Skip to comments.How the Right has won in the US
Posted on 09/09/2004 6:52:45 AM PDT by Pokey78
You from England? asked the Arizona delegate in the Uncle Sam waistcoat covered in W-04 badges. Well, thats a good conservative country. One of us pointed out William Hague applauding Arnold Schwarzenegger with transatlantic gusto. Cant say I know him, observed the Arizonan. But he looks like a good man. Then he beamed again. Like Tony Blair.
If Michael Howard had decided to accompany Mr Hague to the Republican convention in New York, rather than staying at home to lick his wounds after his spat with George Bush, he would have found plenty to reassure him. Most grass-roots Republicans still warm to the party of Margaret Thatcher; Rudy Giuliani compared Mr Bush to Winston Churchill twice, a clever piece of political sycophancy given Mr Bushs hero-worship of Churchill; many still make a point of following the Tories antics, albeit not always accurately. (One Republican recently quizzed us about a rising young black Conservative in the United Kingdom, steeled in the struggle from inner-city deprivation to the Palace of Westminster: David Cameroon.)
Yet the harsh fact is that the gulf between conservatism on both sides of the Atlantic has never yawned wider. The most eye-catching difference is to do with the one thing that politicians value above all others power. The Republicans have long since taken over from the British Conservatives as the most successful right-wing party in the West. The Republicans have held the presidency for all but 12 of the past 36 years. They now control both Houses of Congress as well as a majority of the state legislatures and most of the governorships.
The British Conservatives have shrunk to their heartland the south-east and the shires. The Republicans, by contrast, remain a proudly national party. They dont talk about removing bed blockers but of conquering new swaths of territory. They control the governorships of the two most Democratic big states, California and New York, as well as the mayorship of New York City. This is the equivalent of the British Tories capturing seats across Scotland and Wales as well as the mayorship of Liverpool.
Nor is there any sign that the Republican hold on power is likely to loosen any time soon, despite the publication of books with hopeful titles such as The Emerging Democratic Majority. George Bush is pulling ahead of John Dukakis Kerry in the polls, despite a weak economy and an unpopular war in Iraq: he is currently about five points ahead. Even if he does lose in November, the Republicans are likely to keep control of the House, perhaps even the Senate and most of the states. The map of the Right Nation will still be painted Republican red.
Far more impressively, American conservatism dominates the political debate. President Kerry is merely offering a conservatism lite (not unlike Bill Clinton, who ended up being best known for abolishing welfare and balancing the budget). Mr Kerry has already pronounced himself a fan of conservative values and tried to court John McCain, the conservative Republican from Arizona, as his running mate. You only have to imagine Mr Bush declaring himself a fan of liberal values and trying to recruit Teddy Kennedy as his running mate to understand where the centre of political gravity lies.
Political parties sometimes look most formidable just before they implode. Even as Mrs Thatcher won her third election victory in 1987 the Conservative party was dying beneath her, its membership aging, its political machinery rusting, its support in the north and the Celtic fringe fading. There is little chance of this happening with the Republicans. Most of the rising stars of American politics like Messrs Schwarzenegger and Giuliani are Republican. This years Young Republican meeting in Washington DC was the biggest in the organisations history. Battalions of fiery young conservatives descended on the capital to berate Democrats, buy George W. Bush dolls and talk drunkenly about introducing a flat tax. Forty years ago registered Democrats outnumbered registered Republicans by two to one. Now the party registration is just about even. Twice as many Americans describe themselves as conservatives as describe themselves as liberals.
Why have the American Republicans been so much more successful at holding on to power than Britains Conservatives? The most basic reason is that they have ruthlessly sided with the future over the past: with growth over stagnation and the creative disruption of capitalism over the comforts of the status quo. Here the prime example is the Republicans ruling dynasty: the Bushes forsook the Preppie Toryism of the north-east, typified by Senator Prescott Bush of Connecticut, for the more southern-fried sunbelt conservatism of Texas. The current President Bush loathed his time at Prescotts alma mater, Yale University, swapped his familys Episcopalianism for heart-on-your-sleeve Methodism and campaigned for governor in 1996 surrounded by country-and-western singers (Prescott had used Yales Whiffenpoof Quartet).
The Tories never made the transition; despite a spell of bourgeois triumphalism under Margaret Thatcher, they are still identified with Olde England. The Republican party is now at its strongest in the areas of the country that are growing fastest in the suburbs and exurbs that are marching across Americas wide open spaces and in the rapidly growing south. If George W. Bush simply repeats his performance in the 2000 election, he will win the election handily, because the states that he won have been adding population (and hence electoral votes) since 2000 whereas the Democratic states have been losing people.
