Conservatives Sowing The Seeds Of Their Own Demise

Bill Scher

The Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder wrote yesterday:

…it might be dangerous for the Republican Party to elevate the stakes for this election to a death match between competing ideologies. If Barack Obama’s victory is as decisive as it is shaping up to be, the Democrats can justifiably claim that conservatism itself has been rejected as a political and governing philosophy. In the closing weeks of the campaign, as the Republican ticket continues to run against the very idea of progressive politics, they are sowing the seeds of the post-election realignment narrative.

As today’s new Op-Ad from the Institute for America’s Future depicts, and as David Sirota noted yesterday, this election is precisely a referendum on past conservative policies.


Read the final ad
in our series for “a debate worthy of a great nation in crisis” and join the discussion.

Ambinder astutely observes: “Conservatives find it absurd that Americans are about to elect the most liberal president of the modern era and aren’t terribly upset by it.” What seems to be making conservatives apoplectic is that their typical approach to debate — lies, misinformation, out of context quoting, strained guilt-by-association attacks — isn’t working. As I’ve been arguing, for conservatives to regain their lost credibility, they need to stop conjuring up phony narratives, acknowledge their failures, make adjustments and re-enter the arena of reality.

But on the whole, they refuse to change their ways. The latest example: LA Times columnist Jonah Goldberg.

Goldberg argues that Obama offers nothing “new,” just “old liberal ideas” like “socialized medicine,” a “socialized economy” and “socialism.” And he tries to make his case with a dizzying array of quote-parsing and 6-Degrees-Of-William-Ayers, tying Obama to such despised figures of American history as Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, then going back to early 20th century philosopher John Dewey.

Goldberg is unwilling to make his case based on Obama’s own ideas, and contrast them with new conservative ideas, because the former doesn’t amount to socialism and the latter doesn’t exist.

Instead, he claims Dewey wanted a “socialized economy,” FDR liked Dewey, Obama mentions FDR a lot in his book, ergo Obama must be a socialist peddling old socialist ideas.

Goldberg’s weak argumentation exposes the silliness of guilt-by-association.

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, Goldberg is characterizing Dewey accurately as someone who wanted a “socialized economy” as we understand it to mean today. Who cares?

FDR was president for 12 years. He has a tangible record we can assess, one that believed in active government but did not try to impose complete government control of the entire economy. His “New Deal” program worked, and the progressive institutions he set up fueled much American prosperity for generations.

FDR’s “associations” are provably irrelevant. Even if he did draw on Dewey, and even if Dewey had some loopy ideas, politicians are able to separate one’s good ideas from their loopy ideas.

Some play guilt-by-association games with new politicians as a way to stoke suspicion. But they don’t actually prove anything about what the politician would do once in office.

Sure, the debate between progressives and conservatives over the role of government is a perennial one, and perhaps always will be. But that doesn’t mean someone with a progressive or conservative philosophy can’t come up with new ideas based on their philosophical principles.

Obama has proposed public investment in early education to prevent achievement gaps that manifest at kindergarten. He has proposed public investment in clean energy and energy-efficient technology to create jobs, make energy costs stable and affordable, reduce dependency on foreign oil and avert a climate crisis. He proposes a public-private hybrid approach to guarantee health care coverage for all.

These are new ideas. Conservatives are free to debate them on the merits with some new ideas of their own.

Instead, they continue to be addicted to misinformation, and allergic to new ideas that recognize the failure of their past policies.

Until they change their ways, they’ll be planting farms of failure to feed generations of conservatives.

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