Tag Archives: Sam Tanenhaus

Bloggers Debate Karl Rove’s True Intentions


Reihan Salam, having a conversation with Sam Tanenhaus in Slate, writes this:

And in a similar vein, Karl Rove never imagined that opposition to same-sex marriage would cement a permanent Republican majority. It was a distraction that I’m sure he found distasteful. President Bush himself could barely stomach talking about the issue. Yet talk about it he did, in deference to the need to press every advantage.

Sam Tanenhaus responds:

The same antagonisms continued through the Bush years. Your reading of that dismal period seems rather wishful to me. Bush and Rove built their presidency on revanchism. This isn’t surprising since Rove’s number-crunching following the 2000 election—when Bush lost the popular vote by 500,000 or more—suggested that the GOP ticket had failed to exploit the evangelical base that might have yielded a majority. No wonder Bush devoted so much of his presidency to courting social conservatives—remember stem cells, intelligent design, the faith-based initiative? Nor was Rove taken aback by opposition to same-sex marriage. On the contrary, he made it a centerpiece in the 2004 election. It is the politics of the excluded middle, or center, and it defines the right today on every stratum.

Andrew Sullivan:

Rove thought this was a distraction? From his realignment? Does Reihan recall the kind of politics Rove cut his teeth on in the South? Gay-baiting was one critical part of his strategy for realignment. It was designed not just to rally evangelicals but to win over a segment of African-Americans and Hispanics. And distasteful?

Has Rove ever said anything that could conceivably reflect that fact? Has he ever uttered a single word in public that even suggested empathy with and support for gay citizens of any kind – or has he always implied that they are a threat to “real Americans” and to the family itself? Has he ever said a word in public that suggested he knew or cared about gay people or even acknowledged that we exist?

At the very beginning of Bush’s term, Rove told those gay Republicans who had helped Bush win that the only thing that mattered to him was there were more votes in gay-bashing than in standing up to the bigots in his base. It was all about running the numbers. To his credit, he said that to their face, just as he told me to my face that he had no concern whatever about debt or spending, because he didn’t think people voted on those issues. And once he thought he could polarize the country even further around an issue like this, he went for it. Reihan thinks this was all done terribly reluctantly because Rove had no choice but to follow the masses. To which I can only respond Judge Judy-style: don’t piss on my leg and tell me it’s raining.

And, yes, Bush, despite being personally compassionate and understanding of gay men and women and hiring them from the very bottom to the very top of his administration (on the condition that they remain closeted at all times), went along. He endorsed marginalizing gays as second class citizens in the very federal constitution “in deference to the need to press every advantage.” And in so doing, he never even acknowledged in any way our existence or dignity or humanity. He never met with a single one of us or our representatives in eight years in office. He never used the word itself in a formal speech. He never even referred in public to the pain and suffering that his policy would entail, to the immense hurt a tiny minority would feel if they were singled out in their own constitution as sub-human. This “uniter-not-a-divider” was indifferent to a policy that would have written a beleaguered and tiny minority out of their own country. But he had to do this “in deference to the need to press every advantage.” To my mind, this makes him worse than Rove: at least Rove was a proud cynic; Bush couldn’t take even that responsibility. I know all this pains Reihan and I know his heart and brilliant mind are in the right place. But he’s being far too generous to the GOP elites.

Christopher Orr at TNR:

Andrew doesn’t cite it, but the best piece on the subject (at least of which I’m aware) was written by Josh Green in November 2004, at Andrew’s current (and Reihan’s former) home The Atlantic. Indeed, reading it anew, I’m still shocked by some of the details. In the 2004 context that Reihan was specifically referencing, Green singles out gay marriage as an issue that others in the GOP feared Rove was overplaying, thanks to his long experience in Texas:  “Several consultants pointed to the issue of gay marriage, which one described as a perfect Texas wedge issue…. But he doubted that the issue would have the same effect in the less conservative battleground states that are expected to decide this election.”

The Josh Green article:

Some of Rove’s darker tactics cut even closer to the bone. One constant throughout his career is the prevalence of whisper campaigns against opponents. The 2000 primary campaign, for example, featured a widely disseminated rumor that John McCain, tortured as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, had betrayed his country under interrogation and been rendered mentally unfit for office. More often a Rove campaign questions an opponent’s sexual orientation. Bush’s 1994 race against Ann Richards featured a rumor that she was a lesbian, along with a rare instance of such a tactic’s making it into the public record—when a regional chairman of the Bush campaign allowed himself, perhaps inadvertently, to be quoted criticizing Richards for “appointing avowed homosexual activists” to state jobs.

