I think that to understand what's wrong with the conservative movement today, you need to think about Barry Goldwater's 1964 Presidential campaign. In '64, the GOP establishment felt that Goldwater was too radical. They said that nominating a hard-rightist like Goldwater would be counterproductive. But conservative activists worked hard, and they did it. Goldwater got the nod. And, just as the establishment predicted, Goldwater got crushed. And just as the established predicted, it proved to be counterproductive. The 1964 landslide led directly to Medicare, Medicaid, Title I education spending, and the "war on poverty." In the 45 years since that fateful campaign, the conservative movement managed to gain total control over the Republican Party.... But it's only very partially rolled back one aspect of the Johnson administration's domestic policy. Which is just to say that the conservative movement from 1964-2009 was a giant failure.... But the orthodox conservative tradition of '64 is that it was a great success that laid the groundwork for the triumphs to come.... Which is to say that it... can't think rigorously about its own goals. 2009-2010 has already seen the greatest flowering of progressive policy since 1965-66. No matter how well Republicans do in the 2010 midterms, the right will never fully roll back what the 111th Congress has done. And yet... if they win seats in 2010, conservatives will consider their behavior during 2009-10 to have been very successful...
Matt's point is a really crucial one, given that even progressives such as myself tend to regard the conservative movement as incredibly successful politically--which they certainly are in terms of process, driving the nation's political spectrum to the right, strongly against the current of public opinion--while somehow taking for granted conservative's complete inability to reverse major substantive gains progressives have made.
There's a good deal that can be said in defense of my usual stance--conservatives have been able to reverse a lot of other stuff, such as commonsense financial regulations from the 1930s, commonsense national security regulations from the 1970s, commonsense campaign finance regulations from the 1900s (the decade, not the century), and commonsense imprisonment regulations from the 1210s. But when it comes to undoing the most significant direct results of their own folly in 1964--their grand failure that laid the groundwork for later success--they have utterly and totally failed to get anywhere close to even. Heck, they've been reduced to trying to paint the Democrats as the greatest threat to Medicare! You just can't get to be much more of a failure than that.
Which brings me back to Newt Gingrich and Ashley Todd. For no one epitomizes the profound failure of the conservative movement better than they do. Gingrich's claim cited above, that Obama's passage of RomneyCare is the biggest threat to the "American way of life since the 1850s" (apparently, the Civil War pales in comparison) is perhaps most ably put in context by another post from Brad DeLong, which concludes thus:
Over in that alternative branch of the quantum-mechanical multiverse in which Mitt Romney was elected President in November 2008, this health care bill--with much smaller subsidies and no tax increases on the rich, and with other tweaks and modifications--passed the House of Representatives 352-83 and passed the Senate 79-20, with near-solid Republican support. Left-wing Democrats whined that it was not real reform. The David Broders and David Brookses of the world trumpeted it as an extraordinary victory for American bipartisanship.
Instead, we are here -- where a nearly identical plan appears very, very different.
We truly live in a weird world.
Gingrich's penchant for absurdly wrong-headed hyperbole, dressing up fear of the other in pretentious world-historical clothes, has enabled him to remain a perennial force in conservative politics despite repeated humiliations and embarrassments, simply because they have nothing--and no-one--better to turn to. Intellectually, he is Ashley Todd, while mistaking himself for Napoleon. In another deeply telling comment he made this week, Gingrich tried to blame Democratic leaders for the eruption of violent outrage after the passage of healthcare reform. As Think Progress noted, Gingrich did say that "there is no place for this viciousness", but he quickly pivoted to placing blame on the Democrats:
GINGRICH: Just as there was no place for the kind of viciousness against Bush and Cheney, there's no place for viciousness against Democrats. I would condemn any kind of activity that involves that kind of personal threat. But look, I think there's something very disingenuous about the Democratic leaders who attacked the tea party movement, who refused to hold town hall meetings, who refused to go back home, who kept the Congress locked up in Washington, and are now shocked that people are angry. I think the Democratic leadership has to take some moral responsibility for having behaved with such arrogance, in such a hostile way, that the American people are deeply upset. So let's be honest with this. This is a game that they're playing. People should not engage in personal threats. I'm happy to condemn any effort to engage in personal threats. But I think the Democratic leadership has to take some real responsibility for having run a machine that used corrupt tactics, that bought votes, that bullied people, and as a result has enraged much of the American people. And I think it'd be nice for President Obama, Speaker Pelosi, and Majority Leader Reid to take some responsibility over what their actions have done to this country.
Gingrich has a long history of blaming Democrats for violence committed by others. Indeed, it was one of his favorite themes during the brief period in which he reached his political apogee, as I pointed out in my mid-February diary from last year, "Newt Speaks, Newt Lies. Sociopathic 'Bipartisanship' Edition".
There was this:
REMARK PUTS GINGRICH ON HOT SEAT;
The Associated Press. St. Louis Post - Dispatch St. Louis, Mo.: Nov 8, 1994. pg. 13.A
Rep. Newt Gingrich came under fire Monday for using the South Carolina child-murder case to urge voters to back Republican candidates....
In an interview Saturday with The Associated Press, Gingrich was asked how the campaign was going in the final week.
