Thursday, April 24, 2003

Could Andrew Sullivan be on the verge of abandoning the Republicans? Not sure, but the Santorum controversy (which I haven't really dealt with- go check Eschaton and The Rittenhouse Review for more on the issue) and Sully's reaction seems to imply so.

That's how little they care about individual liberties. I guess, as so many gloating liberals have emailed me to point out, I have been incredibly naive. I expected a basic level of respect for gay people from civilized conservatives. I've always taken the view that there are legitimate arguments about such issues as marriage rights or military service and so on; and that fair-minded people can disagree. And, of course, there are many fair-minded people among Republicans and conservatives who do not agree with Santorum, and I am heartened by their support, especially the Republican Unity Coalition and Marc Racicot, RNC head. But something this basic as the freedom to be left alone in own's own home is something I naively assumed conservatives would obviously endorse - even for dispensable minorities like homosexuals. I was wrong. The conclusions to be drawn are obvious.
Many have blogged, written, opined and lamented the divisions on the left, including myself. We should remember, however, that there is a division on the right... not just between "paleoconservatives" and "neoconservatives" but between both and the pseudo-libertarianism of many who lean towards the Republicans. (Neoconservatism in its proper, Straussian form does not seem to be as compatible with Libertarianism as many seem to believe). While they can get along on many issues, the continuing battles about homosexuality (and to a lesser extent, race) on the right are probably the best illustration that there are certain issues upon which they are irreconcilably divided, and that the coalition on the right has its own contradictions.

Up until now, however, they've been able to get away with not truly addressing these conflicts. The dedicated, ambitious neo-conservatives that make up the core of the conservative movement realized a very long time ago that infighting would weaken if not annihilate their ability to elect legislators and executives. While its unlikely that these divisions would lead to alternative parties growing in power and stature- the American system is utterly bipartisan and will remain so for a good while to come- it would definitely lead to bruising primary battles, policy conflicts, and voters on the "wrong" side either sitting out on election day or voting for the Democratic "lesser of two evils".

The fear of that happening is what has led to the strength and cohesion of the Republicans since the late 80's. The acknowledgement that all policy and personal conflicts between members should be subordinate to the goal of gaining and retaining power isn't new (ironically enough, it's Leninist), but without it, the modern Republican party and conservative movement would be toast, and quick.

That's why I've been calling them "Movementarians". it isn't conservatism that unites them because "conservatism" is a contested concept. The zealotry of some towards their brand of "conservatism" is the key cause of these factional battles. It isn't about any single leader, either- although they support Bush, it's hardly a personality cult. Instead, its the sense of movement and the willingness to sacrifice their goals to the success of the Movement as a whole that best defines them. The Movement is the key aspect, thus, "Movementarian".

(And, yes, like all good modern political terms, it comes from the Simpsons.)

Thing is, this can only last for so long. The conflicts we're seeing within the Bush administration and the conflicts that we're seeing over conservatism as a whole (like Sully vs. Santorum, or Novak vs. the Neocons over the war) are evidence that, having gained power, the conflicts over how to use that power are stressing the unity of the Movement. Success for those who don't share the goals of the Movement may lie in exploiting these faultlines, to break apart the coalitions and the various "conservatisms", so that primaries become more contentious and candidates are forced to take a stand.

More importantly, though, success will lie in recognizing that it is precisely the kind of "purity" that many on the left prize so heavily that tears apart political coalitions. This does not mean that the "far left" doesn't need to exist... it does, as it provides a backdrop upon which moderate leftists and liberals can present their ideas, and sometimes the extremists' goals can contain the seeds of really good and really innovative policy ideas. Still, all need to recognize that they're moving in the same direction, and they're largely for the same things, and that if they're willing to compromise some of their "purity" they can get a lot more done. There is room for both a center-liberal like Kevin Drum and a socialist like Martin Wisse (excellent bloggers both), and that in order to succeed the first step is to recognize that, and abandon the kind of distancing games that extreme and center both engage in in order to disassociate with the "other guys". They'll only succed when they learn the lesson that the Movementarians are, perhaps, forgetting:

Ultimately, they're on the same side.

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