Another example of Rove’s methods involves a former ally of Rove’s from Texas, John Weaver, who, coincidentally, managed McCain’s bid in 2000. Many Republican operatives in Texas tell the story of another close race of sorts: a competition in the 1980s to become the dominant Republican consultant in Texas. In 1986 Weaver and Rove both worked on Bill Clements’s successful campaign for governor, after which Weaver was named executive director of the state Republican Party. Both were emerging as leading consultants, but Weaver’s star seemed to be rising faster. The details vary slightly according to which insider tells the story, but the main point is always the same: after Weaver went into business for himself and lured away one of Rove’s top employees, Rove spread a rumor that Weaver had made a pass at a young man at a state Republican function. Weaver won’t reply to the smear, but those close to him told me of their outrage at the nearly two-decades-old lie. Weaver was first made unwelcome in some Texas Republican circles, and eventually, following McCain’s 2000 campaign, he left the Republican Party altogether. He has continued an active and successful career as a political consultant—in Texas and Alabama, among other states—and is currently working for McCain as a Democrat.

Andrew Sullivan:

If you can read that and conclude that Rove finds gay-baiting distasteful, then I give up.

UPDATE: In an interview with Hima at Gordon Gartrelle, Salam responds to a question concerning his original piece:

You recently caught some street heat for saying “Karl Rove never imagined that opposition to same-sex marriage would cement a permanent Republican majority. It was a distraction that I’m sure he found distasteful.” while chatting with Sam Tanenhaus. For real man? You serious?

I think I was seriously, seriously misunderstood here. If I could write it again, I would definitely write it differently. Note that this isn’t a position that’s very flattering to Rove — it suggests that he was a hypocrite who was using this position to political advantage. And I certainly shouldn’t have said, “I’m sure,” as I don’t live inside Rove’s brain and I’ve never met the man. I was basing this, rather carelessly, on news reports concerning his warm relationship with a gay father-figure, and I thought, “Surely he can’t be a hateful goon in his personal relationships.”

More to the point, I think it really is true that Bush and Rove were, when they were setting out to win the presidency and remake the country, had in mind a domestic policy agenda focused on spreading asset ownership — Social Security reform, encouraging low-income families to buy homes, etc. It turns out that almost all of these ideas were actually pretty bad ideas, at least in the form that Bush and Rove had in mind. But that doesn’t change the fact that they cared about those issues far more than “social issues.” (The scare quotes are there because I think a lot of “economic issues” are in fact “social issues.”)

The main thing is this: people who seek elected office convince themselves that they must win. So Republicans in 2004 convinced themselves that if they didn’t win, civilization was doomed! And of course that’s probably not true, as civilization is pretty resilient. This apocalyptic perspective is pervasive among liberals and conservatives and all people with the leisure time to think about this stuff rather than eke out a meager living as indentured brick-layers.

UPDATE #2: Andrew Sullivan responds:

I cannot know Karl Rove’s conscience. Yes, he has no record of personal hostility toward or contempt for gay people, including openly gay people. But that makes his cynical use of homophobia all the more wretched. I’m sure he saw himself as a reformist visionary who had to stoop to fear-mongering to win power. But that’s how most people do evil; they think it’s a means of doing good.

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We’ve Been Talking Indoctrination All Week


Steve Benen has had his eye on the Texas Board of Education:

Benen Post #1:

The Texas Board of Education has put together a six-member committee to help develop new curriculum standards for social studies classes and textbooks. It’s not going well.

The board picked, among others, an evangelical minister named Peter Marshall to help shape the standards, as well as Republican activist David Barton, a pseudo-historian and religious right celebrity who gives speeches about the United States being founded as a “Christian nation.”

One of their first tasks: downplaying the contributions of civil rights leaders.

“Civil rights leaders Cesar Chavez and Thurgood Marshall — whose names appear on schools, libraries, streets and parks across the U.S. — are given too much attention in Texas social studies classes, conservatives advising the state on curriculum standards say.