"Slightly more moving our way," he replied. "I think that the mother killing the two children in South Carolina vividly reminds every American how sick the society is getting and how much we need to change things. . . .
"How a mother can kill her two children, 14 months and 3 years, in hopes that her boyfriend would like her, is just a sign of how sick the system is, and I think people want to change. The only way you get change is to vote Republican. That's the message for the last three days.
The mother, Susan Smith, initially blamed a imaginary black man for the murders. It then turned out that she had been molested by her step-father, Beverly Russell, as a child. He was a local leader of the Christian Coalition, naturally, as well as a member of the South Carolina Republican party executive committee. How much more Ashley Todd can you get? But Gingrich laid the blame on the Democratic establishment, and touted himself and his minions as the cure!
Then there was this:
Gingrich revises history in partisan attack
KENNETH J. COOPER. Houston Chronicle Houston, Tex.: Mar 8, 1995. pg. 9
Monday, Gingrich condemned liberal Democrats for "the monstrosity they have created, their public housing projects that are death traps for the poor, their public schools that are illiteracy traps for the poor."
But neither public education nor public housing were the legislative products solely of Democrats, as Gingrich partially acknowledged Tuesday when reporters pressed him to explain his remarks. But he insisted the blame for failures in both systems belongs to Democrats.
The nation's oldest public school, Boston Latin School, was established in 1635 -- long before either of today's major political parties was formed. It was Whigs who pushed universal public education in Northern states before the Civil War, and Republicans who opened schools throughout the South afterward.
"The public schools don't belong to one party or another," said Arthur Levine, president of Teachers College, Columbia University. "It's foolish. One would expect more of a former college professor."
Tuesday, Gingrich revised his remark to blame Democrats for ""the modern, unionized, big city school system with work rules that make no sense, with very big bureaucracies, with a tremendous amount of money wasted and with buildings that don't function.''
And then this:
Gingrich under fire for murder claim Speaker uses horrific killing to attack welfare state
MARTIN WALKER IN WASHINGTON. The Guardian Manchester (UK): Nov 23, 1995. pg. 014
AN INTER-RACIAL murder, in which a pregnant woman was murdered so that the father could steal the child from her womb, triggered a political row yesterday as Democrats denounced a claim by the Republican House speaker, Newt Gingrich, that the killing was the fault of the liberal welfare state.
The slaughter in Chicago last Friday of Deborah Evans, aged 28, and two of her children, has stunned an America which had thought itself beyond shock at crimes of sexual violence. Mr Gingrich's use of the case to draw a political moral has made it a national issue.
"The speaker is out of control," said David Eichenbaum for the Democratic National Committee.
"Last week he shut down the government because he got a bad seat on Air Force One. This week he blames his political opponents for a most brutal murder that has revolted the whole of America. Where does it end?"
Deborah Evans was a white welfare mother, with two white children of 10 and 8, and all three were found stabbed to death. Her former lover, Laverne Ward, a black man and father of her 19-month-old child and father of the child in her womb, has been arrested and charged with her murder. He is further charged with then cutting open her uterus with a pair of household scissors, and taking away the baby to give it to his cousin, who had tried and failed to have a baby.
"Let's talk about the moral decay of the world the left is defending. Let's talk about what the welfare state has created," Mr Gingrich told a conference of Republican governors. "We end up with the final culmination of a drug-addicted underclass with no sense of humanity, no sense of civilisation."
Deborah Evans was on welfare, but there is no evidence that drugs were involved in the crime, Illinois police said. That did not stop Mr Gingrich before, when he last year blamed "liberal values" in the case of Susan Smith, who drowned her two children in her car so that she could go off untrammelled with a new lover. At the trial, she blamed her behaviour on sexual abuse by her father, a prominent member of his local Republican Party.
Already criticised for damaging the Republican case in the budget battle with the White House by complaining of being snubbed on the presidential plane, the accident-prone Mr Gingrich was sticking to his combative guns yesterday, insisting that the case was a parable of the social decay caused by the welfare state.
"What's going wrong is a welfare system which subsidised people for doing nothing; a criminal system which tolerated drug dealers; an educational system which allows kids to not learn and which rewards tenured teachers who can't teach, while destroying poor children who it traps in a process with no hope," Mr Gingrich said.
"This happened in America. It happened because for two generations we haven't had the guts to talk about right and wrong. We've talked about situation ethics. We've talked about victimisation. We've talked about our needs. We've had soap-opera-like television shows where people get on and describe the most disgusting behaviour."
In short, blaming liberals and Democrats for the violent actions of others is central to Gingrich's political modus operandi. And particularly when that violence is actually done by conservatives themselves, that modus operandi is diametrically opposed to the conservative mantra of "personal responsibility."
What a surprise!
But at least now I think we can understand Gingrich's remarks that Ed Luce said
described Mr Obama's bill as the biggest threat to the "American way of life since the 1850s" when the country was heading for civil war.
The big threat in the 1850s, was, of course, the formation of the Republican Party, opposed to the expansion of slavery. The Civil War was all their fault, you see. And nowhere near as big a threat to the "American way of life" as the abolitionist sympathizers like Abraham Lincoln, who were the cause of it all.
Heck, even Ashley Todd knows that!