Behind “The Vetting”

Speaking of “alternative histories:”

At TAP, the ever-insightful Paul Waldman discusses the obsession among many conservatives with pursuing a “vetting” of Barack Obama that they claim a sycophantic MSM (and presumably an insufficiently vicious McCain campaign) failed to conduct in 2008. Paul views it as entirely prospective in intent, if retroactive in practice:

The mistake that so many conservatives make is in believing that in some (or all) of these details of his life lies the key to Obama’s undoing. If only we can find the radical mentor, the girlfriend holding on to a decades-old secret, or the revealing document, then Obama will be unmasked, his true horrifying self revealed at last for all to see. Then the scales will fall from the voters’ eyes and they’ll boot him from the office he never deserved to occupy in the first place.

Perhaps that’s all there is to it, but it’s worth acknowledging that conservative activists are almost as interested in rewriting history as they are in influencing the future; indeed, many view the two projects as intimately connected. For all sorts of reasons that could keep psychologists occupied for years, it’s important to them to depict the last forty years of American politics as a Long March by the conservative movement to permanent majority status–a march interrupted only by Republican betrayal and Democratic co-optation. Jimmy Carter became president because of Watergate, Gerald Ford’s use of incumbency to narrowly turn back Ronald Reagan’s first big, and Carter’s own cultural-conservative credentials. Bill Clinton became president because Poppy Bush raised taxes and Republicans split their vote between Bush and Perot. Clinton won a second term by “stealing conservative ideas,” getting assist from Republicans who nominated the man Newt Gingrich labeled the “tax collector for the welfare state,” RINO Bob Dole. Returned to their rightful position of power in 2000, Republicans threw away their majority by “betraying conservative principles” under Bush 43, supporting comprehensive immigration reform, creating a new health care entitlement, and pandering to swing voters with “compassionate conservatism” instead of insisting on the original, uncompassionate variety. Even then they might have won in 2008, had not John McCain refused to mobilize the conservative base of the GOP by going after Obama with hammer and tongs.

So it’s not just a matter of marshaling new evidence to make the case against Obama prospectively; the 2008 defeat needs to be rationalized in terms of anything, everything other than conservative ideology or the associated policy failures. But it’s nothing compared to the exercises in revisionist history and RINO-hunting we’ll witness if they can’t defeat Obama this year. On November 7, 2012, Mitt Romney will either become President of the United States and putative leader of the next stage of the Conservative Ascendancy, or a truly hated figure on the Right who once again allowed the Secular Socialst Party to stake an illegitimate an unearned claim on power.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.