Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
May 25, 2008

The End of Political Movements?

Josh Marshall puts up some thought about a long New Yorker piece by George Packer on the Fall of Conservatism.

The piece analyses the rise and fall of the conservative movement that started with the Nixon presidential campaign in 1966. Two years later:

[Nixon's] Administration adopted an undercover strategy for building a Republican majority, working to create the impression that there were two Americas: the quiet, ordinary, patriotic, religious, law-abiding Many, and the noisy, élitist, amoral, disorderly, condescending Few.

That tactic of polarization carried the Republicans on for nearly 40 years. But now it seems to work no more. Today:

Among Republicans, there is no energy, no fresh thinking, no ability to capture the concerns and feelings of millions of people.
On May 6th, Newt Gingrich posted a message, “My Plea to Republicans: It’s Time for Real Change to Avoid Real Disaster,”
Pat Buchanan was less polite, paraphrasing the social critic Eric Hoffer: “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.”

The conservatives have run out of aims that incite the electorate. People love tax cuts, but they also love good government service. The Republican party has no energy left to deliver either and no ideas for new themes.

Still Packer sees the presidential race between McCain and Obama as open. This because McCain does not run as much on polarization as Bush/Rove did and because of a hidden racist swell in the electorate that works against Obama.

Packer does not analyse the Democratic state of affairs. I am not sure that it is in a better than the Republican one. When I read through the Democratic sites and programs, I find no new inspiring ideas either. I also do not the see the groundswell in the electorate that would allow for new ideas to get real weight and traction (though that may be for my lack of travelling in the U.S. in recent years.)

To me the Democrats look just as corporatist as the Republicans. Both feed at the same trough. 

The view that both, Packer and Marshall, seem to subscribe to is that of a zero-sum game. One party rises when the other falls.

While Packer and Marshall see their attempts of interpretation as "taking a step back" and "the big view," their analysis is restricted to U.S. domestic policy. But it is the international big picture that is really important.

My long term theory is that today there is a lack of successful, established alternative examples in the world that look good enough to incite real demand for change in the 'West'.

The independency of the U.S. was related to the French revolution movement. FDR's programs were an answer to then established communism. The late  60's conservative movement was an answer to social democrats. All are gone. There is nothing for the conservatives to fight against and nothing for the 'progressives' to copy from.

David Frum, quoted by Packer, confirms this view:

I asked Frum if the movement still existed. “We’ll have people formed by the conservative movement making decisions for the next thirty to forty years,” he said. “But will they belong to a self-conscious and cohesive conservative movement? I don’t think so. Because their movement did its work. The core task was to stop and reverse, to some degree, the drift of democratic countries after the Second World War toward social democracy. And that was done.

(Side-thought: Think that through and consider the U.S. motives to fight 'Islamists'.)

Without any real 'enemy' to corporatism left, the right wing base has lost its enemy and falls apart.

Without any real 'enemy' to corporatism left, the left wing base has lost examples to follow and cheases to exist.

What is left are two parties in a two party system who are both without a real base movement and both supporting corporatism. They each may win this or that election and the paths they follow are slightly different.

But without some outer example that will ignite a real base movement to 'force' a real change of direction, they will both end up in a town named Fascism.

Posted by b on May 25, 2008 at 20:11 UTC | Permalink


What's the meme? It comes in threes...

Say goodnight, dick... Dick Martin Passes; end of an era? Many MOA's will morn the passing.

Best known for the highly successful Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, Dick Martin was the silly, almost child-like counterpart to straight-man Dan Rowan.

Posted by: Uncle $cam | May 25 2008 21:29 utc | 1

I've been grappling with this question ever since Ron Paul announced his candidacy early last year. Finally there was a clear alternative to the 2 party system of militarism and militarism light. While his anti socialist message may have turned off some from the left, the fact is he also opposed central banking and the Wall Street and bank bailouts that are the life blood of corporatism.

Alas, despite initial hope, his candidacy floundered. He has decided not to run independently and I think he hopes to rebuild the GOP into the traditional conservative party it once was (at least in nostalgia) following an expected drubbing in November. At that point, he could argue that a coalition of neoconservatives and the rapture right will lead nowhere.

Weather Ron Paul will be successful remains to be seen: is a harbinger of things to come, or the last gasp of a dying republic?