The Tories can claim a degree of kinship with the Republicans when it comes to favouring business and cutting taxes (though Oliver Letwins current only-if-we-have-the money philosophy looks suspiciously like what Arnold would call girlie-men economics). But the Tories have not been able to draw on two cultural forces that, for better or worse, define modern American conservatism.
The first force is optimism. Churchills idea that the past was preferable to the present and the present to the future still dominates his party. By contrast, Ronald Reagan (who never looked glum in his life) was fond of quoting Tom Paines adage that we have it in our power to begin the world over again about as unTory a sentiment as you could think of. In his acceptance speech last week, George W. Bush didnt bother to agonise about the deficit or the problems in Iraq. Instead he spoke about reforming government and democratising the Middle East.
The second much more controversial force is religion. America is a far more religious country than any of its European counterparts. More than 60 per cent of Americans say that religion plays an important role in their lives. Even in staid old Georgetown the churches are full every Sunday but, for the real experience, go to a megachurch like the Second Baptist Church in Houston.
Thanks to Michael Moore, most Britons associate evangelicals with impoverished southern hicks. In fact, the new megachurches spring up beside the ritziest malls. The Second Baptist Church caters for more than 15,000 people. The weddings at the weekend start at eight in the morning and go on until late in the evening. The Church provides a football pitch, a school, a gym, pool tables, a couple of restaurants, a 24-hour helpline for people in trouble. Not just religion then, but also plenty of hooks for the Lord that are designed to bring people into the community.
This is not to say that all Christians are Republicans. But most active white Christians certainly are: the best predictor of whether someone will vote Republican is not class (as it is with the Tories) but how often they go to church. Religiosity is not always an advantage for the Republicans the extreme positions taken by its southern moralistic wing on issues like stem-cell research could hurt Mr Bush this November. But in a country where religion seems to be always booming, being seen as the more Godly of the two parties is an enormous advantage.
The problem for Britains Tories is that they are operating in a country that prides itself on both its cynicism and its scepticism. Right-wing parties flourish best when they can temper their support for business with morality; otherwise they merely look greedy. But the Tories have consistently failed to win the values debate. Remember Mrs Thatchers brief flirtation with Victorian values? Or John Majors catastrophic Back to Basics campaign? The Tories problem is not just that any attempt to import American-style religious conservatism is bound to fail; it is that attempts to revive indigenous British cultural conservatism are easily caricatured as Colonel Blimpism. In Britain the Left long ago won the cultural wars.
But if British Tories would be on a hiding to nothing were they to try to import American cultural conservatism, they should at least try to import the Republican partys enthusiasm for setting the agenda. The Republicans have not just contented themselves with exploiting their cultural advantages. They have outfought, outthought and out-organised their opponents.
Consider the battle for ideas. Back in the 1970s London was a ferment of conservative ideas, a co-founder of the Reagan-Thatcher revolution; now it is an also-ran. One building in Washington DC which contains the American Enterprise Institute and the (Rupert Murdoch-funded) Weekly Standard probably houses more conservative brainpower than all the British think-tanks put together.
Over the past half-century or so, American conservatism has laboriously constructed an intellectual counter-establishment to balance the liberal establishment that dominates the universities. This counter-establishment now stretches from sea to shining sea: from the mighty Hoover Institution in Stanford, California, to the Manhattan Institute in the liberal Big Apple to a veritable Panzer division of think-tanks in Washington, DC, including Heritage, Cato, the AEI and Hudson. According to one survey, more than $1 billion was pumped into right-wing think-tanks in the 1990s.
Imagine if Britain had an entire battalion of well-funded Roger Scrutons and you begin to get a sense of how different things are in America. But the Republicans combine their command of the intellectual high ground with a huge army of foot-soldiers on the ground. Mr Howard may be able to stir up the CBI (occasionally), the odd fox-hunter and the anti-Euro brigade. But Mr Bush can call on an army of single-issue activists: gun rights people like the NRA; anti-tax people such as Americans for Tax Reform and the Club for Growth; land rights activists out west who loathe big city environmentalists; and, of course, Christian Evangelicals who turn churches into electoral command posts every couple of years.
Arnold Schwarzenegger made several references to The Terminator in his speech last week a speech which, mocking Brits ought to take note, was one of the best pieces of political rhetoric on either side of the Atlantic in recent years. But, from the Tories point of view, the more relevant film is one of his sillier enterprises. In Twins, the hulking Austrian is cast beside the minuscule Danny DeVito as two brothers separated at birth. The British Conservative party is now the DeVito character; whether it has any chance of re-uniting itself with its more muscle-bound twin is highly debatable.
John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, who work for The Economist, are the co-authors of The Right Nation: Why America is Different.
For the author to describe Kerry as "Conservative Lite" is like saying that Stalin was a major advocate for Democracy.
