The Continuing Saga of the Conservative Crack-Up


Libertarian disaffection wtih Bush is all over the current New Republic. First there's Clay Risen's story about Cato staffers pulling for Kerry. This shouldn't actually be particularly surprising; mags on the right have been talking up the "crack-up" on the right for a while, Cato scholars have hardly been muted in their criticism of Bush, and it's not as though anyone there is ardently pro-Kerry (is anyone ardently pro-Kerry?) as opposed to pro–divided government. (Clay, incidentally, calls the divided government rationale "cynical," which seems a little odd, unless separation of powers is also "cynical." I suppose it is, in a sense, insofar as it follows from the assumption that the pure motives of people in power shouldn't be counted on, but that's a pretty mild form of cynicism, just over the border from naiveté.)

Then there's Franklin Foer's piece about grumbling conservative intellectuals. There seems to be an element of wishful thinking in this one. First, he's focusing distinctly on the libertarian wing of conservative punditry and activism—Steve Moore and the Club for Growth crowd mostly. Second, the kicker and early parts of the article make clear he's really talking about conservative intellectuals here, but the rest of the piece talks about "conservatives" (mostly, one assumes, to save space), which may make this sound more significant than it is. My own sense is that the rank and file find Bush appealing on personal as much as policy grounds: They see him, rightly or wrongly, as a resolute, straight-shooting guy, a man of conviction. The wonks may not be happy, but the wonks aren't a particularly hefty chunk of the electorate. The Club for Growth guys, moreover, seem to understand that their brand of small-government conservatism is now a minority position in the GOP. Not to say Foer doesn't himself get this—he's got the necessary qualifiers—but one could come away from the article with a sense that the phenomenon he's describing is broader than it is; I suspect it's largely a beltway thing.