Posted by: Lysander | May 25 2008 22:31 utc | 2

My view is that Capitalism tends towards a uniformity of structures and similarity of ideas because competition is always addressed towards a marketing ploy that wants to exploit the momentary state of taste. It also needs an elimination of all forms of individuality and creativity because the citizens have to be transformed into consumers and creativity destroys uniformity. Therefore an enormous dead weight of banality overhangs the nation.
Our society is based on the quantitative but the quantitative does not increase creativity which is qualitative and singular and therefore shunned. Women are the same as men, every aspect is considered only as a commodity. The creative work of women as women is derided and they are praised if they imitate men. There is universal fear of difference. Drive into Denver or drive into Detroit and the same names of restaurants and stores will greet you. Walk into the malls and the same stores will be perched there. Look at women and men and consider their attire. Does one see a difference except for the magnitude of the thighs and buttocks? The problem of the society is spiritual, it is the problem of an exhausted Enlightenment with its now prevalent notion of the abstract person, a person whose rights are not related to his qualities but are dictated from abstract elaborations of jurisprudence.
This seems a rant but if you care to look at the USA with dispassionate eyes, what I have painted is what you will see.

Posted by: jlcg | May 25 2008 23:47 utc | 3

The basic differences between America's 2 parties that I can see are these:

Republicans= Globalization in the raw, the race to the bottom, the bottom line, and the base of the pyramid comprised of slaves.

Democrats= Globalization regulated by law, government enforcing minimal obligations to society upon corporations, and economic/environmental/workplace standards that will extend even to the base of the pyramid, with a base that still consists of citizens.

I know this sounds idealistic on the side of the Democrats, because the Dems are still corrupted by that which has completely corrupted the Republican Party: the addiction to violence, the power of empire, and the endless sugar tit of military Keynesianism.

Fascism is a harnessing of hysteria; it becomes a duty to forms rather than to humanity, which uses corruption and hatred of others to reduce every idea, person, and thing to a commodity. Conscription, servility, and fear of the state are sure to follow, when the decay of democracy proceeds past a certain point.

Posted by: Copeland | May 26 2008 0:03 utc | 4

I don't have time to read Packer's article beyond the intro at the moment but after reading that and Josh Marshall's piece I would like to make two comments.
The first is obvious - the ebb of late 20th century conservatism cannot be regarded as some sort of automatic resurgence for the left. Either can occur without regard for the other, and imagining that too many rethugs caught with their fingers in the till, or cocks in too many young boys' mouths means that the left or liberals, in particular the decadent and indefinable dem party are about to take over is fantasyland.

The other point is relevant but unrelated. The amerikan left suffers from this awful curse of blaming their failures on a bunch of rethug backroom political strategists who somehow cast an evil spell over the voters. It is the shenanigans of these backroom fixers, people like Buchanan that Packer discusses at the start of his article, which he appears to hold responsible for amerika's flight into fascism (I use that word knowing that metaphor deleted may deny that fascism is apt for the amerikan political structure but for me it passed the test a long time ago. I can't imagine many greater horrors, where one would feel more powerless and less able to exert one's will than being born poor and black in amerika).
Blaming Buchanan of that ilk certainly saves having to come over all introspective and try and put up a counter strategy for any liberal or leftie who hears and believes Buchanan's spiel, the rise of conservatism in amerika was just as inevitable as many felt the spread of communism to be in the 1960's.
Blaming the rethugs meant that the dems could sigh at the hopelessness of it all while they got back to lining their pockets and 'securing their base'.
Give us a break! As long as the amerikan left believes in these conspiracies the chances of them creating a paradigm where every humane or humanitarian act isn't either derided as being 'idealistic' or denigrated as being treasonous remains at nil.

However none of that really matters because those in control of both arms of the amerikan body politic the dem bosses and the rethug bosses have retreated into 'brand awareness'.
The dems don't have an ideology, they have a marketing strategy just as the rethugs, content in the knowledge that their position as market leader will never be challenged while the dems accept this crazy paradigm, no longer adhere to any of the old conservative traditions Lysander wrote of, they succeed by undermining dem marketing.

That is the model amerika will be stuck with until amerikans come to understand that voting is only a political act if the community insists that it be so, if they don't, then the act of voting will remain just another poll by market researchers.
Market research polls are carefully crafted exercises rather like a good lawyers cross examination. That is never ask a question that someone can answer in a way you don't like.

Posted by: Debs is dead | May 26 2008 0:25 utc | 5

Two wings of the same bird of prey.

