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April 28, 2009

New Conservative NY Times Columnist, Wishes We Could Have Stuck A Fork In Conservatism After The Last Election

Ross Douthat makes his debut on the Times' Op-ed page today and shockingly, the new 'conservative' member of the team immediately takes after...wait for it...conservatives. That mean, grumpy Dick Cheney to be precise.

The hook of the column is that if Dick Cheney had run instead of John McCain, conservatives would have been defeated at the polls and realized it wasn't moderates that killed the party but Cheneyesque conservatism.

At the very least, a Cheney-Obama contest would have clarified conservatism’s present political predicament. In the wake of two straight drubbings at the polls, much of the American right has comforted itself with the idea that conservatives lost the country primarily because the Bush-era Republican Party spent too much money on social programs. And John McCain’s defeat has been taken as the vindication of this premise.

We tried running the maverick reformer, the argument goes, and look what it got us. What Americans want is real conservatism, not some crypto-liberal imitation.

“Real conservatism,” in this narrative, means a particular strain of right-wingery: a conservatism of supply-side economics and stress positions, uninterested in social policy and dismissive of libertarian qualms about the national-security state. And Dick Cheney happens to be its diamond-hard distillation. The former vice-president kept his distance from the Bush administration’s attempts at domestic reform, and he had little time for the idealistic, religiously infused side of his boss’s policy agenda. He was for tax cuts at home and pre-emptive warfare overseas; anything else he seemed to disdain as sentimentalism.

This is precisely the sort of conservatism that’s ascendant in today’s much-reduced Republican Party, from the talk radio dials to the party’s grassroots. And a Cheney-for-President campaign would have been an instructive test of its political viability.

I eagerly await further columns from Douthat so we can learn what 'real conservatism' is. Something tells me it will all sorts of nifty new social programs and spending. Awesome!

As for this column, well there's nothing like 'conservatives' who describe fellow conservatives in cartoonish terms. With friends like these....

Second, would Cheney have lost? Probably but you know what? Enhanced interrogation techniques are more popular with voters than they are with the chattering classes.

I hate to break it to Ross but the Democrats don't do well historically when running as weak on national security (see Carter, Jimmy, Dukakis, Michael, Kerry, John F.). Robustly defending the policies that keep this country safe for 7+ years might have been a little more popular than Democrats and easily spooked conservatives thought.

More importantly, the election turned on the economy and the financial meltdown, not Iraq and not Gitmo. Small government, tax cuts and reduced spending might not have looked good in November '08 to many (though again, no one was making the case for them) especially after 8 years of Republican running up the tab. I guarantee you though, they will look pretty damn sweet in 2010 and 2012 when the cost of electing Obama becomes clear.

It's funny how Cheney became such the boogeyman during the last 8 years. I remember when he was the supposed grown up who was going to keep the gravitas lacking W. in check. Funny how the self-selected deciders turn. Personally, I would have preferred Cheney in 2000 but that's just me.

The thing is, the left is going to demonize anyone with and R after their name (hell they made Bush and McCain out to be rightwing ideologues), so shouldn't we at least have the real thing?

What we are going to need in 2012 is a governor with a track record of getting things done within a conservative framework. No more Senators who think doing 'something' by consensus is the end all and be all but an actual leader who can define the terms of the debate and has a record to back it up.

It's a long way out but there are obvious candidates. One or two of them will have a record that will be damn impressive giving the tough times we are going through. That's going to be the future of conservatism, not people constantly reacting to the last election.

Either way, American politics are cyclic. They move back and forth (though always more to the left on balance). In 4 or 8 years the country will want small government (well, small government talk at least) not Liberalism-lite. People who chase trends at the expense of principle will always be a day late, though they will always have a spot on the NY Times Op-ed page.

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posted by DrewM. at 10:36 AM

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