Excellent column by David Brooks who gives a trenchant analysis of what has happened to conservatism in the last 30 years.
He explains that 30 years ago, “the conservative movement itself, was a fusion of two different mentalities.”
On the one side, there were the economic conservatives. These were people that anybody following contemporary Republican politics would be familiar with. They spent a lot of time worrying about the way government intrudes upon economic liberty. They upheld freedom as their highest political value. They admired risk-takers. They worried that excessive government would create a sclerotic nation with a dependent populace.
But there was another sort of conservative, who would be less familiar now. This was the traditional conservative, intellectual heir to Edmund Burke, Russell Kirk, Clinton Rossiter and Catholic social teaching. This sort of conservative didn’t see society as a battleground between government and the private sector. Instead, the traditionalist wanted to preserve a society that functioned as a harmonious ecosystem, in which the different layers were nestled upon each other: individual, family, company, neighborhood, religion, city government and national government.
He correctly deduces that Reagan straddled both sides of conservatism and points out that today’s right wingers have no clue about traditional conservatism:
In the polarized political conflict with liberalism, shrinking government has become the organizing conservative principle. Economic conservatives have the money and the institutions. They have taken control. Traditional conservatism has gone into eclipse. These days, speakers at Republican gatherings almost always use the language of market conservatism — getting government off our backs, enhancing economic freedom. Even Mitt Romney, who subscribes to a faith that knows a lot about social capital, relies exclusively on the language of market conservatism.
It’s not so much that today’s Republican politicians reject traditional, one-nation conservatism. They don’t even know it exists. There are few people on the conservative side who’d be willing to raise taxes on the affluent to fund mobility programs for the working class. There are very few willing to use government to actively intervene in chaotic neighborhoods, even when 40 percent of American kids are born out of wedlock. There are very few Republicans who protest against a House Republican budget proposal that cuts domestic discretionary spending to absurdly low levels.
Does the right want to know why Romney is losing? Listen carefully:
Republicans repeat formulas — government support equals dependency — that make sense according to free-market ideology, but oversimplify the real world. Republicans like Romney often rely on an economic language that seems corporate and alien to people who do not define themselves in economic terms. No wonder Romney has trouble relating.
Some people blame bad campaign managers for Romney’s underperforming campaign, but the problem is deeper. Conservatism has lost the balance between economic and traditional conservatism. The Republican Party has abandoned half of its intellectual ammunition. It appeals to people as potential business owners, but not as parents, neighbors and citizens.
It’s not just the religious crazies, the economic dunderheads, the small government fanatics, or the neo-cons who have brought traditional conservatism to the state where much of the right views those who believe that government has an important role to play in society as “liberal-lites.” It is a studious avoidance of objective reality — a suspicion of intellectuals, a denial that criticism (even coming from within its ranks) is valid, a summary rejection of points of view from the other side, and a determination not to allow democratic government to work unless it is 100% on their terms.
To refer to them as corporate conservatives is unfair. Brooks may find it useful shorthand, but it hardly covers the range of right wing paranoia and dis-associative thinking that leads to many on the right taking people like Palin, Cain, and Bachmann seriously as presidential candidates.
In short, today, what passes for conservatism, lacks logic, coherence, compassion, respect, and basic analytical skills.
Other than that, the right is doing great.