“To have Cesar Chavez listed next to Ben Franklin” — as in the current standards — “is ludicrous,” wrote evangelical minister Peter Marshall, one of six experts advising the state as it develops new curriculum standards for social studies classes and textbooks. David Barton, president of Aledo-based WallBuilders, said in his review that Chavez, a Hispanic labor leader, “lacks the stature, impact and overall contributions of so many others.”

Marshall also questioned whether Thurgood Marshall, who argued the landmark case that resulted in school desegregation and was the first black U.S. Supreme Court justice, should be presented to Texas students as an important historical figure. He wrote that the late justice is “not a strong enough example” of such a figure.”

This is bound to help Republicans with their outreach to minority communities, right? It’s quite a message to voters in Texas — Vote GOP: the party that thinks civil rights leaders get too much credit.

Barton went on to say the state curriculum should ignore the contributions of Anne Hutchinson, a New England pioneer and early advocate of women’s rights and religious freedom, and argued that Texas social studies books should discuss “republican” values, not “democratic” ones.

It’s unclear how successful the far-right activists will be in shaping the eventual policy, but remember, what happens in Texas doesn’t necessarily stay in Texas. Textbook publishers are reluctant to create different materials for different states, and when one big customer makes specific demands, the frequent result is changes to textbooks nationwide.

Benen Post #2:

By way of Lee Fang, it seems the board is still hard at work, and moving in the wrong direction.

“Texas high school students would learn about such significant individuals and milestones of conservative politics as Newt Gingrich and the rise of the Moral Majority — but nothing about liberals — under the first draft of new standards for public school history textbooks. […]

The first draft for proposed standards in United States History Studies Since Reconstruction says students should be expected “to identify significant conservative advocacy organizations and individuals, such as Newt Gingrich, Phyllis Schlafly and the Moral Majority.””

A Democratic state lawmaker said, as it stands, Texas students would get “one-sided, right wing ideology.” He added, “We ought to be focusing on historical significance and historical figures. It’s important that whatever course they take, that it portray a complete view of our history and not a jaded view to suit one’s partisan agenda or one’s partisan philosophy.”

That certainly sounds reasonable, but this is the Texas Board of Education we’re talking about.

Benen #3:

Board members — 10 Republicans to 5 Democrats — have recommended downplaying the contributions of civil rights leaders, minimizing an “emphasis on multiculturalism,” and trying to “exonerate” Joe McCarthy.

And let’s also not forget that these indoctrination efforts may have broader implications. As we talked about in July, what happens in Texas doesn’t necessarily stay in Texas. Textbook publishers are reluctant to create different materials for different states, and when one big customer makes specific demands, the frequent result is changes to textbooks nationwide.

Dana Goldstein adds that this reinforces the value in national curriculum standards, an idea pushed by the National Governors’ Association and supported by the Obama administration. “If 46 states can come together around core standards, it means a populous, outlier state like Texas will have less influence over textbook manufacturers,” Dana noted.

As for those deeply concerned about the politicization of America’s classrooms, I’m sure the right-wing critics of the president’s stay-in-school message will be quick to denounce the conservative efforts in Texas. Any minute now.

Justin Elliot at TPM:

The first draft of the standards, released at the end of July, is a doozy. It lays out a kind of Human Events version of U.S. history.

Approved textbooks, the standards say, must teach the Texan student to “identify significant conservative advocacy organizations and individuals, such as Newt Gingrich, Phyllis Schlafly, and the Moral Majority.” No analogous liberal figures or groups are required, prompting protests from some legislators and committee members. (Read an excerpt here.)

The standards on Nixon: “describe Richard M. Nixon’s role in the normalization of relations with China and the policy of detente.”

On Reagan: “describe Ronald Reagan’s role in restoring national confidence, such as Reaganomics and Peace with Strength.” (That’s it.)

The Cold War section is rendered as “U.S. responses to Soviet aggression after World War II … ”

The state board of education, made up of 10 Republicans and five Democrats, has to vote on the standards twice in the coming months before they would go into effect.


Here’s what makes this a national story: what happens in Texas doesn’t stay in Texas, says Diane Ravitch, professor of education at NYU.

That’s because Texas is one of the two states with the largest student enrollments, along with California. “The publishers vie to get their books adopted for them, and the changes that are inserted to please Texas and California are then part of the textbooks made available to every other state,” says Ravitch, who wrote a book about the politics of textbooks.

Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute explains it as a simple economic calculation by the big textbook publishers. “Publishers are generally reticent to run two different versions of a textbook,” he says. “You can imagine the headache the expense the logistics, the storage, all of it.”

But don’t start saving for private school tuition just yet. A spokeswoman for the Texas State Board of Education tells TPMmuckraker the board will have to pass the standards first in January, in a “first reading and filing authorization vote,” and then in March in a final vote, before they would go into effect. In an article on the controversy in the Houston Chronicle, one of the conservative leaders on the board actually predicted the standards will pass at least the first vote.

This one bears close watching.

Josh Marshall at TPM

Dana Goldstein at Tapped:

This story reminds us why the new push for national curriculum standards — led by the bipartisan National Governors’ Association and supported by the Obama administration — is so important. Texas, unsurprisingly, is one of just four states choosing not to participate in that project. The others are Alaska, Missouri, and South Carolina. If 46 states can come together around core standards, it means a populous, outlier state like Texas will have less influence over textbook manufacturers. And if this curriculum passes, that will be a very good thing.

Lee Fang at Think Progress

James Moore at Huffington Post

UPDATE: More from Justin Elliott at TPM

UPDATE #2: Mariah Blake at Washington Monthly

UPDATE #3: More Elliott

UPDATE #4: Russell Shorto at NYT Magazine

Doug J

Razib Khan at Secular Right

UPDATE #5: James McKinley in NYT


Pareene at Gawker

UPDATE #6: Henry Rollins in Vanity Fair

Peter Hannaford at Human Events

Polimom at Moderate Voice

Mark Kleiman

Don Suber

UPDATE #7: Sam Tanenhaus at NYT

Daniel McCarthy at The American Conservative

UPDATE #8: Steven Thomma at McClatchy

More Benen

UPDATE #9: Justin Elliott at TPM

UPDATE #10: Huffington Post

Ann Althouse

Jonathan Adler

Mark Kleiman


Filed under Education, Politics

The First Rule Of The Conservative Movement Is That Everyone Gets Read Out Of The Conservative Movement, Eventually


Richard Gamble in TAC with a provocative essay, “How Right Was Reagan?” An excerpt:

Doubting the depths of Reagan’s conservatism sounds akin to doubting FDR’s liberalism. We are so accustomed to thinking of Reagan as the pre-eminent conservative statesman of our time that any shadow on that reputation seems nonsensical. But some conservative dissidents have recently blamed Reagan for giving his benediction to the most culturally corrosive tendencies in the American character. In his recent bestseller, The Limits of Power (2008), Andrew Bacevich harshly criticizes Reagan for just this failing. Bacevich notes the irony of Carter’s seemingly more conservative plea for limits juxtaposed against Reagan’s boundless optimism. “Reagan portrayed himself as conservative,” Bacevich writes of the campaign underway in 1979. “He was, in fact, the modern prophet of profligacy, the politician who gave moral sanction to the empire of consumption. Beguiling his fellow citizens with his talk of ‘morning in America,’ the faux-conservative Reagan added to America’s civic religion two crucial beliefs: Credit has no limits, and the bills will never come due.” Bacevich charges the “faux-conservative” Reagan with nothing less than undermining America’s moral constitution, its adherence to such timeless “folk wisdom” as “save for a rainy day.”

Dissent about Reagan among conservative intellectuals goes back surprisingly far, back even to Reagan’s first term. Historian John Lukacs, writing in Outgrowing Democracy (published in 1984 and later reissued under the title A New Republic), found it necessary to put Reagan’s “conservatism” in quotation marks, calling it “lamentably shortsighted and shallow.” He conceded that much of Reagan’s rhetoric was conservative and that it spoke to certain durable conservative instincts in the American people. But overall, Reagan preached yet another version of sinless, progressive America that had more in common with Tom Paine and Woodrow Wilson than with Edmund Burke. In a chapter added in 2004, Lukacs attributed the record budget deficits of the 1980s in part to Reagan’s populist message that demanded no self-sacrifice or hard choices from the American public. They could have it all. He also credited the collapse of the Soviet Union to the Russian people’s own loss of faith in Communism and to the political skills of Mikhail Gorbachev, not to Reagan’s military build up.

