2006 November 08 Wednesday
Blame Deflection The Name Of Right Wing Game

Daniel Larison looks at the people who are trying to deflect blame away from their policies and ideas as reasons for the Republican electoral failure.

It is interesting to note that Rush Limbaugh has joined the chorus of people who have all determined that it is the party, not “the ideology,” that has failed.  (Hat tip: Rod Dreher)  In one sense, this is a true statement.  It is true that Republicans did not lose because they were conservative (because they were, by most standards, not that).  It is not true, contrary to Limbaugh’s claims, that they lost because of their lack of “conservative ideology” (whatever that is).  Whatever “the ideology” is, however we might describe it, the GOP embodied it, try as some might to push the defeat off onto allegedly non-ideological, morally compromised “Lincoln Republicans” or whatever fantastical oppositionist faction Headquarters can conjure up to excuse failure.  To hear some disillusioned GOP supporters tell it, it was a lack of commitment to the ideology that brought them down because there continues to be the belief that somewhere among them this ideology perseveres unsullied and unconnected to the party in whose support it was constantly invoked. 

Traditional conservatism isn't an ideology. It is more of a sentiment of pessimism about human nature and about the limits of what good can be accomplished by governments. Neoconservatism, by contrast, is a lot more ideological. Rather than opposing left wing ideologies because they are ideologies the neocons tend to oppose left wing ideologies because they are left wing. Ideologues on the right argue for their simplications and myths against simplifications made on the left. But they both turn away from empirical reality in the process.

Larison takes a skeptical look at people who try to separate their policies and ideas from the resulting failures.

The “ideology” of which they speak was certainly never conservative (far from it!), but if the vehicle of the ideology has failed then the ideology has failed as well. We are constantly told, usually by some of these same people, that Marxism was discredited by the collapse of the Soviet Union–when it was really discredited by its own falsity the moment Karl Marx started putting pen to paper–but watch how many of these people will rush to the defense of their own ideology even after the political vehicle bursts into flames around them. When a car breaks down, it is normally because there is something wrong with the engine–you cannot blame the car’s failure on the steering wheel and the reclining seats when there is smoke pouring out from under the hood. One should never rule out corruption, sheer ambition, pride and flawed execution in understanding why a political movement fails to win support and actually manages to lose a good number of its old supporters, but it is impossible to ignore the reality that the things that the partisans claimed as their ”ideas” contributed mightily to both the practical failures of the government on their watch and also contributed to the alienation of people who were previously favourably inclined to them. Conservatives know that conservatism hasn’t failed, because they know full well that it hasn’t been tried in recent memory. Whatever dreadful thing that has been inspiring people, though they might call it conservatism, clearly has failed.

A number of things went wrong in the Republican Party in the last 10 years. One of them is that the party came to be seen as a useful vehicle for very ideological neocons and became very unconservative in the process. While some neocons have tried to drop the neocon label (though not neoconservative policies alas) since it became a term of derision. They've even tried to claim there is no such thing called neoconservatism distinct from conservatism. Yet Bill Kristol's father neocon Irving Kristol has not been bashful about proclaiming the ideological nature of neoconservatism and the distinctiveness of neoconservative thought.

I think it is time for Republicans to recognize that ideological neoconservatism is incompatible with conservatism and that the neocons have brought the party policy disasters and electoral disasters. It wasn't a lack of faith in their ideas that caused those ideas to fail. The ideas were foolish in the first place.

Behind closed doors even George W. Bush is acting like his ideas are discredited. He just appointed Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense. Robert Gates was Brent Scowcroft's top deputy under George H.W. Bush. Gates agreed with Scowcroft that invading Iraq all the way to Baghdad during the first Gulf War was a bad idea because the US as army of occupation would inevitably face an insurgency.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2006 November 08 09:10 PM  Politics Factions

John S Bolton said at November 9, 2006 2:21 AM:

The election results do seem to have involved a popular repudiation of neocon tranzism from the moderate right.

Ned said at November 9, 2006 6:22 AM:

I don't think the neocons were ever truly conservative. They remind me of a cross between Woodrow Wilson and Leon Trotsky. The Republicans were fools to allow them in the tent, and now they have paid the price.

rtove said at November 9, 2006 9:26 AM:

Well hands off terror sponsoring regimes and their nuclear weapons, then, if cousin marriage is so entrenched. And scrap the forward base that has shifted attention away from the U.S. No terror attacks in the US since 9/11? Dang neocons.

Bob Badour said at November 9, 2006 2:57 PM:


9/11 was on their watch. Basically, you are saying they didn't have any massive failures on US soil after their first massive failure. (Except the beltway sniper, I guess.) After that, all of their massive failures were on foreign soil.

How does that make their massive failures that damaged US interests any less massive, any less failures or any less damaging?

Rob said at November 10, 2006 10:24 PM:


Don't forget the Egyptin Muslim who shot people at the El Al gate in at LAX. Don't forget the Muslim who shot people at a synagogue, in Seattle.

Yeah, there hasn't been any domestic terrorism, unless you count the domestic terrorism that happened.

Anthrax. How did I forget Anthrax? How did you? Richard Reid failed, but not because of Bush.

MlR said at November 11, 2006 12:37 AM:

Traditional European conservatism doesn't have an ideology, but American conservatism does. It gets it from its strong libertarian roots and emphasis on individualism. This is something that big government conservatives like Bush don't show, but it has been there since at least Goldwater.

It used to be a dominant influence, but as soon as Republicans got power they came to the conclusion that big government sells. We also inherited a lot of old Democrats (here's where a lot of neo-cons came in) who were scared off by the far left, but still had faith in the benevolence of government. There's also been larger socialist societal trends where people expect the government to do more for them, in spite of their professed cynicism for it.

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