Michael Lind’s latest article for Policy Network, Beyond Reaganism and Clintonism: the emerging political order in the US, may have rendered this blog irrelevant. He has managed to summarize in a single, condensed article the entire political transformation I’ve been struggling to describe for years. It’s a humbling and slightly depressing read.
He describes 5 big trends that are closing the 20th century political order and ushering in something new. If he’s right, and his analysis is very persuasive, the emerging shape of the American political order is a sobering wakeup call for those of us who once dreamed of an “ownership society.” The factors he describes:
1) The collapse of conservatism
The Soviets were, ironically, the glue held the many disparate factions of American Conservatism together. No new logic or purpose has emerged to give conservatives a purpose after the demise of global communism.
The catastrophic hubris of the “War on Terror” destroyed the neo-conservative movement. The authoritarian tendencies of religious conservatives have rendered them deeply unpopular in an increasingly diverse and secular culture. Business and commercial interests have proven too out of step with the changing political landscape to advocated anything more effective or persuasive than laissez faire. Their influence has been blunted by the second major development in US politics.
2) The rise of the paranoid fringe
The old conservative order was mostly successful in suppressing the crazies. William F. Buckley managed to force Goldwater to repudiate the Tea Party of their time, cauterizing the GOP’s wacky right flank so that the party could go on to win five of the next six Presidential elections. With the conservative center compromised, the nutjobs are on the loose. From Lind’s article:
As fusionist conservatism has decayed, the paranoid and libertarian strains have come to define the emergent right in the US. It has become routine even for mainstream Republican conservatives to denounce progressive and centrist Democrats as “socialists,” while conspiracy theories about socialist and Muslim plots flourish among right-wing activists.
Now Buckley’s venerable National Review has turned loose loons like Mark Steyn to write material so utterly removed from reality that they may ultimately be finished off by a libel suit.
3) The new Neo-Confederate Right
Out of the tangled wreckage of the old conservative order has emerged a quasi-libertarian political wing. Through the Dixiecrats they brought into the GOP in the post Civil Rights Era, they are channeling an Antebellum, pre-Capitalist vision that is a dead letter at the national level. They are converting the GOP from the party of commerce and nationalism into regional rejectionist party with no purpose but to stop any and all Federal action, as they did in the 1850’s.
4) The death of the New Democrats
The collapse of the conservative movement is leaving Clintonian Democrats politically isolated. As wingnut rabble renders the “conservative” brand increasingly unpalatable, business friendly Democrats are finding themselves in much the same position as the old commercial wing of the Republican Party. They are both relatively popular with general election voters and well-funded, but neither has the ground presence required to exercise any grassroots influence in their party. They are being crushed between raving paranoids on the right and an increasingly uncompromising big-government left.
5) Rise of the liberal Left
The entire Democratic establishment is beginning to shift back to the left. Despite all the Republican “Obamacare” hysteria, we may look back on the Affordable Care Act as the last legislative achievement of 20th century conservatism.
“Obamacare” was conceived by the Heritage Foundation, promoted by Republican Congressmen in the ’90’s, first implemented by a Republican Governor, and forced onto more Progressive Democratic politicians as a centrist compromise. With the power of the conservative movement shattered, there is little force in either party to blunt the future ambitions of the progressive left and they are starting to flex their long-atrophied muscles.
From the article:
The left-right divide in the years and decades ahead may be defined more by economic differences between increasingly assertive social democratic progressives and a more libertarian, anti-statist right. Like Richard Nixon, whose election marked a transition between the New Deal era of Franklin Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower and the conservative era of Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, Barack Obama may prove to be a transitional figure, marking the divide between one era in American politics and the next.
We came out of the Reagan Era with a solid center-right bloc that dominated American politics. Twenty years of shrill, self-righteous battles to limit sexual freedom and protect an outdated white cultural bloc has left the Republican Party deflated.
The emerging new rivalry seems to pit left wing progressives against 19th century “Libertarians.” There is no major political bloc remaining to promote capitalism or the stabilizing influence of American global power. It’s amazing and depressing how badly things can turn out after you “win.”