In a further criticism, Lukacs traced the “militarization of the image of the presidency” to Reagan. It was Reagan, after all, who began the practice of returning the salutes of the military—a precedent followed by every president since. While doing so may seem to honor the military, it in fact erodes the public’s understanding of the presidency as a civilian office, Lukacs argued. Indeed, Fox News bears out Lukacs’s warning. The cable news giant got into the habit during the Bush II administration of referring to the president as commander in chief no matter what story they were reporting, seemingly unaware that the nation’s executive is the commander in chief of the Armed Forces of the Untied States and not commander in chief of the American people at large. If the president visits a city ravaged by a hurricane, he is emphatically not there in his role as commander in chief. If every American thinks of the president—of whatever political party—as my commander in chief and not narrowly as the Army or Navy’s commander in chief, then we have taken another decisive step from republic to empire. If every American expects the president to be the commander in chief of the economy, then we can’t be surprised by nationalized banks and corporations.

Peter Lawler at PomoCon (read the comments for the meat of the discussion):

Is the pope Catholic? Well, some think not. According to the erudite Richard Gamble, ol’ Ronald was too Puritanical in the wrong way to be conservative. He gave us irresponsible tax cuts and a “Wilson” or evangelical, transformational foreign policy. His speeches were full of an “expansive liberal temperament” that flowed from Reagan spending his wonder years in “the pietistic, revivalist world of the Disciples of Christ.” His activist faith morphed into a Christianity without Christ that became our optimistic civil religion. He had nothing but contempt for any talk about limits to our power and wealth. Real Puritans talk about original sin, personal and national guilt and all, but not the selective Puritanical civil theologian Reagan. Gamble thinks we should return, instead, to the malaisian wisdom of the 1979 Jimmy Carter, a far more authentic Christian conservative who knew that patriotism wasn’t really about getting and spending.

This article was recommended to me by the porcher page and was published in THE AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE. It goes without saying that I don’t agree with most of it, but why don’t all of you divide up into small groups and discuss. (Hint: One possible criticism is that there’s no talk about the defeat of COMMUNISM and all.)


James Poulos at PomoCon:

A semi-tangent apropos of the thread developing below on Reagan’s is-it-or-isn’t-it conservatism: it’s true that Reagan’s public brew of conservative moralism and vigilence combined with western-libertarian free-range thought, inclusive of religion, reflects in telling or cautionary ways his hodgepodge of a private life. But this has been old news since Constant, whose long tormented relationship with Germaine de Stael surely sucked more out of a man’s marrow than Reagan had lost by the time he made President. There does seem to be an inevitable — and in quarters left and right disturbing — link between the politics of independence and a culture of incoherence. The glorious jumble of conservatism, liberalism, and libertarianism on display in America since its most hashed-out Constitutional coming of age (I’ll have to leave the Civil War out of it for now) is the political byproduct and reinvestment of a culture ever without, as Philip Rieff says Tocqueville showed us, an officer class.

Mark T. Mitchell at Front Porch Republic (look at the comments there, too).

Fast-forward 29 years. Sam Tanenhaus has a new book out called The Death of Conservatism.

Lee Siegel at Daily Beast:

For Tanenhaus, the conservatives have abandoned their core values of respect for tradition and sensitivity to the necessity of change—of pragmatic, principled adaptability—for a rigid absolutism that expresses itself in a politics of destruction and mechanical negativity.The party that once stood for governmental ballast and probity in the ’50s, and for governmental order and responsibility in the late ’60s—as the liberals’ well-intentioned war and their well-intentioned welfare state came crashing down on society—now identified government itself with the forces of evil.

An interesting consequence followed. Since political power can only operate through government, the conservatives had chosen to exert their power more directly, around politics, as it were, by means of cultural confrontation, personal attack, and reflexive stonewalling. This is why conservatives seem most politically organized when out of power, and why when they attain political power, they immediately begin to act like apolitical outlaws.


What is most fascinating about Tanenhaus’s fascinating book is his nimble grasp of what Hegel called “the cunning of history.” He is ultra-sensitive to the social-psychological aspect of American politics, to the way opposing factions project themselves onto their adversary, covet and envy the opponent’s principles and social position, express antagonism by impersonating and/or parodying the enemy’s most successful values.

So, as Tanenhaus writes, the liberal rhetoric of compassion and the state’s responsibility to its most hard-pressed citizens—the poor—which led to the New Deal became the Reagan conservatives’ rhetoric of compassion and the state’s responsibility to its most hard-pressed citizens—the middle class—which led to tax cuts that undid or diminished many of the New Deal’s social programs.

