and the success is sure.
-- Mark Twain
I would walk out of the office of any doctor who tried to take my temperature with a blood pressure cuff.
I would fire a carpenter who was trying to drive finishing nails with a beer bottle.
Which is why it amazes me that some of America's most famous and well-regarded Conservative public intellectuals are still so profoundly clueless about American Conservatism.
For example, Andrew Sullivan:
Santorum's Base Consists mostly of Christianists:Now that 30 years of escalating failure has poisoned their brand, you hear this claptrap everywhere.
What I find somewhat infuriating in the language of the linked poll is the notion that wanting to recriminalize all abortion in every state and end all civil unions/marriages for gay couples is somehow "conservative." It would be radically opposed to the state of affairs that has existed in this country for decades. Opposing marriage equality can be called many things, but "socially conservative" is simply not one of them.
From Sarah Palin to Andrew Sullivan, it is the lamentation of every Conservative with a megaphone and financial stake in the Right: that all those other clowns out there who keep pretending to be Conservatives are all wrong.
For example, Dubya was a Conservative, re-elected and celebrated ...right up until the consequences of his stupid, criminal, treasonous policies started cutting into the profits of the carnival barkers of the Right. Then, almost overnight, all mention of George W. Bush -- the Greatest Fucking Hero in History -- ceased and Dubya became just another UnConservative to be denounced by Republican Party base voters from behind illiterate signs and beneath sassy, tri-corner hats. It was mass political self-lobotomy on a scale that was genuinely shocking to find anywhere outside of "1984", and would have failed instantly and been laughed into the ash heap of marketing history had it not been abetted every step of the way by the greatest act of mass-journalistic malpractice since the Iraq war.
This is, at its core, the most damning critique of the Reasonable Conservative or the Centrist Neoconservative or Gay Tory Catholic Conservative or whatever other group has recently been perp-walked to the door of American Conservatism: that despite the overwhelming evidence that they have been wrong for most of their adult lives, they continue to maintain that this is all just a merry mix-up, and once the real Conservatives take over and start running the show, everything will sort itself out.
But the Real American Conservatives are already here, Mr. Sullivan, and always have been. They were here long before you were born -- before your parents, grandparents and great-grandparents were born. They were here before you chose to make a living by lending your time and talent to their depraved cause. They were here before it began to dimly dawn on you that American Right is run by scumbags and monsters (a fact that Liberals have been trying to get through your thick head for 30 years.) They were here when their madness finally bucked you off their gravy train and onto the next gravy train. They were here when you took up your new career -- whining that they had gotten Conservatism all wrong.
And they will be here long after you and I shuffle off our respective mortal coils.
So since it is painfully obvious that Mr. Sullivan does not understand American Conservatism at all, I will explain his movement to him slowly and clearly -- as one would do with a small child -- by momentarily setting aside transient, "shiny object" issues and distractors (like contraception or Barack Obama's birth certificate) and instead simply focusing on the basic definition of what the word "conservatism" actually means.
Conservatism (Latin: conservare, "to preserve") is a political and social philosophy that promotes the maintenance of traditional institutions and supports at the most, minimal and gradual change in society.
So any discussion about "Whither Conservatism?" or debate about real Conservatives vs. fake Conservatives is meaningless without first addressing this question: What exactly are the "traditional institutions" and ways of life its adherents trying to maintain and defend?
Again, the answer for American Conservatives is both incredibly obvious and well-documented, and so painfully embarrassing to its elite defenders that they lie constantly to avoid accidentally mentioning it:
- American Conservatism is dedicated to the preservation of the absolute hegemony of straight, white fundamentalist Christian men within a social hierarchy based on the supremacy of the white race.
- This social hierarchy is ordained by Almighty God and therefor beyond debate.
- Every problem American society faces is caused by some deviation from this divine social hierarchy and can only be corrected by the restoration of this divine social hierarchy.
To preserve these "traditional institutions" and ways of life, American Conservatism's adherents have waged one hot war against the government of the United States and several cold ones. They have attempted to seceded from the country. They have closed down school systems. They have fled cities. They have embraced domestic terrorism. They have murdered and legislated and prayed with equal fervor and righteousness. They have formed new political parties and taken over old ones. They have spent centuries -- centuries! -- doing the the most basic work of Conservatism: fighting the encroachment of change with every ounce of their strength.
They have taken on new allies and issues (state-sponsored homophobia, radical deregulation, Creationism, etc.) and subsumed others with more genteel, dog-whistley language when it suited their larger purposes, but at core they have always been nothing more or less than variations of the true believers that Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens described in is March 21, 1861 "Cornerstone Speech" in Savannah, Georgia:
Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science. It has been so even amongst us. Many who hear me, perhaps, can recollect well, that this truth was not generally admitted, even within their day.
The errors of the past generation still clung to many as late as twenty years ago. Those at the North, who still cling to these errors, with a zeal above knowledge, we justly denominate fanatics. All fanaticism springs from an aberration of the mind from a defect in reasoning. It is a species of insanity. One of the most striking characteristics of insanity, in many instances, is forming correct conclusions from fancied or erroneous premises; so with the anti-slavery fanatics. Their conclusions are right if their premises were. They assume that the negro is equal, and hence conclude that he is entitled to equal privileges and rights with the white man. If their premises were correct, their conclusions would be logical and just but their premise being wrong, their whole argument fails. I recollect once of having heard a gentleman from one of the northern States, of great power and ability, announce in the House of Representatives, with imposing effect, that we of the South would be compelled, ultimately, to yield upon this subject of slavery, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics, as it was in physics or mechanics. That the principle would ultimately prevail. That we, in maintaining slavery as it exists with us, were warring against a principle, a principle founded in nature, the principle of the equality of men. The reply I made to him was, that upon his own grounds, we should, ultimately, succeed, and that he and his associates, in this crusade against our institutions, would ultimately fail. The truth announced, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics as it was in physics and mechanics, I admitted; but told him that it was he, and those acting with him, who were warring against a principle. They were attempting to make things equal which the Creator had made unequal.
Just behind their carefully sculpted public masks -- behind every screed against Big Gummint and the Sekrit Marxism of the Kenyan Usurper -- this remains the fundamental vision of the world which American Conservatives fight to conserve and promulgate: out of Conservatism's original cradle, cultural abominations from George Wallace to Ronald Reagan to Sarah Palin just keep a'slouching; out of its original foundry has come most of the structural ironwork for virtually act of thocratic meddling, fiscal recklessness and foreign policy insanity. This is why any analysis predicated on the assumption that they learn any moral lessons from their mistakes is absurd -- because Conservatives don't "learn" in that sense at all. Because any such learning would involve an admission of previous error, which no movement that claims its mandate from Almighty God can afford to do. Instead, Conservatives survive, regroup, re-calibrate, purge their ranks, double down on the crazy and just come charging right on back, louder, angrier, stupider and more committed than before.
This has been their way for centuries, and they have only ever slowed down or backed off when forced to by a judge's gavel or a Union Army bayonet.
Facing this ugly reality is personally humiliating and professionally dangerous for people like Mr. Sullivan, which is why despite exhorting other's to "stop silencing people and keep debating them", the one subject which Mr. Sullivan is far too cowardly to debate is, ironically, the one subject on which he is supposed to be an expert: the history and trajectory of American Conservatism.