Being clear: I'm not a conservative, and I'm not a Republican, but I am a historian and I do like it when folks who presume to talk history actually stick somewhere close to the facts.
The meme du jour at Delawareliberal today is cassandra's fascination with Neil Gabler's LA Times op-ed attempting to make the case that modern conservatism doesn't go back to Buckley [whom he ignores completely] and Goldwater, but is the spawn of cynically generated fear-mongering politics that can be traced to the secret god of the Republican Party: Senator Joe McCarthy.
There is so much wrong, from a purely historical/factual point of view, with Gabler's take [I can't dignify it with the word thesis, because it isn't] that I'm not going to bother to deconstruct it all.
I'll just settle for one sentence:
Reagan's sunny disposition and his willingness to compromise masked the McCarthyite elements of his appeal, but Reaganism as an electoral device was unique to Reagan and essentially died with the end of his presidency.
Here, Gabler gets it half right [which is about par for his entire article]. Reaganism as an electoral device was in fact unique to Ronald Reagan, because it was one of the more successful cults of personality in 20th Century American politics, matched only by two Democrats: FDR and Bill Clinton. Nobody could do Reagan, and Reagan remained something of an outsider to his own party throughout his career.
But you've got to love the subtle knife [with apologies to Phillip Pullman] that Gabler attempts to stick in here.
Reagan masked the McCarthyite elements of his appeal.
Mr. Gabler gives us only that one sentence assertion, and slides blithely past, because--wait for it--he's full of shit.
Don't trust me. Ask Richard Reeves, whose President Reagan, the Triumph of Imagination, found many things but nothing vaguely McCarthyite about Ronald Reagan. Reeves, for the uninitiated, is probably the absolute best journalist/historian writing on JFK, Nixon, and Reagan. If you haven't read his books, you should. More to the point: Reeves is a professed liberal quite critical of many aspects of Reagan and his presidency--but he somehow missed that McCarthyism Mr. Gabler seems to sniff. [So did Lou Cannon in Governor Reagan or President Reagan, by the way.]
But, you see, Reagan's conservatism is to Mr Gabler's argument what historians call a counterfactual, this niggling little piece of contradictory information that won't go away ... so we'd just best not talk about it very much.
And therein lies the problem of those, like cassandra, who have constructed a personal narrative [I'd call it a meme, but I try not to give either Dennis Dennett or George Lakoff more influence on the public discourse than they deserve] that requires the following generalization:
Conservatives [by which they mean anybody who is not a liberal or a progressive, which is why this interests a Libertarian like me] can only win by creating fear, paranoia, and hate, from which it is only a short step to Conservatives are cowardly, paranoid hate-mongers.
Now I would be the first to admit there's been a lot of GOP fear-mongering during especially the past decade. But let's not go all pristine and virginal about liberal/progressive Democrats, who consistently reinvent themselves because they have to stay one step ahead of their own fear-mongering examples:
John F. Kennedy's cynical exploitation of a missile gap with the Soviet Union that he knew during the election of 1960 did not exist.
Lyndon Johnson's grotesque slander of Barry Goldwater in his little-girl-with-flowers-being-obliterated-in-a-nuclear-blast advertisement.
The dozens of Democrats in the Senate who consistently voted against civil rights legislation throughout the 1960s.
These are the old examples. For the 1990s version, read Nigel Hamilton's Bill Clinton: Mastering the Presidency and take an inside look at the chilling process by which a master political narrative was hatched in the first Clinton administration to demonize Republicans in order to cover up their own organizational and political failings.
[Oh, sorry. I keep forgetting: I'm actually suggesting that people read footnoted, well-researched, academically accepted books rather than op-ed columns off the internet. Shit, I've got to stop that.]
Every incoming administration and its partisans attempts to rewrite history. That, for better or for worse, is the American way of politics. Unfortunately, what's happened since 1992 is that between the Slick Willie-Dubya years the exercise has gotten so cynical and so craven on both sides that it has become completely divorced from any serious form of reality testing--or accepted canons of evidence for that matter.
Thus, the glop that Mr. Gabler writes [much like the glop that Jonah Goldberg pens on the other side] passes among the appropriate set of partisans as real history, real intellectual work.
Which is then passed further on down the food chain until it reaches the blogs and becomes a mantra for people on both sides who have been taught to see other American citizens with different political and social ideas as enemies to be vanquished and not partners in the ongoing narrative of the United States.
Demonization: it's obviously not just for Rush, Sean, and Ann any more.
he spits, walks away
No damn wonder I'll stick with the crazy Libertarians.