I hear a lot of nostalgia for the "good old days" when "respectable" conservatives roamed the plains and journals of this land. Why can't we have good old Bill Buckley instead of frother Bill Kristol? Why can't we have kindly old Barry Goldwater instead of those loonies like Jim DeMint and Jan Brewer?
The answer is that the "respectable" conservative is a myth -- for two reasons: First, their ideas are and always have been economically and morally bankrupt, even when articulated so civilly by Buckley or tempered with tolerance for gays, like Goldwater. Second, those good old "civil" conservatives endorsed and made common cause with true crazies of their time.
On the first point, it's clear now that the conservative position is indefensible. The New Deal here and the successful mixed economies in Europe approximate a balance between unfettered capitalism and Soviet style communism that the right can never accept. Conservatism is no more than either a rationale for greed (St. W.F. Buckley), phony intellectual masturbation (Andrew Sullivan), racism (Pat Buchanan, Charles Murray) or all of them (Niall Fergusen?).
Absent the successful, largely race-based Republican ascension in the '70s here, the US would be a successful social welfare state like Germany or the Scandinavian countries. Instead, we're beating back the racist and venal reactionaries, with cheerleaders like Brooks providing nonsensical rationales for the comfort of the tote-baggers.
Second, as pointed out in a great article, Why Conservatives are Still Crazy After all these Years by Rick Pearlstein, the right has always been crazy -- not just Buckley and Goldwater, who endorsed the likes of Fred Schwarz but more recent "rational" right wingers like Jack Kemp and Ronald Reagan, who were also fans of Schwarz. Reagan's "gift" was his political capacity to hide his affinity for nuts like Schwarz, who wrote that "the Kremlin dominated its subjects by deploying 'the techniques of animal husbandry,'" and harbored 'plans for a flag of the USSR flying over every American city by 1973.'"
So why does the craziness persist? Perlstein writes:
because power begets power: Democrats can be counted on to compromise with conservative nuttiness, and the media can be counted on to normalize it. And it's because there will always be millions of Americans who are terrified of social progress and of dispossession from whatever slight purchase on psychological security they've been able to maintain in a frightening world. And because there will always be powerful economic actors for whom exploiting such fear, uncertainty and doubt pays (and pays, and pays).I would also add the willingness of "totebaggers" to believe that the likes of Brooks, Safire, Douthat et al. are "reasonable" conservatives.
No. They are stealth emissaries to the normal from discredited economic policies and paranoid anti-communism.