A few years back a very smart friend of mine mused over coffee, “I wonder what it’s like to be William F. Buckley today? He got everything he ever wanted.” He sure did. All those years of philosophizing and writing and proselytizing and building a political movement certainly came to full fruition in the Bush years, didn’t it? They had it all — global economic and military dominance, total political control of the US government, domestic prosperity, a budget surplus, a friendly media and a cowed and paralyzed opposition party. There has never been a more fertile time for any political movement to solidify its gains and create a long lasting political consensus.
How profoundly disoriented old Buckley must be today. They had it all — and in the course of 6 short years they managed to completely discredit their philosophy and prove their total ineptitude at running government. How could they have possibly failed so miserably?
Greg Anrig, TPM blogger and VP of programs at The Century Foundation, has written an entertaining and illuminating book explaining step-by-step just how and why it happened. The overarching answer, of course, is that any philosophy that doesn’t believe in government would naturally not be very good at running one. (Indeed, one of the inescapable conclusions is that in many ways they consciously seek to run it badly in order to prove their thesis that government can’t do anything right!)
And yet for years, the Republicans have portrayed themselves as “the grown-ups” the “serious” people who knew how to “get things done.” The beltway Village continues to see these people as deeply mature and responsible despite their record of abject failure. (It’s a triumph of public relations and social marketing that they manage keep these people drinking the poison long after the effects are known.)
For those of us who have been following this story for years, Anrig’s book is a deeply satisfying deconstruction of the conservative program. We know what they’ve done, but it’s still somewhat stunning to see it all in one place. For those who haven’t been following it, it will be a revelation. From making America safer to shrinking government to their insistence on radical privatization, Anrig reveals the methods to their madness and shows just how thorough their failures have been — even on their own terms.
Anrig concludes with this twist on Reagan’s famous dictum: “conservatism is not the solution to our problem, conservatism is the problem.” But he warns that despite their failure, the conservatives aren’t finished and will continue to promote their program with relentless focus. After all, with the exception of destroying the opposition and the constitution, it’s the only thing they really do well. Democrats have their work cut out for them.
Please welcome Greg Anrig to today’s book salon.