Posted by: Ensley | May 26 2008 1:04 utc | 6

the sheer brilliance of Obama's primary strategy cannot be understated. Its not clear who & who should get credit for it. The approach is very consistent with Obama's grass-roots beginnings though it may have been architected by Axelrod & co. And they all must have had some inkling of a massive cultural divide in White America waiting to be harvested.

we can be sure that the feudalistic PTB is going to move very quickly to try to seal-off this crack in the wall and to hence ensure no future Obama-like small-state strategies. But it may not be quite easy. What binds Oregon versus what binds West Virginia is no less a cultural divide than North vs South. As it is, both are moving targets and the PTB will have its hands full.

Posted by: jony_b_cool | May 26 2008 1:36 utc | 7

Actually the democrats have enabled the republicans fall from grace because they have more or less gone along with what is essentially a republican agenda (& also the lack of difference between). Under such a development the corporatists/imperialists have for 40 yeas basically gotten everything they have wanted. And what we have now are the sordid and degenerate results. How else could a democrat run so successfully against an entrenched insider on an undefined and vague campaign of "change"? Generally, people know we're in deep shit and are having no more of the same, but are still not willing to hear the alternative spelled out because, well, it's so un- exceptionalist.

Posted by: anna missed | May 26 2008 2:24 utc | 8

jony@7: i think the brilliance of the Obama campaign is how it maintains the schism between Obama's unremarkable center/left policy stances, and the "brand awareness" debs describes; that vague aura of hope projected through a winning smile and competent vocabulary framed by a simple, one-word mantra: change.

with a wide range of frustration to minimize during interactions with my fellow citizens, currently it's the dogmatic and plain gullible support of Democrats that's driving me crazy. anyone still willing to back hillary needs to seriously examine how invoking (more than once) RFK's assassination and her husbands june california primary victory (he was already widely considered the presumptive nominee by then) is anything less than publicly hoping for a well placed bullet or state like florida to fall from the sky like manna.

i think hillary was too overconfident as the dominant brand marketed to sell, among other yarns, the idea that somehow her genitalia marks a revolutionary moment for all women around the world suffering under the cruel thumb of authoritarianism, capitalism, etc. she expected to have the nomination wrapped up after super tuesday, but iowa changed all that, and obama's incredibly energized national organizing, especially in caucus states, cast a wider hypnotic spell than her well established Clinton brand.

Obama, on the other hand, is a phenomena, but due to a prolonged affliction called cynicism, i fear his popularity is a social litmus test meant to gauge the unifying undercurrents of populism in order to better understand the terrain before destroying it, because while we wait and watch and nothing of substance is ever, EVER discussed in the MSM, treasonous war criminals are free to go about their days, escalating wars and popping bubbles.

Posted by: Lizard | May 26 2008 5:10 utc | 9

This is the type of thread that I do not get excited about. Sure, it is interesting and informative, but mainly from an academic standpoint. In terms of looking forward for future solutions, such discussions only serve useful as another bad example as to the core of the U.S.’s and the World’s leadership problems. After a short glimpse of the New Yorker Article “The Fall of Conservatism”, again I am reminded of how politics, especially dirty politics, consumes the majority of time and expense for our leaders, media, and lower level activists. All of this time and money spent for what? Personally, I am sick of politics, political parties, political labels, etc. For the past year here in the U.S., I have listened to sound bite after sound bite, speech after speech, debate after debate, with not one iota of substance in presenting problems to the public or in offering solutions. Although in this respect, Kucinich and Paul stood significantly apart but very ignored by the media. In fact, Ron Paul openly admits that he runs as a “Republican” because the system is flawed, that is, a citizen is all but locked out if he or she doesn’t play within the Democrat or Republican Party. Perhaps fitting to this thought and thread, today the U.S. Libertarian Party held its elections for the Party’s Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidates. Of course, major television networks did not cover this primary election. I complain even though I am not a supporter of the Libertarian Party. B has mentioned that in Germany, political parties can be started and be somewhat successful (such as the Green Party) in contrast to the established “Two-Party System” in the U.S.

