17.10.17

A PROGRESSIVE SEEKS TO TURN THE CLOCK BACK.

The progressive in question is E. J. Dionne, and the setting he wants is "Eisenhower Republican."

And I could end Book Review No. 20 simply by giving the title Why the Right Went Wrong: Conservatism - From Goldwater to the Tea Party and Beyond, and let it go at that.  And it transpires that he had to come out with a revised edition in November (my copy has a purchase date of 22 January 2016, and it was obsolete effective 20 January 2017) with a new title, Why the Right Went Wrong: Conservatism - From Goldwater to Trump and Beyond, and he's likely walking back one of his themes: that the Republicans might have little future as a presidential party, which surfaces at page 10. "A right-leaning Republican Party is in a strong position to rally a coalition of discontent among older white Americans who dominate the electorate in the off years.  But absent a change in its approach, the conservative coalition is threatened with long-term minority status in presidential elections, where a younger, more culturally and ethnically diverse electorate holds sway."  Oops, and Mr Dionne's recognition that this electorate is clustered in a few places is something that's going to be in the political discourse going forward.  And we no longer have the Victory Dividend to enable a Dwight Eisenhower to consolidate the gains with interstate highways, and Lyndon Johnson dissipating them in any number of ways.  The problem with politics may less be a disorderly conservatism than it is widespread manifestations of ineffective technocratic expertise.

And there might be Mr Dionne's greatest insight, page 14. "I offer this book in part because I continue to believe that a healthy democratic order needs conservatism's skepticism about the grand plans we progressives sometimes offer, its respect for traditional institutions, and its skepticism of those who believe that politics can remold human nature."

Alas, dear reader, that's missing from much of what passes for conservatism these days -- there's another book or two on that score sitting on my desk -- and it's unfortunate that when the skepticism manifests itself, it might be in a disrespectful way.  Page 309, from a Tea Party inspired town hall in South Carolina, quoting an unidentified hospital worker.  "I also have had many years of experience seeing the result of government intervention in the private sector.  The result of that government intervention has been mostly the result of what I call the reverse Midas Touch.  That is, whatever government touches through its control, it mostly turns to crap."  Yes, and if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor, and your good government school comes bundled with a granite counter top.  There is a lot of work left to do,  But somehow Mr Dionne's calls for "a more moderate brand of politics" ring hollow.  He's more on point at page 450.  "But to challenge the gridlock created by the two electorates, progressives will need to win back white working-class voters who look to government to reduce economic insecurity and expand opportunity -- yet have lost confidence in government's ability to succeed."

Yes, somewhere between a quarter-century of rent-seeking by the Davos set, and a half-century of technocratic conceits will do that to voters.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

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