Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Even American Conservatives Know They're Marginal

This post at the Washington Monthly blog about the American revolutionary conservative movement caught my attention. Link.

THE CONSERVATIVE REVOLUTION....In their book Off Center, Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson argue that although the Republican Party has moved far to the right of the political center, it has nonetheless managed to hold onto power by adopting a variety of hardnosed and cynical electoral strategies. The problem with this thesis is that, in practice, Republicans haven't actually moved all that far to the right. Charlie Cook sums it up this way:

There is a growing divide between those members of the GOP Conference who want confrontation with Democrats and those who seek compromise. According to one influential Republican, "We cannot govern from the right," but added, "you cannot control this caucus from the center."

I think that's just about right. As Cook's source puts it, the Republican caucus has indeed moved radically to the right, but at the same time they all know perfectly well they can't govern from there lest they be tossed out of office en masse. It's just another piece of evidence that the "conservative revolution" is, and always has been, a myth.

In the U.S. this is more apparent in the state legislatures, where even Republican governments realize that you actually have to govern and occasionally raise taxes when it's necessary to pay for basic services, with ideology taking a back seat.

In Canada we're hearing all kinds of threats from the Liberals about how awful the Conservatives will govern based on what the crazies among the movement-leaders say. I don't think the Conservative party would be exactly like the Liberals, but they know already that Canadians won't accept the more strident social policies advocated by their base.

The solution the Americans have found for this is to just not do anything to advance a social conservative agenda at home while continuing to make a lot of noise to stir up voters. It keeps the megachurch-goers pissed off and voting, and keeps the rest of the country asleep. The stir about the potential for Judge Alito maybe striking down the decision legalizing abortion in the U.S. is a distraction from his darker habit of always finding for the side of power.

The large block of voters out West who suddenly formed the base for the Reform / Aliance party share many of these social values. The difference is that they largely didn't vote before Preston Manning came along and courted them specifically. Will they be able to be taken along by the Conservatives of today without getting any real payback?

It's a definite Catch-22 for the Conservative strategists. Give them anything on same sex marriage or abortion and Ontario will revert to solid-Liberal territory for another 15 years. But if they don't give their base anything, will the West fall back to feeling alienated yet again, but this time by their own team?

To be fair, the NDP's strongest supporters are often the most embarrasing elements of the party's membership. If I were an NDP strategist I would lock every librarian with dreams of revolution in his bungalow and try and pursuade more farmers and auto workers and front-line social workers representing the party. (actually maybe there is a use for the Green Party after all. Moonbat flypaper.)

The Liberals escape this somewhat thanks to their bland-as-plywood ideology.

My prediction for the United States political near future will be a return to practicality. But Canada's balance between those who seek power for the sake of it and those who actually want to govern well and make the country a better place is starting to wobble wildly. The NDP doesn't take the process of campaigning and trying to really win seriously enough, and the Liberals and Conservatives are much better at running for office than they are at governing.
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By al - 6:56 p.m. |

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