Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Right's Class War

A very insightful article about the war within the Republican Party -- and how long it will likely take for Republicans to fix themselves:

If the Buckley affair were an isolated incident, such talk would be easy to dismiss as self-flattery—but it isn’t. With the prospect of defeat for John McCain growing more likely every day, the GOP destined to see its numbers reduced in both the House and Senate, and the Republican brand debased to the point of bankruptcy, the conservative intelligentsia is factionalized and feuding, criminating and recriminating, in a way that few of its members can recall in their political lifetimes. Populists attack Establishmentarians. Neocons assail theocons. And virtually everyone has something harsh to say about the party’s standard-bearer. Election Day may still be two weeks away, but already the idea-merchants of the right have formed a circular firing squad.

When the weapons of choice shift from pistols to Uzis after November 4, the ensuing massacre will be for Democrats a source of political opportunity, not to mention endless entertainment. But for Republicans it will be a necessary passage toward either the revival or reinvention of conservatism. Nobody serious on the right doubts that the overhaul is at once required and bound to be arduous—but it may take longer and prove even bloodier than anyone now imagines...

But history suggests that the rebuilding of the party, whether that means a rejuvenation of conservatism or its root-and-branch reformation, will take much longer than a single election cycle. Frum points out that it took the Democrats twelve years after the epochal 1980 election to make a substantial break with the party’s past. “And I think there were probably more people in the Democratic Party in 1980 who were willing to rethink the New Deal than there are Republicans in 2008 who are ready to rethink our party’s first principles,” he says. “So I think it’s going to be a very long, very difficult conversation.”

Few people understand better than Buckley just what that might mean. “My dad kicked off conservatism in 1955, Goldwater ran in 1964, and then Reagan was elected sixteen years after that,” he notes. “So the Republicans could be looking pretty good around, oh, 2032!”

You might think that Buckley is kidding here, but you would be wrong. Conservatism, he thinks, is facing nothing less than an existential crisis. The events of recent days may have given him less of a stake in the outcome than before, but still he offers a friendly word of advice for those who care to listen. “The smart ones in the movement should get together right after the election at the Greenbrier or the Homestead, you know, where they typically have these kinds of get-togethers, and have a long dark night of the soul,” he says. “And I’ll tell you what the conference should be called: Conservatism—What the Fuck?”


The Right’s Class War

The prospect of a McCain loss has the Republican Party angrily turning on itself. Can the eggheads and the Joe Six-Packs get along?

For a man who has just been, in his eyes, excommunicated from both a magazine and a movement founded by his father half a century ago, Chris Buckley, son of the sainted William F., is doing a creditable job of keeping his upper lip stiff. “I’m still sort of getting my apostate act down,” Buckley says with a chuckle when I phone him a few days after the unpleasantness unfolded. “I’m reading Apostasy for Dummies.” The apostasy in question is, of course, his endorsement of Barack Obama, which provoked such a torrent of outrage and abuse from the right that Buckley felt it only proper to offer to quit his column at National Review—an offer that was taken up, to his great surprise, “rather briskly,” as he puts it. “I guess it shows, be careful to whom you tender your resignation, because they just might accept it!”

Buckley’s good humor does nothing to conceal his melancholy and bewilderment at this turn of events. “I was really quite amazed by the reaction, and I think it shows just how bloody calcified the political discourse has become, and tribalist, and snarling,” he tells me. “I want to say that it’s a tempest in a teapot, but there seems to be something going on here, and maybe this has accidentally tapped into it.”


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