Richard Posner, a prolific author and highly regarded judge on the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, bemoans the marginalization of the conservative intellectual:
By the end of the Clinton administration, I was content to celebrate the triumph of conservatism as I understood it, and had no desire for other than incremental changes in the economic and social structure of the United States. I saw no need for the estate tax to be abolished, marginal personal-income tax rates further reduced, the government shrunk, pragmatism in constitutional law jettisoned in favor of "originalism," the rights of gun owners enlarged, our military posture strengthened, the rise of homosexual rights resisted, or the role of religion in the public sphere expanded. All these became causes embraced by the new conservatism that crested with the reelection of Bush in 2004.
My theme is the intellectual decline of conservatism, and it is notable that the policies of the new conservatism are powered largely by emotion and religion and have for the most part weak intellectual groundings. That the policies are weak in conception, have largely failed in execution, and are political flops is therefore unsurprising. The major blows to conservatism, culminating in the election and programs of Obama, have been fourfold: the failure of military force to achieve U.S. foreign policy objectives; the inanity of trying to substitute will for intellect, as in the denial of global warming, the use of religious criteria in the selection of public officials, the neglect of management and expertise in government; a continued preoccupation with abortion; and fiscal incontinence in the form of massive budget deficits, the Medicare drug plan, excessive foreign borrowing, and asset-price inflation.
By the fall of 2008, the face of the Republican Party had become Sarah Palin and Joe the Plumber. Conservative intellectuals had no party.
During the later Bush years, I thought that right-wingers were increasingly falling prey to the same temptation that did in the Left a generation ago: seeing the world not as it was, but as they wanted it to be. (Witness the Terri Schiavo intervention, the effort to privatize Social Security, the complete unwillingness to rein in market excesses, and the irrational belief that diplomatic isolation combined with kicking someone else's ass would somehow deter North Korea and Iran from their nuclear ambitions.) Usually when this happens, an electoral smack in the face or two is sufficient to prompt a return to reality-based politics, as was the case with Democrats after their landslide losses in 1972 and 1984. Today's Republicans, however, seem more eager to double down on what they see as purity and most of us regard as unhinged extremism than to seriously engage on the most important issues of the day with good faith and new ideas. It's less a philosophy than a dogma, and consequently the party is increasingly less a coalition than a cult.
So it's maybe not surprising that the foremost defender of the faith will pen her testimonial:
Sarah Palin is ready to tell her side, agreeing to publish a memoir with HarperCollins. The book comes out in Spring 2010 — the year she is up for re-election.
"There's been so much written about and spoken about in the mainstream media and in the anonymous blogosphere world, that this will be a wonderful, refreshing chance for me to get to tell my story, that a lot of people have asked about, unfiltered," the Alaska governor and 2008 vice presidential candidate said during a brief telephone interview Tuesday with The Associated Press.
"Being a voracious reader, I read a lot today and have read a lot growing up. And having that journalism degree, all of that, will be a great assistance for me in writing this book, talking about the challenges and the joys, balancing the work and parenting, and, in my case, work means running the state," Palin said.
"I've read a variety of books, and that helps shape my opinions and my views."
Maybe the upside of Palin repeatedly insisting that she reads a lot is that it might inspire some of her admirers to do the same, and once somebody starts reading, the odds that they'll begin to think for themselves improve. Then again, based on this one example, reading Palin is likely to prove as headache-inducing for anyone who values coherence as was listening to her speak in interviews and campaign appearances.
She does not, however, represent the nadir of right-wing thought, at least so long as the RNC is around:
A conservative faction of the Republican National Committee is urging the GOP to take a harder line against both Democrats and wayward Republicans, drafting a resolution to rename the opposition the “Democrat Socialist Party” and moving to rebuke the three Republican senators who supported the stimulus package.
In an e-mail sent Wednesday to the 168 voting members of the committee, RNC member James Bopp, Jr. accused President Obama of wanting “to restructure American society along socialist ideals.”
“The proposed resolution acknowledges that and calls upon the Democrats to be truthful and honest with the American people by renaming themselves the Democrat Socialist Party,” wrote Bopp, the Republican committeeman from Indiana. “Just as President Reagan’s identification of the Soviet Union as the ‘evil empire’ galvanized opposition to communism, we hope that the accurate depiction of the Democrats as a Socialist Party will galvanize opposition to their march to socialism.”
The measure is likely to pass next week, over the objections of party chairman Michael Steele. Actually, Steele comes across as thoughtful on this question, writing in a memo that "while he believes Democrats 'are indeed marching America toward European-style socialism,' ... officially referring to them as the Democrat Socialist Party 'will accomplish little than to give the media and our opponents the opportunity to mischaracterize Republicans.'” Personally, I'm almost surprised that the members didn't go with something like the Stinkypoop Homoterror Party.
Other than providing some amusement, the descent of modern conservatism from Posner and Buckley to Palin and Bopp does nobody any good. Without an electorally competitive Republican Party (or some new alternative to it), we'll increasingly see the worst of the Democrats; indeed, it could be happening already. The next example of effective one-party rule that leads to good governance will be the first.