Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council was out repeating the nonsensical yet much-repeated "America is a center-right country" meme for CNN's Lou Dobbs program Wednesday, and he added something of a new twist:
I think there is a strategy that's going to be going forward for the conservative movement. I think many in the conservative movement, if you will, believe that the Republican Party took over the conservative movement and kind of ran it off the road. And, uh, conservatives are ready to take back control of the conservative movement, and if the Republican Party wants to be a governing party, as it has been in the past, then it's going to have to return to those conservative principles.
I think most people -- Republicans like Kathleen Parker included -- see it the other way around: the Republican Party was taken over by the conservative movement. One upon a time, the GOP actually was home to genuine moderates like Lowell Weicker and John Chafee; but ever since Ronald Reagan's ascension in the late 1970s, it gradually become a wholly owned subsidiary of the conservative movement.
Certainly, nearly every step taken by George W. Bush during his tenure had the movement's ardent support -- until, that is, it became self-evident to everyone but the 20-percenter kool-aid drinkers that his presidency was an unmitigated disaster for the nation. Now they want to blame that disaster on everyone but the misbegotten philosophy that caused it.
George W. Bush will not achieve a place in the Republican pantheon. Conservatism cannot fail, it can only be failed. (And a conservative can only fail because he is too liberal.)
Now, part of what makes movement conservatives the lovable wingnuts they are is that they are nothing if not spectacularly un-self-aware. They're like people who wear their underwear on their heads and then are puzzled when everyone points and laughs.
So Tony Perkins goes on, while repeating the right's favorite meme, and even admits that Republican governance has been a fiasco:
Look, America is a center-right nation. Barack Obama and the policies he reflects are not reflective of the nation. I think he offered, you know, what he called change, and Americans were ready for change. You know, Republicans have not governed well, and America was looking for a new path, and Barack Obama offered that. Now, his success is going to depend on whether or not he can govern as a moderate, as he campaigned, or whether he is going to be a liberal, as his record would indicate.
In fact, as we've said, nearly every facet of the main causes of the public's repudiation of Bush had to do with his adherence to the principles of movement conservatism, both in its governance:
- Foreign-policy debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan.
- A government that invades nations under false pretenses.
- A nation less secure and at greater risk of terrorist attacks than ever.
- A sinking economy.
- An expanding gap between rich and poor.
- Utter inaction on global warming.
- $5-a-gallon gasoline.
- An unresolved immigration problem.
- An incapacity to deal with natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina.
- A debacle in public-school education testing and funding.
- Declining food and consumer-product safety standards.
- A government that spies on its own citizens.
- A government that tortures prisoners held in their detention facilities.
And in its politics:
- The absurd impeachment of Bill Clinton in spite of the public's broad disapproval.
- The caricaturization of a future Nobel Peace Prize winner, Al Gore, in the course of foisting a Bush presidency upon an unsuspecting public.
- The relentless campaign to portray anyone dissenting from Bush's post-9/11 war plans as insufficiently patriotic and "soft on terrorism."
- The tireless recourse to a string of "Friedman units" in excusing the interminable extension of the Iraq war.
- The swift-boating of John Kerry.
- The Terri Schiavo fiasco.
- The Graham Frost fiasco.
- The ritual and ongoing demonization of Latinos as criminals, welfare bums, America-hating, job-stealing foreigners.
- The crude dog-whistle campaign run against Obama, depicting him as a terrorist-loving, America-hating, secret Muslim brown man.
- The deeply disturbing way that conservatives acted on this rhetoric: spewing hate, racism, and threatening violence.
In nearly every single one of these instances, movement conservatives pronounced their avid support because they reflected "conservative values" -- and indeed, in a number of them (such as the opposition to gay rights, or inaction on global warming, or the Schiavo matter) they were directly at the behest of movement conservatives, particularly the religious right. You know, Tony Perkins' people.
Mind you, not only does it not do any good to point this out to ideologues like Perkins (and nearly every other Republican in sight), at some point it only makes sense to let them wander off into the political wilderness for a few years. They have it coming.
That's clearly where they're headed, too. Mike Madden has a piece in Salon describing how deeply the party is now embracing movement conservatives' "move to the right" message:
But now [Minority Leader John Boehner] will have to prove his bona fides to a caucus that's clearly hungry to take noble stands on conservative principle. The GOP thinks those are the positions the public wants, anyway; many of the members left in the House Republican caucus are from districts where the more right-wing you are, the bigger your victory margin will be in the next election.
... The party will move even further to the right, and a larger Democratic majority might not need GOP votes on as many issues as they did the last two years. If conservatives are right about what the country really wants -- limited government, lower taxes, and continued deregulation -- their new philosophy could be the path back to Republican power. If not, they might have to get used to being in the minority for a long time.
A Gallup poll yesterday underscored the dilemma. See, for instance, these figures:
As the story notes:
With Bush no longer around to symbolize the Republican Party, the GOP will soon have an opportunity to redefine itself. The initial guidance from rank-and-file Republicans is to tack to the right -- returning to core Republican principles, as many Republican thought leaders are currently advocating. However, with only about a third of independents wanting the party to be more conservative, it is unclear how much that approach might help to expand the Republican base.
This is the problem conservatives face: Their principles -- particularly in their approach to governance and oversight -- were thoroughly repudiated by the voters because of the manifest failures of those principles put into action. So the legitimacy of their movement hinges on denying that. Yet they'll never solve their dilemma until they recognize that reality and come to terms with the whys. Maybe someday they'll figure out that being conservative doesn't require authoritarianism or xenophobia or apocalytpic religious fanaticism.
Meantime, they can blame the horse they rode in on all they like. But it can't change the fact that they were the rider.