I have a friend who claims: “Irony is the most powerful force in the Universe.” He says that this theory helps him to solve problems. “Looking for the most ironic cause of failure can sometimes be a better place to start than the most obvious,” he says.
Historians may analyze how the paleoconservative wing of the Republican Party was amputated from the larger body. I believe it happened in 1995 when Bill Clinton stared down Newt Gingrich and the freshmen Republicans over the budget. Gingrich blinked. Nave freshmen were ready to ride it out but it was not to be. Instead of actually shrinking the budget, Rush Limbaugh shrieked in 1995, the Republicans were only growing it at a lower rate than Democrats. The Democrats were lying and not playing fair! Republicans are not the party of smaller government. They are the party of smaller bigger government. Thus was the death of the fiscally responsible Republican Party. It wasn’t that it died. Those who noticed the fallacy of this good-cop, bad-cop routine decided they’d had enough and walked away, disgusted with the whole mess.
William Kristol, son of the archetypical neocon, Irving Kristol, took a hard-line stance against government spending in 1994. The Weekly Standard, financed by Rupert Murdoch and run by Kristol and John Podhoretz was formed shortly after the 1994 Republican victory in Congress to churn out intellectual propaganda (pseudo) supporting Gingrich and the new Republicans. A large majority endorsed the ideas Kristol and Newt Gingrich advocated, driving the Republicans to their first majority in Congress in forty years. The Republican majority was going to finally implement a reduction in government largesse promised 14 years earlier but denied by democrats. Or so it was believed.
From a strategy standpoint, what the Republicans managed to accomplish was more than impressive. The Christian Coalition and other grass roots organizations were rallied around a uniting, small government battle cry. The perfect bogeyman was in the White House. Conspiracy and other fear-inducing stories were used to scare the Republican membership into supporting people who would never show up in their churches and if they did, would shock congregations with their debauchery.
When it came time to stand up for principle, the GOP leadership folded. That point in history marks the rise of the neoconservative star and the beginning of the neoconservative fall.
Jesus admonished his followers to find truth in the actions of those who claimed to speak it. “By their fruits, ye shall know them.” He meant, if a person’s character was true, his life would reflect it.
Based on that principle, we can see quite clearly that the fiscally conservative talk of Kristol and Gingrich was a means to an end. It certainly wasn’t a matter of principle as their actions betrayed. Perhaps Kristol believed that less entitlement spending would allow the U.S. to spend more money supporting Israel and meddling in the Middle East. Gingrich doesn’t talk much about fiscally responsible government anymore. It is clear that neither has any qualms about spending scads of taxpayer dollars. For them, the important thing is where this money is directed. The more the better if it is directed toward their pet concerns.
The downfall of the neocons will come sooner, rather than later, because war is expensive. It was in vogue to bash Bill Clinton’s foreign policy before the 2000 election. George W. Bush and Karl Rove kept the Christian political movement involved by promising a humble foreign policy and truckloads of money in the form of “faith-based initiatives.” After Bush was elected and the welfare “reform” bill passed, IRS-regulated “churches” put on seminars on how to properly word applications to receive government funding. Oink.
Like the economic fortunes of bankers and sub-prime lenders on Wall Street, so it is with neoconservative political fortunes. Both are in decline due to a culture of denial by leaders who cover up lies with more lies. The monetary meltdown we are witnessing is because the inevitable has been postponed while those at the helm do and advocate exactly the things that will hasten the meltdown while increasing its effects. They act like obsessive-compulsive gamblers who have gone "all in" but cannot acknowledge they are playing a losing hand. As Lew Rockwell points out in “Reality Vs. The State” the government “is running on empty promises that have nothing to do with the real world.”
The neocons kept making and breaking promises to the Christian wing of the Republican Party thinking that they could continue to do so unpunished and that the activists would continue to show. To some extent they had every reason to think Christian activist support would continue unabated. They played them for fools in 1994 and still the Christians came out to support them in 1996, though less so in 1998. In 2000, they finally offered bribes allowing them to completely abandon talk of smaller government.
