Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Ed Kilgore and rational cynicism

By Frank Moraes

I have a normal evolution regarding political writers. At first, I am in their thrall. Slowly, I begin to disagree with them more and more. And eventually I reach the point where they annoy me more often than not. The most recent example of this is Greg Sargent. With regards to policy, I think we very much agree. But I just can't take his optimism in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. I first started noticing it with the gun control legislation but it has continued through the debt ceiling (which he claims is solved but is not) and most recently comprehensive immigration reform.

Well, I've started a new relationship; this time it is with the Washington Times' Ed Kilgore. I can't say where our relationship will go from here, but I think we are starting at a better place. For one thing, having read him on and off for a long time, I already know that I don't always agree with him. But when it comes to temperament, we are very much alike. For example, on the issue of filibuster reform, he has wanted to see actual reform the whole time. Early this morning, he published, May Cooler Heads Not Prevail. That was nice to read after so many liberals were gloating that Democrats got what they wanted without actually improving the broken Senate. All morning I've been reading slight variants on, "And if the Republicans don't behave, the Democrats still have the nuclear option!" Yeah, but they could just fix the problem instead. As Kilgore noted, "This is not time for sticky sentimentality about the Senate's sacred traditions, which (a) are not at all "sacred" and (b) in the case of the filibuster, have been twisted beyond recognition in the last few years."

The last thing Kilgore wrote today was music to my ears, Uh, Yeah, This Is a Different GOP. In it, he defended himself against other liberal writers who say that he is wrong to constantly be a naysayer about these deals that the Democrats are supposedly going to get with the Republicans. I've been hammering this same line since last year's election when everyone was talking about how the Republicans had to be more reasonable since they lost. How was that? The Republicans still in Congress won their election. How should Obama's victory change the way they thought? No one really had an answer, but I still hear that kind of logic from people like Steve Benen.

Kilgore noted that the threat of losing presidential elections is not likely to change the Republican Party any time soon. He rightly noted that the anti-choice coalition in the Republican Party thinks that it is doing God's work. Unborn children are being murdered. If you see it that way, you aren't going to moderate your opinions for the sake of political expediency. And they are right to act as they do if that's how they feel.[1] Kilgore completely sums up what is going on:

For one thing, while you might think of politics as a matter of winning the next election so your "team" can implement its immediate agenda, intensely ideological people tend to think of politics as a matter of winning wars rather than battles, and focus on winning elections that put them into the position to radically change history....

So the best way to understand the contemporary conservative movement is as a coalition with an unusually large number of people who either don't agree with the CV [CW?] on how to win elections, don't care about short-term political implications, or don't care about anything other than expressing their opinion about the hellwards direction of the Republic and perhaps of the human race. Mix in another significant number of people with a large pecuniary interest in reactionary politics, and you have a movement that's not going to turn from its current trajectory with any great speed. You can stamp your feet or call them crazy people or deplore their impact on the level of discourse all you want, but they just aren't going away, and we might as well get used to it instead of marveling about it as though it came out of nowhere and will soon disappear.

I would go further. The conservatives do think in terms of winning wars. Politics is not about winning elections; it is about getting your policies enacted. The greatest recent conservative victory was the presidency of Bill Clinton. The Democratic Party has done and continues to do most of the work for the conservatives. So who cares if Hillary Clinton is the next president when she is going to push policy that will be well to the right of Ronald Reagan?

I suppose what I like about Kilgore is that he is rationally cynical. This is an infinitely better position than that of the Happy Horseshit Caucus. The problem is that all the happy talk allows people to avoid the reality that we really aren't making progress. The conservatives are still the ones framing the debate. And we have elected officials who are far more conservative than the people they supposedly serve. It is only with this recognition that we can make any real progress.

[1] It is another matter that these beliefs are based on very technical and uncompelling theological theories about the soul. I doubt one out of one hundred really understands this. So the movement as a whole is a bunch of people who have simply been told God hates it. That makes these people sheep, but not irrational.

(Cross-posted at Frankly Curious.)

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