In this superb review of Geoffrey Kabaservice’s new book Rule and Ruin: The Downfall of Moderation and the Destruction of the Republican Party from Eisenhower to the Tea Party, Reihan Salam offers a thumbnail sketch of how and why the Republican Party has lurched so far to the right, and why this is a problem in America today.
Tracing the decline to the divisive 1964 Republican National Convention that nominated reactionary conservative Barry Goldwater as the GOP’s answer to Lyndon Johnson, Salam suggests that the only way the Republicans can ever hope to govern effectively is to hark back to the legacy of more moderate times.
Where I diverge with both Salam and Kabaservice is in their recycling of the old saw that moderates, by definition, lack ideology. I disagree, and for two reasons.
First, most moderates do have values and principles in which they believe passionately and use those to guide their actions. On the conservative side of the aisle, we can include George Romney, Dwight Eisenhower, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt, and arguably Ronald Reagan. It is impossible to argue that these men lacked the courage of their convictions, and none stood at the right wing of the GOP.
What moderates eschew is the kind ideological orthodoxy that disregards all other viewpoints, that eschews creative solutions, that denies the nature of the evolving American polity, and rejects the practical necessity of compromise in a political system that represents all Americans, not just Americans Like Me.
Second, in my experience the problem with political heterodoxy in America is not a lack of an ideology, but a failure to articulate it well and to place it in the context of policy. Hillary Clinton came closest in her 2008 campaign when she pledged to revive America’s middle class, an approach that sent the far left scurrying to the clarion of Barack Obama very early in the primary process. I would argue, though, that her failure toarticulatewhat that meant is what sank her in the campaign.
We suffer even more from this problem on among moderate and progressive conservatives. We do not articulate a coherent set of principles that would give shelter to the reluctant followers of either the Tea Party, the fundamentalist right, or the libertarian wing of the GOP, not to mention independents and Democrats who are tired of the doctrines of the left.
Kabaservice’s book is a look at how we lost our way, and I find myself unable to sleep as I absorb it. Our work now is not to find our way back, but to find our way forward toward a brand of conservatism that puts our principles to work finding a way forward for the entire country.
- Is 2012 1964 All Over Again? (outsidethebeltway.com)
- Geoffrey Kabaservice: Why Republicans Are Betraying The Origins Of Their Party (huffingtonpost.com)
- The Strange Death of the Republican Moderate – New York Times (nytimes.com)
- National Review’s Salam Schools Klein, Vanden Heuvel and Zakaria on Tea Party and Taxes (newsbusters.org)
- Ryan Lizza: Rick Santorum vs. Mitt Romney: Can the G.O.P. save itself? (newyorker.com)
- Bull Moose Bumper-Sticker of the Week (pacificbullmoose.wordpress.com)