives but as all the back-slapping at the party showed, they share a sense of movement.
In theory, liberals have more than enough brain and brawn to match conservative America. The great liberal universities and foundations have infinitely more resources than the American Enterprise Institute and its allies. But the conservatives have always been more dogged. The Ford Foundation is as liberal as Heritage is conservative, but there is no doubt which is the more ruthless in its cause.
Now, perhaps, a few liberals are waking up to the task that confronts them. Americans Come Together, a group backed by the billionaire George Soros, already has 20 offices and 450 employees in Ohio alone. John Podesta, a former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, has founded the Center for American Progress, which Democrats are calling "the liberal Heritage." But it still seems that liberals are purely reactive. Barry Goldwater may have been strong meat, but at least he had ideas. By contrast, Americans Come Together's entire raison d'être (like that of the John Kerry campaign) remains negative: to send Mr. Bush back to Texas.
"There is no such thing as spontaneous public opinion," Beatrice Webb, the great British leftist, once said. "It all has to be manufactured from a center of conviction and energy." The American Conservative Union is just one of many such centers on the right; it's a lesson that liberal America seems unable to learn.
John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, writers for The Economist, are the authors of "The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America."
Not quite, unless we have 60 loyal pubbie senators, or they change the rules of the Senate.
"A Republican Party that is more conservative than Mr. Goldwater could have imagined controls the White House,"
When the hell did that happen?
The one thing that they can't comprehend when they talk about the rise of conservatism since Goldwater and the sixties, is the correctness of conservatism.
Maybe liberalism is failing because it has no logical or moral core.
There is still far too much socialism (an ideology entirely based on theft) in our society, but things are swinging slowly back towards the concepts of individuality and freedom.
These swings take decades.
Apparently they are living in some sort of fantasy world. I'd like to give them a WHite House moer conservative than Goldwater just for ONE MONTH so they would see what that would really be like.
I don't buy it. The Left has been on the attack on all fronts - socially, culturally, politically, etc... for years. Everytime you turn around WE are the ones reacting to THEM.
But maybe I just see it differently.
Goldwater was NO conservative so it isn't a contradiction at all.
The Conservatives today are more liberal than Lyndon Johnson.
Don't be fooled. What this article is really saying is, "we know liberals have the best plans and programs, we just aren't organized like those bad old conservatives. Conservative ideas are so bad the conservatives have to get all these rich people to put up millions to create and sustain all these think tanks and activist groups to promote their ideas and make them appear popular. We liberals don't need to do that because our ideas are so obviously superior!"
I am seeing just like you. They're tooting their horns because we're fighting an organized retreat in which we've had a few tactical victories mainly because so much of what the left proposes is bizarre and utopian.
They are, as we speak, trying to use the prison abuses to disenfranchise the right. The press has a campaign to get Bush and, in so doing, delegitimize all that conservatives stand for. That is "fighting back". The socialist / anti-Christian / Hedonist ideals have taken over American popular culture. Political correct dialogue is all that the public forum will permit. Gay "rights" are being cramed down our throats. Our military is being trashed. If Blair gets dumped, USA and Israel may just be alone with a few sympthetic but impotent countries looking out for their own survival. I would say the left is fighting back, just not openly in a fair and public debate where they stand to lose.
The editors at the Times have really lost touch with reality.
I shudder to think how far to the left the editorial staff really is.
This is a guest OpEd column.
Good points. While watching the news showing two men in Massachusettes with tongues 'legally' entwined, images of prisoners with panties on their heads emerge begging for an explanation that can only be gotten from a liberal. First case good, second case, very, very bad.
Why are we called reactionaries, rhetorically at least?
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