Old Topic Update — The Future of Conservatism

We last discussed this topic on 8/20/9.  Apropos, in recent weeks, a fascinating discussion has broken out among the political blogs on whether today’s conservatism has reached “epistemic closure.”  The debate was prompted by a prominent conservative complaining that the conservative media machine  — talk radio, Fox, blogs, even think tanks — has become self-isolating and harmful to the party’s long-term health.  I highly recommend both his original post and his followup

The basic argument is that too many conservatives now only trust their own sources of political news and opinion, seeing every other source as part of the conspiracy of Liberal media that, by definition, cannot be believed.  All media have become either “us” or “them.”  What the former say is always true; what the latter say is just part of the larger plot to destroy conservatism.  Since no discouraging word can penetrate this wall, the Right has become epistemically closed.

I think this is a new phenomenon, and the most important political development in the United States in 20 years.  Unlike many liberals, however, I also believe that it’s temporary.  I sure hope that, 20 years from now, we get no more sad laments like this one, from a long post titled, How the GOP Purged Me:

Then something happened in the 1990s. The leaders of the GOP grew belligerent. They became too religious, almost zealots. They became intolerant. They began searching for purity in Republican thought and doctrine. Ideology blinded them. I continued to vote Republican, but with a certain unease. Deep down I knew that a schism happened between the modern Republican Party and the one I grew up with. During the fight over the impeachment of President Clinton, the ugly face of the Republican Party was brought to the surface. Empty rhetoric, ideological intolerance, vengeance, and religious zealotry became the common currency. Suddenly, if you are pro-choice, you could not be a Republican. If you are for smart and sensible taxes to balance out the budget, you could not be a Republican. If you are pro-civil rights, you could not be a Republican.

…Recently, since the election of Barack Obama, common sense has left the Republican Party completely. We are in the era of craziness. As David Frum has written, a deal was there to be made over the healthcare bill. Instead, this ideological purity blinded the GOP. As LBJ said it, instead of being inside the tent pissing out, we choose to be outside the tent, pissing against the wind. And we got splashed by our own nonsense. Why did we do that? Well, when a political party shrinks its electoral based to below 30% and is composed by one demographic group, all that is left are a bunch of zealots. We shrank it by kicking out of the party those who believe that abortion should be legal but limited. We shrank it by kicking out those who believe that an $11 trillion economy, like ours, needs a strong government, not a government that can be drowned in a bathtub. We shrank it when we sanctified Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Glenn Beck, and canonized Sarah Palin. These are the leaders of my party nowadays. How did we go from William F. Buckley to Glenn Beck? How did we go from Eisenhower and Nixon to Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann? I do not know. What I do know, however, is that these leaders remind of me of the leaders of the Whig Party. And if they continue on their nonsense, they will bring the collapse of the GOP.

For more on this topic, see here and here.


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