Support is drying up. The bubble popped in GOP grass roots support by politically active Christians. If you examine who has shown up to GOP debates and events where a good number of the candidates are represented, it has been a disappointment for the establishment candidates. It would seem that a crisis of conscience is occurring amongst those who have been typically responsible for electing Republicans.
The armchair warrior is not the kind of person who makes phone calls as a campaign volunteer (or volunteers for military service). He’s the guy who stays home during the battle and pulls the lever on Election Day. So far, and it is early yet, the activists we traditionally expect to see, are staying home. The polls show a decidedly undecided bent amongst likely Republican voters. The paleoconservative amputees? They loom large and untapped as do disaffected Democrat and Independent voters.
In a recent column, Michael Medved displays a beautiful example of this tendency to deny reality.
Two other also-rans in the Iowa Straw Poll, Tom Tancredo and Ron Paul, will no doubt continue their campaigns regardless of their non-existent chances of future success. Both men seek to publicize issues about which they’re passionate: a hard line on immigration for Mr. Tancredo, and an isolationist foreign policy for Mr. Paul. Their continued campaigning can actually provide a public service: demonstrating that their angry, alienated (and alienating) fringe perspectives draw scant support within the Republican Party
Medved parts with reality by claiming that Ron Paul’s message alienates voters. The reason he includes Tancredo is due to Tancredo’s opinion that all twenty million illegal aliens should be immediately deported. He asserts that it is this particular viewpoint, not his advocacy of bombing cities considered holy by the world’s 2 billion Muslims, is what would alienate the Republican base.
Tancredo is essentially a neocon but his views on immigration part ways with the rest of his colleagues as do Paul’s; though Paul does not advocate that we round up illegal aliens. He recognizes that the government is not capable of handling such a monumental task without a great deal of missteps. There are better ways to deal with illegal immigration concerns than resort to totalitarian techniques.
The point here is that Medved is simply making assertions. He’s denying reality about who is alienating whom. When the immigration “reform” bill was floated to the American people earlier this year, the American people rejected proposals of amnesty and fast-track citizenship for those here illegally. The resistance to the idea was so swift and so forceful that not only was the idea dropped almost as quickly as it was promoted, but neoconservatives in Congress and in media outlets were openly suggesting that right-wing conservative media be targeted for sanctions. How dare they speak against us!
Open opposition drives neoconservatives to rage. The rational politician would acknowledge significant public opposition as a warning. This never seems to faze the neoconservatives. Kristol, Podhoretz, Cheney and other neoconservative icons continue to push for increased military actions in the Middle East in spite of the fact that now 70% of the electorate are against the current wars. The response to contrary opinions is to inject increasingly strident and shrill arguments into the debate.
In reality, those who truly alienate voters are the neoconservatives. McCarthy comes to mind. Whether or not McCarthy was right, he was finally discredited publicly because of his tactics. Being right won’t save you if your rhetoric alienates the public. Unfortunately for neoconservatives, they are wrong in both theory and practice.
The neoconservatives just don’t want to face reality. Their tactics and views alienate the electorate. Prior to the neoconservative rise in politics, there was a general decline in voter participation. This has been occurring for decades. However, more than one commentator has noted that this has now infected the Republican Party as evidenced by the 2006 elections. Both of this year’s Iowa and Illinois Straw Polls reported low turnout as compared to 1999. Rather than re-think strategy, the response has been to ratchet up the rhetorical machine and argue for the very same policies which have decimated the GOP and divided its members. As they do this, they become less and less attractive to GOP party members.
Neoconservatives have shown by their actions that they are simply wed to power, not ideas or principle. Fortunately for the opposition, they prove to be their own worst enemies. Many of us would prefer that they had fizzled out long before they had caused so much damage to our liberties and fortunes, but their demise will be all the sweeter to watch when it unfolds. The end of the neoconservative movement will be ironic to the observer; though it is doubtful that neoconservatives will recognize the irony. My friend may be proven correct, at least in this instance. Maybe irony really is the most powerful force in the universe.