I'm not trying to be naturally contrarian, here -- really. But in a back-and-forth argument with Digby over a review of Markos' new book, the American Prospect reviewer dropped this nugget of wisdom:

Granted, hyperbole and distortion has helped the right win elections for almost 30 years, and during that time, they have successfully changed the terms of American politics. But for all its electoral success, the conservative movement hasn't really changed the guiding assumptions of American governance or stopped the expansion of the welfare state. Liberals might be arguing in the house that Ronald Reagan built, but conservatives are still trying to breach FDR's fortress.

Mind you, TAPPED is a liberal website. But statements like these drive me nuts, because they are manifestly not true. And recognizing that they are not true is fundamentally required if "liberals" are going to even compete electorally, much less actually practice competent governance.

Saying "the conservative movement hasn't really changed the guiding assumptions of American governance or stopped the expansion of the welfare state" isn't just not true, it's a ridiculous statement. It's a bit past ridiculous, in fact.

The conservative movement hasn't changed guiding assumptions of American governance? Really? What channels has this person been watching? As has been pointed out countless times in countless outlets, the policies of Ronald Reagan himself are now considered too liberal for him to survive in modern GOP politics. Ditto Buckley. Ditto David Frum. Ditto Bob Bennett. John McCain, the ex-presidential candidate of the Republican Party, had to launch himself into loony-land to survive a primary attempt mounted against him.

It used to be an assumption of American governance that governance would, at the very least, include actually governing. Now we've got an entire, large segment of the political population dedicated to the premise of not governing, at all. Of just shutting everything down, from the economy to the judiciary to the EPA to education to "volcano monitoring" to corporate regulation to civil rights protections to everyfuckingthingelse.  The legislators themselves are getting in trouble with their voters if they don't block all legislation. And all government appointees. And whatever else comes along.

Even previously completely innocent and popular stuff like S-CHIP, a health insurance program for children, is now a hot-button issue and a sign of an offensively charitable government.  We had an independent pro-affordable-housing group, ACORN, get completely shut down because they got on conservative radar for... well, for advocating for poor people. They never had problems before, but in the world of Beck, Breitbart and Fox, they're suddenly an intolerable, anti-American, near-communist presence.  And the reviewer says nothing has changed?

Hell, we're not sure we have the "federal authority" anymore to regulate whether B-effing-P is allowed to dump a metric megaload of oil up and down the entire Gulf Coast, or if trying to prevent that is an unbearable overreach of a government that needs to be blocked and apologized for.

Economically, we're on the cusp of a Japan-style lost decade, with the odds looking more likely every day -- even though every damn economist in America knew what Japan did wrong when they did it and vowed we in America would never, ever be so stupid.  But we are exactly that stupid now, and proudly so, because conservatives have succeeded in freaking themselves and others out about "deficits" after ten years of running up the biggest freakin' deficits the free world has ever seen. We chose to undertake an inadaquately sized stimulus, even while most serious, non-already-discredited policymakers recognized that an FDR-style stimulus was exactly what we needed, simply because politics prevented us from taking the action the government itself knew it needed to take. We're talking about stealing yet more from Social Security, not because it's in trouble but simply because we want to. We're talking about nipping off a little here, a little there from educational programs, and health programs, and food stamps during the worst recession since The Big One, because the scary welfare state is one of the few things that both parties are willing to gut.

Before this economic disaster, the previous President of the United States made the "privatization" of Social Security -- that is, gutting it or ending it, and leaving it to individual investors to try their hand at the market casino (with appropriate fees, of course) -- a major domestic focus. That exceedingly stupid idea was shelved during the market collapse, since it was manifestly obvious that had it been undertaken, millions of senior citizens would have been reduced to eating driveway gravel after their "private accounts" simply disappeared into the void -- but guess what? Yep, the idea is already back again. We're still in the middle of the crisis, and the notion of gutting Social Security is already back, and being called "sensible", even "necessary" by the same group of clowns that drove the truck into the ditch a few scant years ago.

Saying that conservatives have failed to move the assumptions of American governance in the last forty years is frankly silly, because that's exactly what they've done. And it's one of those "sensible liberal" assertions that continues to get our collective asses kicked, as many "serious" liberals refuse to recognize that the fundamentals on the ground have indeed changed, and refuse to acknowledge that the fundamental nuttiness of the other side isn't just nuttiness to be pooh-poohed and ignored, but is an active shaper of our political discourse, and one that must be engaged as such. We are in a time when asinine conspiracy theories guide our politics, to the point where even our most "serious" politicians aren't willing to stand up and refute them. We're in a time when state governors grumble about secession if we dare give their state scary federal aid money, and when candidates for the United States Senate assert that the Second Amendment may come into play if a pouting conservative subsect of American politics doesn't get their way. These aren't fringe figures, as they may have been in past decades. These are the major figures within one political party.

FDR's fortress hasn't been breached. But it has been hollowed out from the inside, repeatedly, over the last decades, as deregulation turned banks into increasingly irresponsible organizations, corporations into increasingly more powerful counters to public authority, and as the promise of a basic, though meager, quality of life provided by Social Security and Medicare keeps getting whittled away, bit by bit, as something "private investments" or "private companies" are in a better position to provide. Regardless of what you may think about our new healthcare legislation, you have to at least acknowledge that it was based in large part on the premise that private, for-profit industry, not the government "welfare state", should be the primary guardian of the health and welfare of our own citizens. Some used to call a very similar notion Romneycare, back when Republicans were willing to offer similar policy prescriptions. Now the other side calls it Obamacare, considers it the work of out-of-control socialism, and threatens to run any politician who acquiesces to it out of town on a rail.

Most importantly, Democrats -- and liberals -- continue to play a game of defense against further erosion of government, rather than truly restoring its competence. We're not talking about actions to help guide us out of recession, anymore -- those have been declared off the table. We're simply trying to prevent conservative economic nuttery from nosediving our country into a worse recession.

And the conservatives have been failing?  What on earth would success look like?

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Thu Sep 02, 2010 at 08:30 AM PDT.

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