The Pit of the Pendulum, or How Republicans Can Be Gaining During a Conservative Civil War


We appear to be living through an apparently paradoxical, though easily explainable, political moment. All signs are pointing preliminarily to a Republican resurgence in the 2010 elections, even as a growing number of political thinkers–many of them on the right–conclude that conservatism as we know it is verging on a self-inflicted death.

How can that be? Easy: We have an electoral system rigged to the rafters by a two party cartel. Voters careen between tossing out the Montagues and Capulets, and continue their mass defection to the tribe called "Independents," but onerous ballot-access rules and other legal/cultural artifacts of political polarity channel all that permanent dissatisfaction into pushes on a pendulum. Since, unlike in every other sector of the economy, the business of politics has a guaranteed (and growing!) revenue stream, parties in the midst of an identity crisis don't need to sort it out to gain seats in the House of Representatives; they just need the opposing gang to stumble. Weebles wobble but they don't fall down.

Some recent examples from those who believe the battle for the conservative soul requires distancing the party from birthers and their enablers:

Patrick Ruffini: "Can We Have Buckley Back?"

As a pretty down-the-line conservative, I don't believe I am alone in noting with disappointment the trivialization,  excessive sloganeering, and pettiness that has overtaken the movement of late. In "The Joe the Plumberization of the GOP," I argued that conservatives have grown too comfortable with wearing scorn as a badge of honor, content to play sarcastic second fiddle to the dominant culture of academia and Hollywood with second-rate knock-off institutions. A side effect of this has been a tendency to accept conspiracy nuts as a slightly cranky edge case within the broad continuum of conservatism, rather than as a threat to the movement itself.

Jon Henke: "Organizing Against WorldNetDaily":

In the 1960's, William F. Buckley denounced the John Birch Society leadership for being "so far removed from common sense" and later said "We cannot allow the emblem of irresponsibility to attach to the conservative banner." […]

No respectable organization should support the kind of fringe idiocy that WND peddles.  Those who do are not respectable.

Bruce Bartlett: "Are the Birthers the Next Black Panthers?"

I've been thinking latetly that onservative elites are reaching a moment similar to that which confronted liberal elites in the late 1960s.  At first they saw the rise of SDS, the Black Panthers and other extreme left groups as cannon fodder that could be used to achieve liberal goals. […] But one day liberals realized that the extremists couldn't be controlled and threatened anarchy.  I read somewhere that the seminal event was when student radicals threatened to burn the Harvard library.  This sort of thing led to the rise of neoconservatism (not the foreign policy variety, but the original one).  I think conservative elites today see the teabaggers, birthers and other kooks as cannon fodder for larger conservative goals the same way liberals originally saw student radicals in the 1960s.  I think one day soon something like the Harvard library burning is going to make conservatives realize that these people present more of a threat than a tool for advancing conservative goals.  I hope it doesn't involve an assassination or Oklahoma City-type event.  But you can't pour fuel on the fires of peoples' emotions the way Glenn Beck does on a daily basis without getting an explosion at some point.

As someone with no dog in that hunt, I'm more interested in the activities of people who are actually in (or allied with) power. But I wish most of all that there were easier legal mechanisms to assist the main two parties in their periodic flirtations with self-destruction.