Saturday, January 13, 2007

Puking Up The Kool-Aid

Glenn Greenwald discusses an amazing audio commentary by archconservative Rod Dreher, in which he repudiates, if not conservatism itself, President Bush and the Republican party (emphasis Greenwald's):
Dreher, 40, recounts that his "first real political memory" was the 1979 failed rescue effort of the U.S. hostages in Iran. He says he "hated" Jimmy Carter for "shaming America before our enemies with weakness and incompetence." When Reagan was elected, he believed "America was saved." Reagan was "strong and confident." Democrats were "weak and depressed."
In fairness, Dreher would have been about 12 at the time. But one of the hallmarks of true believer conservatives is that they never outgrow it.
In particular, Dreher recounts how much, during the 1980s, he "disliked hippies - the blame America first liberals who were so hung up on Vietnam, who surrendered to Communists back then just like they want to do now." In short, Republicans were "winners." Democrats were "defeatists."

On 9/11, Dreher's first thought was : "Thank God we have a Republican in the White House." The rest of his essay:

As President Bush marched the country to war with Iraq, even some voices on the Right warned that this was a fool's errand. I dismissed them angrily. I thought them unpatriotic.

But almost four years later, I see that I was the fool.

In Iraq, this Republican President for whom I voted twice has shamed our country with weakness and incompetence, and the consequences of his failure will be far, far worse than anything Carter did.

The fraud, the mendacity, the utter haplessness of our government's conduct of the Iraq war have been shattering to me.

It wasn't supposed to turn out like this. Not under a Republican President.

(...)

As I sat in my office last night watching President Bush deliver his big speech, I seethed over the waste, the folly, the stupidity of this war.

I had a heretical thought for a conservative - that I have got to teach my kids that they must never, ever take Presidents and Generals at their word - that their government will send them to kill and die for noble-sounding rot - that they have to question authority.

On the walk to the parking garage, it hit me. Hadn't the hippies tried to tell my generation that? Why had we scorned them so blithely?


Will my children, too small now to understand Iraq, take me seriously when I tell them one day what powerful men, whom their father once believed in, did to this country? Heavy thoughts for someone who is still a conservative despite it all. It was a long drive home.

Dreher's essay is extreme and intense but also increasingly commonplace and illustrative. The disaster of unparalleled magnitude that President Bush and his integrity-free and bloodthirsty administration and followers wrought on this country will have a profound impact not only on American strength and credibility for a long, long time to come, but also on the views of Americans towards their political leaders and, almost certainly, towards the Republican Party.

One of the very few potential benefits of the Iraq tragedy is that it may raise the level of doubt and cynicism with which Americans evaluate the claims of the Government when it tries -- as Dreher put it -- "to send them to kill and die for noble-sounding rot."
I hope Greenwald is right about where this is heading. I expect there were a whole bunch of bitterly disillusioned conservatives back in 1974 too, but they sure got over it pretty quick. I suspect that if the next Democratic president can't undo the deep structural, psychic, and moral damage 8 years of Bush misrule have inflicted on our country, and if the Republicans field a candidate peddling a bogus message of sunny optimism, then the conservative true believers' faith will be miraculously and instantly restored.

After all, Bush was an aberration; he wasn't a real conservative, and they were all taken in by his wily, resolute ways. But the next time will be totally different, and they'll follow Reagan II to the end of the Earth... until they get close enough to the edge to see the abyss below, at which point the cycle will repeat. Conservatives fall in love with Republicans, Republicans nearly destroy America, Conservatives fall out of love with Republicans, Democrats fail to usher in Golden Age Of America, Conservatives fall in love with Republicans again.

Thinking on it a bit more, I think a big part of the problem (or maybe just a symptom?) is standards. Conservatives simply hold Republicans and other conservatives to a much, much lower standard than they hold Democrats and progressives to. Look at how badly Bush had to fuck everything up before Dreher finally lost faith in him, as compared to him losing faith in Jimmy Carter over one failed rescue operation. Compare the relative standards for impeachment, or for congressional investigations, or even the very definitions of words like "popular" or "mandate." I might try to blame the media for this, but the sad truth is that most of the media is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the conservative movement.

But the bottom line is that the standard of success for a Republican president is somewhere in the vicinity of "Don't get us into a depression or World War III", whereas the standard of success for a Democratic president is "Fix everything the Republicans broke and make the world perfect." So based on that, they can easily say, "Hey, I tried to give the Democrats the benefit of the doubt, but they had their chance and they failed miserably, so I'm going to start screaming my head off for impeachment like any reasonable, responsible citizen should."

(h/t Atrios)

5 comments:

Jim said...

Good take Eli. I fear the same.

Elsewhere (mahablog), I had this to say about Dreher: What struck me, aside from a shot of schadenfreude, was how absolutist Dreher seems. Either it’s all right or it’s all betrayal. As I read through the thread, the thought kept coming back to me: conservatism is really nothing more than a failure of nuance. While sleeping they’re conservative. Prod them awake and they’re reactionary. Put them in a room together and they invent “neoconservatism” which is really just reactionaries fuelled by oil and Jesus.

There’s no appreciation that sometimes a little government is good, or that sometimes you need a lot of it, and sometimes none is best. This constant searching for the grand unified theory of politics–the one answer that answers every question. That’s the endstage of conservatism that we’re living through right now.

Dreher may think he’s growing up. But he’s just abandoning one answer in the search for another. As soon as he finds it, I’m sure he’ll become just as insufferably rigid about it as he was about the greatness of the GoP.

Incidentally, I got to your blog through a link-back at Greenwald's site. Nice feature, that.

Borrwed Suits. Come visit.

ripley said...

Well, if there's one thing you can say about the quasi- or neo- or sunshiney-cons, it's that they'll always choose personality over intelligence or experience. They don't want things to be good so much as they want to feel good.

I think the results speak for themselves. Deliver us, Oh Lord!, indeed...

Eli said...

Jim - Since you've forced me to take a closer reading than "Kool-Aid drinker sees the light! Huzzah!", I think my variation on your take would be that deep down, Dreher's real desire is to be a Winner and not a Loser. As long as Bush was popular and there was some chance that the Iraq occupation could be successful, Dreher could see Bush (and by extension, himself) as a Winner. Now that it's all transparently falling apart, association with Bush no longer makes him a Cool Winner, so he's jumping ship and looking for the next alpha dog to follow.

(And yeah, that link-back thing is great, especially for those of us who don't use Haloscan and its trackbacks)


Rip - I think I may have already responded to you, actually. They want to follow a leader who makes them feel like they're a big shot, master of the universe, bestriding the earth like a colossus.

I've been saying it for a while, that the Kool-Aid drinkers are like the bully's sidekicks, egging him on and getting vicarious enjoyment and feeling vicarious toughness every time he beats up a nerd.

four legs good said...

Greenwald might be right. But I think the way down for the republicans is a long one.

In Texas, republicanism is a brand. It's cool. It's the brand of machismo, of winning. All the young guys want to be part of it.

It's going to take a long time to overcome that.

What I think will happen is that they'll blame chimpy for being a "bad" republican and they'll search for an "authentic" republican to lead them back.

Feh. And the cycle of victimization will continue.

Eli said...

What I think will happen is that they'll blame chimpy for being a "bad" republican and they'll search for an "authentic" republican to lead them back.

That's exactly it. *True* conservatism never fails.