Noah Rothman, in characteristic charitable fashion, takes on a view that he attributes only to “white nationalist[s],” “opinion writers who fancy themselves respectable sorts” (i.e., who are beneath a Commentary columnist), and people who wish for despotism. Got that? Racists, losers and fascists are the only people who question Conservatism, Inc.’s claim to rousing and recent success.
Rothman repeats the truism that Republicans scored two yuuuuge midterm wins in the Obama era and even cites numbers to make his case unassailable. Thirty-two lieutenant governorships! He breezes over liberalism’s titanic policy, administrative, cultural and legal victories over this period—to say nothing of prior periods.
To make the case for conservatism’s successes, Rothman turns to a piece from February by NR’s Charles C.W. Cooke. Cooke’s piece struck me then, as Rothman’s does now, as a preemptive plea for his job. It’s not our fault that you think conservatism has failed across the board! In fact, it’s a big success! Keep giving! Please!
Anyway, as it happens, I addressed Cooke’s case at some length on my old blog. I re-post the relevant section (remarkably short for a 1,600 word article of which it is the centerpiece) below. The main text is Cooke’s; bracketed interjections, mine:
the tarring and feathering of the reflexively technocratic mindset that obtained from the outset of the New Deal to the end of the 1970s [vague; what specifically do you mean?]; the marginalization of wage and price controls, and of other centralizing tools [“marginalization”? are you seriously arguing that America life is less centralized today that it was 10, 20, 30, 40 (and so on and on) years ago?]; the lowering of destructive tax rates on income and other forms of wealth [fair enough, but haven’t we reached diminishing marginal returns when we essentially grant tax-exempt status to hedge-fund billionaires?]; the deregulation of a significant number of major industries [and you see no downside to the abandonment of anti-trust?]; a renewed focus on national sovereignty [you have to be kidding]; the successful reform of the welfare system [which Obama reversed while the Republicans stood by and watched]; a consensus around free trade [oh, you bet! but what has this “conserved” beyond 1%er incomes and profits?]; a much lower minimum wage [ditto]; a focus on both the text and the original meaning of the Constitution when discussing limits on government power [among eggheads, maybe; the actual results in the courts are close to nil; thank you, Sandra Day O’Connor, David Souter and John Roberts!]; the restoration of the right to keep and bear arms [we’ll grant D.C. v. Heller as a genuine accomplishment, but calling it a “restoration” is a stretch]; the stronger protection of freedom of expression [this has to be a joke; campuses are more illiberal than ever and dissent in the broader country often means losing your job; Mike Ditka just got fired for saying Obama is a good man but a bad leader; that’s one of but a million examples]; a national partial-birth-abortion ban [necessary only because of the greatest abuse of judicial power since Dredd Scott, and even then Gonzales v. Carhart walked Roe back about two millimeters]; the death of speech-killing “campaign-finance reform” [to make it even easier for the donor class to dominate elections and smother dissent]; and, lest we forget, the peaceful dismantling of the Soviet Union [bad choice of words; the Soviets did the dismantling themselves, though I give conservatives some credit for forcing them into it]. For some much-needed context, understand that the GOP’s standard-bearer in the early 1970s, Richard Nixon, was the mind behind the Environmental Protection Agency, whereas today’s Republican candidates are opposed to so many departments that they can’t always remember all of their names [and of which they’ve abolished, or even checked the expansion of, exactly zero].
Note that nearly all the actual policy “victories” in that list are nothing more than implementations or entrenchments of the Davoisie rapacity agenda. Perhaps the weakness of the case explains why none of the intellectual right’s “big guns” have tried to make a better one, but were content to let a fledgling foreigner charge that hill. And remember, that’s the best case that anyone has so far tried to make. What it shows is that the Republican Party isn’t even effective in opposition.
When Rothman strikes out on his own, the first thing he mentions is that “more than half of the Union is now right-to-work.” Is this meant to flash in neon the out-of-touchery of the Acela intellectual? The Trump rebellion is fueled in very large part by blue collar workers fed up with the economic trajectory of the post-NAFTA era. What does gutting their unions do to conserve their jobs, their communities, their allegiance to the Republican party? It’s great for the donor class—I get that. But how hard is it to see that, at the very least, the results of this policy are not perceived or experienced as great by the people it directly affects, many of whom the Party desperately needs to win elections?
That’s to leave completely aside the justice of such measures. A non-doctrinaire conservative should be able to see that voluntary, private sector unions are useful and just when they protect the legitimate interests of workers against overweening capital, harmful and unjust when they stifle productivity and promote rent-seeking. Circumstances matter. The days of industry-crushing Big Labor are long gone. In hedge-fund, Davos America, the little guy needs help.
Next up is that perennial urban right-wing bugaboo, the teachers unions. I admit, I too used to be hard over on this one. Bad unions! And, to be clear, I still oppose public sector unions in principle. But I have come to believe it’s much too pat to ascribe all our schools’ problems on the unions. The collapse of sensible curricula may have been abetted by the unions. But that movement was devised in the universities, evangelized by the ed schools, and enforced by the feds.
Besides, the deeper problem is the students—specifically, the flooding of so many formerly American districts with foreign, non-English-speaking children whom our system is not designed to teach, and whom in any case it was not built to teach and should not exist to teach. It’s supposed to be for us, the citizenry, and our posterity. To blame decent, decently educated middle-aged women for failing to make Central American economic migrants—many with no father—achieve at the level of American kids is perverse. One thing the unions do accomplish is to give middle class Americans—actual citizens, born here—a lifeline to live and earn a living in the communities where they and their forebears have lived for generations. Outrageous!
Rothman then notes that Republicans stopped the DREAM Act. I’m glad they did! But wait. Rothman doesn’t actually say he’s glad. He just notes that they did it. A little cursory Googling reveals Rothman to be
an open borders shill in favor of “comprehensive immigration reform.” So there’s one conservative success that the “conservative” Rothman opposed. It’s enough to make one question the integrity of the rest of his list.
Which, to be honest, is just lame. That’s not to say that every “achievement” he cites is worthless. But taken altogether, they don’t even come close to matching—much less overcoming—liberalism’s gains. The trajectory remains left, left, left. If Rothman and his #NeverTrump friends get their wish, that trend will accelerate. Then we can look forward to more such pieces. “The Big Conservative Victory of Limiting Hillary’s 2017 Refugee Plan to 950,000 When She Demanded One Million.”