Tanenhaus himself embodies this ironic complexity. He writes with warm admiration of the Ur-conservative Edmund Burke’s “distrust of all ideologies, beginning with their totalizing nostrums.” He glowingly describes how Burke “warned against “the destabilizing perils of extremist politics of any kind.” This conservative credo seems to be the root of his revulsion against today’s conservative extremists.

Jon Meacham in Newsweek:

Meacham: So how bad is it, really? Your title doesn’t quite declare conservatism dead.
Tanenhaus: Quite bad if you prize a mature, responsible conservatism that honors America’s institutions, both governmental and societal. The first great 20th-century Republican president, Theo- dore Roosevelt, supported a strong central government that emphasized the shared values and ideals of the nation’s millions of citizens. He denounced the harm done by “the trusts”—big corporations. He made it his mission to conserve vast tracts of wilderness and forest. The last successful one, Ronald Reagan, liked to remind people (especially the press) he was a lifelong New Dealer who voted four times for Franklin D. Roosevelt. The consensus forged by Buckley in the 1960s gained strength through two decisive acts: first, Buckley denounced right-wing extremists, such as the members of the John Birch Society, and made sure when he did it to secure the support of conservative Republicans like Reagan, Barry Goldwater, and Sen. John Tower. This pulled the movement toward the center. Second: Buckley saw that the civil disturbances of the late 1960s (in particular urban riots and increasingly militant anti-Vietnam protests) posed a challenge to social harmonies preferred by genuine conservatives and genuine liberals alike. When the Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan called on liberals to join with conservatives in upholding “the politics of stability,” Buckley replied that he was ready to help. He placed the values of “civil society” (in Burke’s term) above those of his own movement or the GOP.


Is there an analogous historical moment? Conservatives argue that this is 1965 and that a renaissance is at hand.
I disagree. Today, conservatives seem in a position closer to the one they occupied during the New Deal. The epithets so many on the right now hurl at Obama—”socialist,” “fascist”—precisely echo the accusations Herbert Hoover and “Old Right” made against FDR in 1936. And the spectacle of citizens appearing at town-hall meetings with guns recalls nothing so much as the vigilante Minutemen whom Buckley evicted from the conservative movement in the 1960s. A serious conservative like David Frum knows this, and has spoken up. It is remarkable how few others have. The moon party is being yanked ever farther onto its marginal orbit.

Daniel McCarthy in TAC:

In this interview with Jon Meacham, Tanenhaus makes like Basil Fawlty and doesn’t mention the war — the Iraq War, that is, which “serious conservatives” like David Frum supported. Tanenhaus had no problem criticizing the war until now and tying it to the Republicans’ dwindling electoral fortunes. But now that a Democrat is in office, suddenly health care is the thing that conservatives are supposedly screwing up. Even though attacks on the president’s plan have so far been rather popular.

But let’s go back to the idea that Republicans have somehow drifted away from the “conservatism” of TR. There’s a deep body of literature out there — Gabriel Kolko’s Triumph of Conservatism is perhaps the best known specimen — making the case that trust-busting actually favored big business. So perhaps Teddy and Enron’s recent man in the White House have something in common. And there’s another, more obvious sense in which movement conservatives are very much in the mold of Teddy Roosevelt — they are heirs to his machismo, nationalism, and militarism. Tanenhaus would probably agree that these are qualities which have not served the con movement well over the last four years (at least). But TR embodies them. He was the first to thump the pulpit for 100 percent Americanism, and he was much more eager to intervene in World War I than Woodrow Wilson was. TR is a great inspiration to neocons today: there’ s a reason the summer books issue of the Weekly Standard bears a cover image of Teddy in an inner tube. Yet Tanenhaus, who knows the neocons had something to do with the Iraq War and the Iraq War has something to do with conservatism’s death, praises TR and calls David Frum a “serious conservative.” The conclusion one is lead to is that Tanenhaus is so sympathetic to the social-democratic tilt of the neocons and economic interventionism of TR that he absolves them of the blame he knows they deserve for the Right’s ruin. Conservatives would be ill served to heed him. What’s needed is exactly the opposite of what Tanenhaus prescribes: the Right should sharpen its economic differences with the big-government Left while repudiating the catastrophic foreign policy promulgated by the likes of David Frum.

