How the Right Lost It’s Mind
Last year, MSNBC added several well-known conservative and Republican analysts to their coverage of the 2016 election. Michael Steele, former RNC chair, Nicole Wallace, former communications director for the George W. Bush Administration, Steve Schmidt, John McCain campaign manager (among other notable gigs) and even Hugh Hewitt would show up regularly, regardless of the moderator to weigh in on electoral politics. It was interesting to watch each of these proud Republicans slowly come to realize that Trump would be their party’s nominee. I found it amazing that they were able to maintain their composure on national television while trying to explain what was happening to their Republican base.
Charlie Sykes was part of the conservative analyst rotation added in 2016. For over 20 years, he hosted a radio show out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, interviewing the likes of Paul Ryan, Reince Priebus, and Governor Scott Walker (all from Wisconsin). When it became clear that Trump would garner the nomination, Sykes became apoplectic as he realized that so many supposedly committed conservatives had genuflected to Trumpism, abandoning everything that they had supposedly believed in for decades.
So at the end of last year, Sykes stepped down from his radio show. At the time of that decision, Trump had not won the presidency, but as part of the conservative media juggernaut that helped create an environment conducive to demagoguery, Sykes felt he needed to step back and reflect on how we got here and how he may have contributed to the madness. How did a conservative movement based on ideas devolve into a cesspool of right-wing nationalist, conspiracy-laden craziness? These are the questions Sykes tries to answer in his book, “How the Right Lost Its Mind.”
If anyone cares, I know the answer.
This conservatism you speak of does not work
After I finished the book, I contacted Sykes via his website, The Contrarian Conservative. I wanted to understand why conservative thinkers coming out of the 1950s and 60s were committed to minimizing the federal government, rolling back regulation and lowering taxes on the wealthy when at that time those thinkers would have lived through the depression, World War II and the boom years after the war, the latter of which resulted from a massive public investment. I am waiting for a response but let me repeat that question. In the years after World War II, America experienced three decades of expansion, the greatest in our history. Throughout that entire period, the modern Republican Party had accepted the New Deal state, including the public spending, regulation, and taxation that went along with it.
Think about everything that happened during those decades. The entire interstate highway system was funded by the federal government for purposes of national security. Without that investment, we would not have the transportation system we have today. And it is likely that because of the current conservative movement, we do not have the high-speed rail systems that we so desperately need. The number of innovative products in the private sector that have resulted from public investment, specifically from military and space research is extraordinary. Consider everything that relies on the internet and GPS; private industry did not have to massively invest to develop that foundational technology. For example, Steve Jobs did not have to invent the internet – just the iPhone that uses it.
Between the military, space technology, the GI Bill (which helped returning veterans go to college) and research grants to colleges and universities, the federal government invested billions of dollars into the private sector. To argue that that investment did not have a profound effect on our GDP is naive and stupid. The last time the government stepped this far back was before the Great Depression and we know how that turned out. For those interested in more specific examples of the risks we take by not investing as we have before, I encourage you to read “The Entrepreneurial State” by Mariana Mazzucato.
This conservatism you speak of does not work and it is not popular
Early on, Sykes notes the basic problem that Republicans failed to realize: their base did not agree with conservative policy proposals. Whether they failed to realize it or just chose not to is semantics: the base of the Republican Party liked government programs when they were the beneficiaries. It probably goes without saying that the Republican Party, as a whole, are less excited about programs that benefit other people. And all those years of dog-whistle and race-baiting politics? Well, they were just a bit too effective.
See, the libertarian style conservative politics as defined by the Koch brothers does not have a base, at least not a winning one. We know that now because of the public’s response to Obamacare repeal. Remember all of those people at the townhalls? Well, they were not all liberals. A lot of them were Republican voters. And we are now going to see the same thing happen when Congress tries to cut Medicare and Social Security.
Charlie has not yet responded
So my question remains. Why did all these smart conservative thinkers come up with ideas that had proven to fail in the 20s and had nothing to do with the greatest expansion in American history? I will be sure to blog about it when Charlie responds. But in the meantime, I’m going to hang up my hat on understanding conservative political theory. Edmund Burke is likely throwing up at this very moment given what these jokers are doing in his name.
Take a few minutes to read the book. If you do, let me know what you think. I am now focused on progressives and liberals. We will have a lot of work to do once this joke of a President gets impeached – or arrested – so important that we understand our history and message.