No matter what Rush Limbaugh or Michelle Malkin or the entire circus of right-wing nutcases, thugs, and theocrats, in their early stages of denial, may try to tell the rest of the country, the results of Tuesday’s election were a full-throated repudiation of conservative rule.
We're getting the right-wing pushback on this already, voiced last night by Malkin:
- The GOP lost. Conservatism prevailed.
I'm sure the tidal wave that washed over the American right last night was disorienting, and really, it's just fine with me if this gang that has been mismanaging the country for the past six years wants to swim farther out to sea.
But the evidence that "conservatism won" is scant indeed. A handful of Democrats won last night by offering mixed plates of middling right and middling left positions. But the vast majority -- especially in the Northeast and Midwest -- staked out specifically liberal positions and won as liberals. Meanwhile, Democrats who ran largely as faux conservatives, like Harold Ford and Lois Murphy, lost. Kos and Atrios have more.
Yes, it's true that, if they looked hard enough, conservatives could find little corn kernels in the turdpile that the public threw at them last night. If they want to pretend that they are jewels plucked from velvet, well, that's their own little Bizarro Universe, and they're welcome to it.
However, there is at least a nugget of truth in what they say: genuine conservatism -- the kind of conservatism that is about restraint and level-headed governance; that is a mindset and not a movement -- did not lose last night, because many Americans retain that outlook, which on the whole is a good thing.
Many of those Americans, as it happens, are now Democrats because the Republican Party, as it was being driven by the conservative movement, ceased to represent anything even remotely resembling restraint or level-headedness. Example A: soon-to-be Democratic Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., who was Ronald Reagan's Secretary of the Navy.
So perhaps we should be more specific: The conservative movement -- which by now clearly is quite distinct from anything we can call genuinely conservative -- lost last night. It -- including its wholly owned subsidiaries, the Republican Party, the Republican Congress, and the Bush administration -- was stomped. Folded. Mutilated. And now, we can only hope, discarded.
What the conservative movement of the past decade and more has been about, as I've argued at length, is not any conservatism but the Machiavellian lust for power by any means necessary, built around a kind of pure reactionarism that really isn't about being for anything but rather about opposing things -- specifically, liberalism and its effects.
The whole conservative-movement model of governance -- as well as its model of winning elections -- has been about dismantling progressive gains of the past century or more: labor and wage gains, educational gains, economic gains, environmental gains, minority and civil-rights gains. Above all, it's about dismantling government itself. As a result, the Bush administration has proceeded with an agenda that is almost nakedly part of an effort to roll American politics and economics back to McKinley and the turn of the 20th century.
As Alan Wolfe put it last summer:
- This conservative presidency and Congress imploded, not despite their conservatism, but because of it.
Contemporary conservatism is first and foremost about shrinking the size and reach of the federal government. This mission, let us be clear, is an ideological one. It does not emerge out of an attempt to solve real-world problems, such as managing increasing deficits or finding revenue to pay for entitlements built into the structure of federal legislation. It stems, rather, from the libertarian conviction, repeated endlessly by George W. Bush, that the money government collects in order to carry out its business properly belongs to the people themselves. One thought, and one thought only, guided Bush and his Republican allies since they assumed power in the wake of Bush vs. Gore: taxes must be cut, and the more they are cut -- especially in ways benefiting the rich -- the better.
But like all politicians, conservatives, once in office, find themselves under constant pressure from constituents to use government to improve their lives. This puts conservatives in the awkward position of managing government agencies whose missions -- indeed, whose very existence -- they believe to be illegitimate. Contemporary conservatism is a walking contradiction. Unable to shrink government but unwilling to improve it, conservatives attempt to split the difference, expanding government for political gain, but always in ways that validate their disregard for the very thing they are expanding. The end result is not just bigger government, but more incompetent government.
Moreover, its reflexive reactionarism -- fueled by a toxic brew of avaricious opportunism, mendacity, viciousness, and arrogant stupidity -- has driven the conservative movement literally over the cliff.
And yes, the war in Iraq was a significant factor in all this, precisely because it stands out as the foremost example of the inevitable malfeasance of conservative rule. But it was hardly the only example.
There was, it seemed, an endless litany:
- -- The Katrina debacle.
-- The Terri Schiavo circus.
-- The North Korea nuclear fiasco.
-- The Mark Foley scandal.
-- The Jack Abramoff scandal.
-- And while we're at it, let's not forget 9/11.
That's the short list. Indeed, the Bush administration's legacy will be an American landscape littered with the rubble and ruin of its many grotesque failures of governance and its vicious, pseudo-fascist brand of politics.
Last night, the American people said they'd finally had enough. They've had enough of people like Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, DeLay, Hastert, Limbaugh, Coulter, and Malkin. They've had enough of the kind of governance the conservative movement has given them.
Mind you, none of them are going away. Their lust for power will probably grow even greater. And so will their willingness to do literally anything to obtain it.
Look, in the next couple of years, for movement conservatives to swim deeper out into the dark waters of the right. Look for them to get nastier and more nakedly eliminationist, both in rhetoric and action. Look for them to raise the volume of personal smears against Democratic and liberal figures.
For awhile, it's going to get worse, not better. But at least we finally took that first step toward healing the wounds inflicted by conservative rule.
UPDATE: Glenn Greenwald has more here and here.