Frank Rich and Liberal Fatigue

Liberals whose nerves have been shot recently by this or that political development should probably just take a little time off to wallow in Frank Rich’s defeatist essay at New York suggesting that the American conservative movement–like the nuke-impervious cockroach, no less!–will eventually inherit the earth. Rich lovingly collects past premature obituaries for the Right going back to Barry Goldwater, and suggests that via a combination of deep pathological strains in the American psyche and the fecklessness of the Right’s opponents, the permanent campaign of 1964 will eventually win. Indeed, he even calculates that conservatives will get out of the GOP’s demographic trap by ruthlessly sacrificing nativists and regaining a competitive position with Latinos.

Depressing as it is, Rich’s tale of endlessly persistent and resourceful wingnuts is worth reading, particularly for those who haven’t connected the dots and seen in the Tea Party Movement simply the latest version of the folk who captured the GOP for Goldwater in 1964, carried his Viva Ole! cheer right into Reagan’s various campaigns, and helped create the “Republican Revolution” of 1994 and the electoral coup of 2000. These people have a deeply cynical and manipulative attitude towards Mitt Romney, much as their forebears would have exhibited towards his father if he had ever won the GOP presidential nomination. And as Rich stresses, they are in politics for the long run, and figure that if they don’t win now they’ll win later, and disable the New Deal and Great Society with speed and dexterity once they have the opportunity.

That’s worth keeping in mind during the contemporary discussion of what Mitt Romney would “really” do as president. To a greater extent than ever before, his party is in the grip of the conservative movement, which will not hesitate to make Mitt Romney’s life a living hell if he crosses them. I simply can’t imagine him beginning his presidency by announcing that he and Paul Ryan have changed their minds and won’t be trying to implement that budget on a party-line vote after all.

But any way you slice it, liberals need to have a better understanding of the conservative movement’s long-term goals and short-term tactics. As Rich says, they are not going anywhere any time soon. And yes, they can be exhausting.

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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.