Yesterday, Obama clearly articulated what many of his surrogates and allies in the media have been hinting at for years now. That is, the republican party has changed. The radicals have taken over. They are impossible to work with and are the source of much of the gridlock we currently see in Washington. Republican responses to this line of attack have usually either ignored the premise or sheepishly confirmed the assertion.
However, this is a hard case to make. It is inherently antagonistic against a massive group of people and it takes a lot of knowledge to even begin the conversation. Much of the evidence is anecdotal: Cap and trade was proposed by a republican. Individual mandates were supported by Romney and originally proposed by the Heritage Foundation. Republicans are apparently chemically tax-phobic. Budgets are regressive. All stimulus is balked at. Not raising the debt ceiling is a means to deficit reduction (not actually that bad), but considered a reasonable thing to use as a bargaining chip. Both sides said the other was unwilling to compromise. But it is clear that the republicans refused to break their tax-phobic stance, where as democrats were willing to compromise on entitlements. Liberal heros like Krugman have become noticeably talented at calling republicans out on these things and have turned the otherwise scattered narrative into cogent, undeniable reality. More importantly, moderate conservatives have begun to lament that which they know to be true but cant explicitly state. (This is something that has been chronicled on this blog to a point where I want to talk about something else, but find it hard to.)
Despite the clear shift to almost militant attitudes and the abundance of evidence, to the public most of this is just noise. Republicans can deny till they die, and survive off enthusiasm generated by sloganeering and radicalization. Only those who are professional observers and commentators have the outside perspective and understanding of the ebbs and flows of today’s political happenings to fully understand what is going on. Others can simply ignore some of the radicalization, selectively hearing familiar tunes such as “capitalism v. socialism,” “Christianity v. secularism” and “big government v small government.” But for those paying attention, the change is close to being intellectually untenable.
There now exists a public cohort of otherwise unconnected conservatives who have the intellectual honestly that will not allow them to deny what is patently obvious, albiet complicated. This unhappy company of moderate conservatives find themselves living on a political island that is quite lonely. David Brooks, Ross Douthat, David Frum, Andrew Sullivan, Joe Scarborough and others all find the undeniable exactly that, but are uncomfortable with it. You can see them struggle with their conflicting interests of intellectual integrity, professional mortality and now shaken party identity (which is often a result of culture rather than ideology). Most still self-identify as conservatives, but what do they really have in common with tea partiers and Rick Santorum?
It is almost painful to watch those hanging on to the conservatism that once was. But the reason they continue to hang on is too important to ignore. They see a dark side. It is what they have criticized and even fought against their entire lives. Emotionally, this dark side makes them far more uncomfortable and self-righteous than the failings of their own side, which they are used to. Liberalism has its own brand of incoherent populism that is far more difficult to debunk and increasingly intrinsic to mainstream liberalism. In the past several weeks this populism has become acutely apparent and reminder to those in the center right why they ended up or stayed there in the first place.