Could the author be more out of touch??
Apparently the author thinks that 12 straight months of job growth and continued increases in GDP and productivity constitutes a "weak economy".
"The Republicans have long since taken over from the British Conservatives as the most successful right-wing party in the West. The Republicans have held the presidency for all but 12 of the past 36 years. They now control both Houses of Congress as well as a majority of the state legislatures and most of the governorships."Yes, and it's no coincidence that the United States is the only nation in the West that is still ascendant--or that the United States is the last bastion of Western Civilization still in existance.
Europe is decadent. If it were not for the U.S., Europe would have fallen long ago. It is only the healthy American Heartland--Bush Country, Republican America--that keeps decadent Europe and Democrat America from descending into the Third World.
If you want to be a conservative in America, read Alvin Toffler. We're futurists now. And the fact John F*ckin' is running rightwards at times is an indication of where the center of political gravity in this country lies. People will prefer the real article to the pretend one. For what its worth, I have yet to meet a liberal who believes America's best days are still to come.
The second much more controversial force is religion. America is a far more religious country than any of its European counterparts. More than 60 per cent of Americans say that religion plays an important role in their lives.
Britain and much of Europe are floundering without a moral compass (even if Americans don't live up to ours half the time) and they're unable to face the Muslim challenge. There's a vacuum there, and it will be filled by something.
The authors are writing for an "England-based" readership; not specifically towards the American readership. The dance England is currently doing could classically be referred to as a "hip-hop" amid the "minefields" of the EU. Quite precarious position, IMHO, England is in, currently.
Used to be my home church. Unfortunately they backed away significantly from passing out voter guides and other legal stuff.
In Britain the Left long ago won the cultural wars.
And therein lies the problem. The Conservative Party cannot be truly conservative and still win, because secular humanism triumphed long ago in Great Britain. In America the victor in the culture war is still in doubt.
That's a good point, xJones. Secularism is really just humanism with a pretend face of neutrality. If people insist on living without God (witness Old Testament Israel), sometimes God will delive them into the hands of their mortal enemies (radical Islam???) Just a theory.
These guys don't know the difference between a conservative and a RINO. But they are right that Americans are optimistic, religious, and forward looking. The Democrats have, paradoxically, become the angry, nostalgic party of the past, and it has badly damaged them.
I saw these guys, John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, on a C-SPAN event, and they got many things wrong. During the chat, they mostly glossed over the massive and unending pro-Democratic wave of immigration from the 3rd World. When asked about it by an audience member they spoke of how Hispanics will become more Republican or conservative, which hasn't really happened.
But the most absurd thing they said was that the 'socially and culturally conservative Catholic Hispanics' would inject some social conservatism into the Democratic party, thus making the country more conservative by making the liberal party less liberal.
Well my question is simply; when is this supposed to actually start happening? Hispanics may vote for the ban on gay marriage in California, but it doesn't stop them from voting for ultra-liberal Senators like Barbara Boxer and Feinstein. It doesn't stop them from voting for very liberal Congressmen who do in fact support things like gay marriage.
And there is the fact that most Hispanic members of Congress are on the far left, and give virtually no political expression to the alleged cultural conservatism of their people/constituents. It is the same thing for black members of Congress.
So I fail to see any significant injection of social conservatism into the Democratic party from immigrants.
I found the author to be remarkably insightful considering the typical European predisposition toward all things American.
I wouldn't get to caught up in semantics. Those moderate Republicans who chafe under the term "right-wing" probably don't feel the label burn nearly as badly as moderate Democrats do when called "liberal" or "leftist."
It's evident to me that our real war isn't just with radical Islam...It's increasingly growing to include the rest of the world which will not be happy until we are a socialist nanny state at the disposal of the U.N.
Whether we deserve it or not, America is the eminent economic, military, moral, and political force in the world. This is no accident--it's directly attributable to the unflagging hard work and optimism of the average American citizen, and to a foundation of solid, conservative values.
The American Heartland and its representative, President Bush, have much to offer the world and especially the Western nations--including a pathway out of the quagmire of delusion, decadence, and doom. However, they stubbornly refuse to accept the very leadership that can save them--and, in fact, like delusional individuals, they attack with fury the very truths that offer them clarity, hope, and salvation--not to mention the very people who offer them these truths!
This makes sense. If the delusional, decadent, and doomed were capable of understanding the ascendant and of accepting their leadership, they wouldn't be delusional, decadent, and doomed in the first place. They wouldn't need leadership; they would be providing it!
Actually, I think he's on the money. He isn't saying Kerry IS conservative, but simply trying to tell the American people that he is. Big difference. He called him "John Dukakis Kerry" for cryin out loud!
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