Is Conservatism Dead?

If you have some time, you may want to read George Packer’s article The Fall Of Conservatism at The New Yorker.

Here are some highlights:

In retrospect, the Reagan Presidency was the high-water mark of conservatism. “In some respects, the conservative movement was a victim of success,” Wilentz concludes. “With the Soviet Union dissolved, inflation reduced to virtually negligible levels, and the top tax rate cut to nearly half of what it was in 1980, all of Ronald Reagan’s major stated goals when he took office had been achieved, leaving perplexed and fractious conservatives to fight over where they might now lead the country.”

In its final year, the Bush Administration is seen by many conservatives (along with seventy per cent of Americans) to be a failure. Among true believers, there are two explanations of why this happened and what it portends. One is the purist version: Bush expanded the size of government and created huge deficits; allowed Republicans in Congress to fatten lobbyists and stuff budgets full of earmarks; tried to foist democracy on a Muslim country; failed to secure the border; and thus won the justified wrath of the American people. This account — shared by Pat Buchanan, the columnist George F. Will, and many Republicans in Congress — has the appeal of asking relatively little of conservatives. They need only to repent of their sins, rid themselves of the neoconservatives who had agitated for the Iraq invasion, and return to first principles. Buchanan said, “The conservatives need to, in Maoist terms, go back to Yenan.”

McCain doesn’t try to stir a crowd’s darker passions or its higher aspirations. He doesn’t present himself as a conservative leader; he is simply a leader. His favorite book, according to Salter, is “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” because it’s the story of a man who struggles nobly even though he knows the effort is doomed. McCain says to audiences, Here I am, a man in full, take me or leave me. This might be the only kind of Republican who could win in 2008.

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