George Packer on Fall of Conservatism

This piece which is rightfully generating a great deal of thoughtful response is excellent.  Link here.

My favorite graf:

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.” Wilentz omits one important failure. According to Buchanan, who was the White House communications director in Reagan’s second term, the President once told his barber, Milton Pitts, “You know, Milt, I came here to do five things, and four out of five ain’t bad.” He had succeeded in lowering taxes, raising morale, increasing defense spending, and facing down the Soviet Union; but he had failed to limit the size of government, which, besides anti-Communism, was the abiding passion of Reagan’s political career and of the conservative movement. He didn’t come close to achieving it and didn’t try very hard, recognizing early that the public would be happy to have its taxes cut as long as its programs weren’t touched. And Reagan was a poor steward of the unglamorous but necessary operations of the state. Wilentz notes that he presided over a period of corruption and favoritism, encouraging hostility toward government agencies and “a general disregard for oversight safeguards as among the evils of ‘big government.’ ” In this, and in a notorious attempt to expand executive power outside the Constitution—the Iran-Contra affair—Reagan’s Presidency presaged that of George W. Bush.

I’ve found it fascinating to watch the candidacy of Ron Paul, a resurgent (neo?)paleo-conservativism (The American Conservative has a helluva group blog) as well as the rise of a Reformist conservatism (a la The American Scene).   In the breakup of the conservative movement, the intellectual stew is quite rich.  But electorally the Republicans are nowhere near having bottomed out.  Congressionally that will occur this Fall and perhaps in 2010 as well depending on whether they hew to their fundamentalist right.  Presidentially we will see.

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