We tend to invoke Gandhi's formulation here when we're feeling particularly picked on. As we go forward, I'd like to propose a different way of looking at us and our movement, through a concept articulated by the French art historian Henri Focillon. Although he applied it to art, it fits political movements neatly as well. Simply put, a movement goes through four phases: Experimental; Classic; Refined, and Baroque. We are just leaving our experimental period. The Conservative movement is entering its baroque period. Follow me...
In his seminal book The Life of Forms in Art, Focillon argued that all art movements move through those four phases. In the first, the artists only know that they are trying something different, perhaps in reaction to the prevailing taste, perhaps because they have a different vision. By the second phase, these artists have coalesced around some basic precepts that define their movement. Although experimentation has not ended, it now revolves around fixed points that put artists either in or out of the movement. By the refinement stage, those precepts have become accepted benchmarks for the movement, which is now only accepting tinkering with its ideas. Finally, in the baroque stage, the movement has ceased moving, with its art practically caricaturing itself. Finally, the movement collapses, and a new movement leaves its experimental phase and becomes classic.
See a parallel? The Conservative movement, which began out of the ashes of Goldwater's monumental defeat in 1964, reached its classic stage in 1980 with Ronald Reagan, hit its refinement stage with Newt Gingrich in 1994, is now in its baroque stage, having arrived there in 2006. By contrast, the progressive movement, begun out of the ashes of the heartbreak of 2000, has not quite reached its classic point.
As I write this, I'm watching a MoveOn.org ad flashing at the right of my screen. Its title: Isn't it time we defined progressive? Indeed it is: That's the essence of the classic phase of a movement. What are we? What do we stand for as a movement? We began mostly by defining what we are not. We are not chickenhawks. We are not believers in minimal governance. We do not believe in automatic deference to the Executive.
We are slowly but surely coalescing around is a definition of what we are. I don't know where precisely that will take us; but I do know that we have to do it, and we will do it. What we now need to do is to stop worrying about those who purport to explain us. I have argued for a long time that we had the people and ideas to obtain direct access to the traditional media, still the gatekeepers of ideas for most Americans. Well, Kos has done it for DailyKos, landing the Newsweek gig, and being received seriously by TV programmers. Brandon Friedman has done it for VoteVets; the Petraeus ad, despite the firestorm, clearly put MoveOn on the media map. When we can define ourselves on our terms, friends, we have won the first battle. We are the new classic movement. The Conservative movement, by contrast, is about to eat its own:
With Kyl as leader, Cornyn will run for Whip, with a reduced number of Republican Senators, but a more conservative group. Sessions will get to Policy, which is what he wants, and that leaves DeMint available to be the Party's message guy in Conference Chair. That'll leave open a slot as VP for Conference, which a good conservative could fill.
Imagine, post 2008, having the top Senate Republicans be, in order: Kyl, Cornyn, DeMint, Sessions, and an as yet to be determined conservative.
Where are they headed? To a "pure" group of Conservatives: the baroque phase. I much prefer where we are. The air is fresher here, and we have a great future ahead of us. Let's be optimists; let's advance good ideas and good candidates; let's turn the ship of State in a more positive and progressive direction. And, last but not least, let's stop worrying about the various pundits who try to reduce us to an epigram or an epithet. They'll understand us soon enough.