Personally, in this day and age of wide and instant two-way communication and electronic real-time tabulation, I see no benefit to the public in having the government give prejudice in any form to any group of political parties - whether two or twenty. I propose, as one possible example of many, that individuals seek office within an electoral process that filters an individual candidate up from the bottom starting with local elections, either televised or thru the Internet, upon a continual open election process. Equal air time for all on a specially designated free government channel (a channel allocated for the sole purpose of elections and citizen speeches) where the public could immediately vote to elect right there on the spot, or if a large number of candidates seek an office, select the winner from a number of various election days (or nights) who compete in a hierarchal run-off. Candidates for wider provincial elections would come only from those who have served locally for at least two years, assuring those who have only served without violation of constitution and legislative law. Likewise, federal elections to be held in the same manner, with candidates only allowed from the pool of provincial (state) offices. All branches of government would be elected in this manner. Although one would be free to associate with a political party, a party affiliation would bring no more than name recognition in the election process. Would the citizens participate in this type of democracy? I think they would. And watching such a government channel may not be as boring as one would first imagine.

Real solutions supercede political philosophies. As mankind has progressed in population, density, learning and technology, it is completely obvious that Corporatism, a legalized form of “Social Darwinism” on a global scale, is an immoral and unworkable solution for the general welfare.

Posted by: Rick | May 26 2008 5:59 utc | 10

Copeland, the wheels of America's uber-chariot are greased with the flesh of slaves.
Red Army, Blue Army, they employ mercenaries to dispose of labor like a used tampon.

Germany Calls a Spade a Spade

Insane Clown Israel Calls for Naval Blockade of Iran, While Queing Up to Fed Carry-Trade Window for Oil Speculation

"What was that sound? Oh, that was Olmert falling over a chair, someone must have pointed a gun at him."

"I don't think we have to worry about Olmert after November, we'll have Benjamin Netanyahu ... and we all remember Yitshak Rabin was assassinated in November."

I mean, how stupid does the most powerful empire on earth have to be, to listen
to and follow the will of the same dual-citizen US-Israeli's who are clamoring
for an act of war against Iran, and at the same time, queing up to the Fed carry-
trade credit window for free loans to fund their oil war commodities speculations?!

Oh, wait, there's something even
more stupid trumping Israel-Iran

Posted by: Tiny Pepe | May 26 2008 6:06 utc | 11

the question is what manner of change can realistically be compelled by a politician given the status-quo.

the emergence of a third-party is of course very welcome but the downside is that it will (at least for a few cycles) skew the advantage to one of the current parties at the national level.

and the hard fact is that in a system where between 55 and 60 percent of the largest group (Whites) consistently vote for the Republicans and 90% of Blacks likewise for the Democrats, there is nowhere as large a pool of people open to considering "change" as we like to think. Both of these blocs to a large part, vote as they do for deeper historical reasons and not because of any particular candidate.

Posted by: jony_b_cool | May 26 2008 6:59 utc | 12

The historian Gerald Horne has reached conclusions similar to b's:

Nevertheless, scholars e.g. Mary Dudziak and Thomas Borstelman among others have pointed to the unavoidable conclusion that the civil rights gains of the 1960s were driven in large part by the existence of the Soviet Union – in that Washington had difficulty winning hearts and minds among the "colored" majority in their ideological contest with Moscow as long as people of color in this nation were treated so atrociously. Therefore, Jim Crow had to go.

Posted by: Frank | May 26 2008 20:16 utc | 13

everything is a smoke screen. there is no democracy in the US, it is an illusion. the republicans are challenged w/a new 'vision' since the old one has, for the most part been accomplished. destroying oversite, drowning any socialistic functions of the government designed to serve people in a bathtub. or whatever.

mcCain will pick some uber neonut like lieberman as his running mate and then keel over after winning (by an oh so slight margin, teetering on the edge of the abyss in some unforseen racist state, not florida or ohio this time but some unsuspecting they always say 'as goes appalachia, so goes the nation') in another stolen election.

they are lubing us now for this inevitability, or one similarly gruesome. the truth is completely irrelevant.

there will be no obama presidency. we might as well let israel anoint our next president.

we will have private armies serving the corporations staffed from the privatized schools because socialized education is on the way out. privatized police forces. everything will be privatized run by the corporations.

democracy is an illusion. the challenge for the rulers is simply to achieve the appearance we chose it all, no matter how many of us see the light, there will always be this excuse (which i don't believe is true anymore btw)'55 and 60 percent of the largest group (Whites) consistently vote for the Republicans'.

Posted by: annie | May 27 2008 14:57 utc | 14

annie, yes, lubing proceeds, plausibility is all that's required to cover screaming.

Posted by: plushtown | May 27 2008 17:11 utc | 15

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