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Conservativism as Voodoo

Tuesday, May 01, 2007
The Republicans are completely obsessed with Ronald Reagan. Whether it's fighting over his legacy or searching for his successor, they just can't seem to move on. It's not surprising that Reagan would hold such a powerful place in their hearts, since he was the only straightforwardly ideological President the Republicans have had who wasn't a total disaster (unlike Bush). If they can reincarnate Reagan & Reaganism, they can put Bush safely behind them. If not, not.

But like the DLC Democrats in regard to Clinton, conservative Republicans have learned all the wrong lessons from Reagan's victories. Reagan won in 1980 through a unique confluence of circumstances: the "eastern establishment" was in disarray, Carter was incredibly unpopular because of stagflation and the hostage crisis, and Anderson's 3rd party candidacy won a bunch of moderate voters who had no interest in the California Cowboy. Reagan would have won without Anderson on the ballot, but with Anderson off the ballot and no hostage crisis? Or no oil shock? No way. As for 1984, Reagan ran a campaign so devoid of substance that the Democrats actually gained seats in the Senate. Some landslide. I'm sorry, but I'm never impressed with campaigns that get incumbents re-elected in times of peace & prosperity. It's just not that hard.

The fact is that ideological candidates almost never win the Presidency. Bush I ran as a centrist in 1988, Clinton as a neo-populist moderate in 1992, Bush II as a "compassionate conservative." One can go back even further - Carter was a conservative Democrat in 1976, Nixon was a Peace candidate in 1968, Kennedy ran against the Missile Gap in 1960, Eisenhower was a temperamental moderate, etc. etc. etc. Before Reagan, the last successful candidate who ran as an ideologue was Harry Truman in 1948 - and he was an incumbent.

Like or not, this is a moderate country. Republicans can convince themselves that they just need the right messenger in order to fashion their night watchman state/theocracy/empire, but the reality is that even if they could overcome those self-evident contradictions, the country as a whole kind of likes the New Deal, personal liberties, and peace.

So go ahead and keep wasting your time trying to create zombies. Meanwhile we'll be busy running real live candidates and winning real live races.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 2:48 PM
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