More McCarthy:

If all a Tanenhaus wants is a Right that is a.) a little abashed about how Iraq turned out, but not really repentant, and b.) in favor of a “pro-family” welfare state, then he already has much of what he wants, since Ramesh Ponnuru, David Frum, Ross Douthat, David Brooks, and a host of neoconservatives already affirm a program exactly like that. Hell, Karl Rove belongs in that category, too. These are the most prominent names in “conservative” print media, and fairly influential voices within the Beltway. They would all complain that the grassroots aren’t on board with their “moderate” military welfarism — the grassroots are too brusque, too bumptious, too worked up about Obama’s birth certificate and illegal immigration. But the grassroots Right is in the state it’s in thanks in no small part to the likes of Ponnuru, Frum, Douthat, and Brooks. Since their program of welfare for families doesn’t inspire anyone, their political allies wind up having to whip up enthusiasm for the military side of the program, and have to throw in some red meat about gays, immigrants, and abortion. But the NY-DC axis have no cause to complain, since that’s the only way to sell the public on their insipid welfare-warfare program. He who wills the end must will the means. The only means toward getting the Right to embrace the welfare state is to get the Right hopped up about real wars or culture wars. But that’s precisely what has cost the Right political power over the last four years.


Andy McCarthy at NRO links to James Piereson in The New Criterion. Piereson:

Tanenhaus argues that conservatives failed because—well, because they did not act like conservatives at all but rather as extremists and radicals out to destroy everything associated with modern liberalism. The paradox of the modern right, he says, is that “Its drive for power has steered it onto a path that has become profoundly and defiantly un-conservative.” According to Tanenhaus, conservatives have been divided since the 1950s between their Burkean inclinations to preserve the constitutional order and their reactionary or “revanchist” impulses to tear up and destroy every liberal compromise with modern life. “On the one side,” he writes, “are those who have upheld the Burkean ideal of replenishing civil society by adjusting to changing conditions. On the other are those committed to a revanchist counterrevolution, whether the restoration of America’s pre-New Deal ancient regime, a return to Cold War-style Manichaeanism, or the revival of pre-modern family values.” In recent years, he concludes, the “revanchists” have gotten the upper hand over the Burkeans, and have thereby run the conservative juggernaut over a cliff and into irrelevance. In an entry that gives the reader a flavor of some of the exaggerated rhetoric contained in the book, Tanenhaus writes that, “Today’s conservatives resemble the exhumed figures of Pompeii, trapped in postures of frozen flight, clenched in the rigor mortis of a defunct ideology.”These “exhumed figures” are presumably free-market economists and conservatives like Jonah Goldberg and Amity Shlaes, whose books have been critical of the New Deal, neo-conservatives who supported the war in Iraq, and social conservatives who have opposed abortion, easy divorce, and gay marriage. In Tanenhaus’s view, genuine conservatives would accept the New Deal and the welfare state as “Burkean corrections” that served to adjust the American economy to modern conditions. Nor would “real” conservatives have supported a war in Iraq that was based upon a utopian ideal of bringing democracy to the Middle East. He also thinks that conservatives should accept gay marriage as an extension of family values to a new area. The reason conservatives have not followed such advice, he says, is that their attachment to orthodox doctrine trumps the practical advantages of finding areas of accommodation with adversaries. In a most un-Burkean way, he says, they have allowed ideology to prevail over experience and common sense. Thus, as he suggests, the right is the main source of disorder and dissension in contemporary society and the instigators of the long-running culture war that has divided the country.

Employing this framework, Tanenhaus arrives at surprising judgments about some prominent conservatives—for example, that Ronald Reagan was a “real” conservative because, despite his rhetoric, he made no effort to repeal popular social programs but accepted them as an integral aspect of the American consensus. This is gracious on the author’s part, though it is a judgment that few liberals will accept simply because they are certain that the only reason President Reagan did not repeal many of those programs is because Congress would not permit it. After all, one of Reagan’s favorite sayings was that “Government is the problem, not the solution.” Reagan, like every other major Republican office-holder of recent decades, including George W. Bush and Newt Gingrich, was constrained in this area by a mix of congressional politics, interest groups, and public opinion. Tanenhaus also says that Buckley, while starting out as a “revanchist” in the 1950s, turned into a Burkean in the 1960s by his acceptance of liberal reforms, especially in civil rights.

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