Friday, December 28, 2012
The Black Jimmy Carter
On the long drive to Georgia, we were listening - off and on - to Sean Wilentz's The Age of Reagan. We were about half way through Carter's foreign policy, having started with the fallout from Watergate, the Ford Presidency and Carter's domestic travails.
What were striking about the book was the familiarity of the names: Rumsfeld, Cheney, Podhoretz, Kristol, Perle, Weyrich, Scaife, Falwell...
What animated and unified these disparate factions of conservatism was the Cold War and a sort of unthinking, reflexive almost illogical anti-communism. For this group, the US was constantly on the verge of falling under the sway of an ascending Soviet Union. America's descent into drugs, women's rights, racial tolerance and environmentalism combined to weaken the American character and make us susceptible to the power of communism.
It was a curious, paradoxical combination of beliefs in American exceptionalism and a conviction that America was in decline.
As we know, it was the Soviet Union that was in decline, and all the things that were eviscerated by the conservatives: the Helsinki Accords, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and America's withdrawal from Vietnam all helped "win" the Cold War for the West.
And yet that paradoxical belief in American exceptionalism and American decline is still at the heart of American conservatism.
For instance, the most consistent criticism of Obama is that he doesn't "believe in America" and is embracing "socialism". Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Has any recent president come from a less likely background than Obama? And therefore has any recent president more embodied the "American Dream"? And only in the per fervid dreams of the conservative mind can requiring Americans to buy private health insurance become "socialism".
They believe that America is the greatest nation on earth and yet they have open contempt for half the country.
What's striking is that forty years later, they really don't have any new, fresh ideas. Having implemented the plans they wanted, they have no second act. Nor do they have the ideological flexibility to act in practical ways that might improve the civic life of the country.
Hence the fiscal cliff, the "dairy cliff", the debt ceiling crisis, the lack of action on global warming and a host of other problems that the GOP simply will not help solve.
They are frozen in the ideas of 40 years ago.
And we are going to suffer for it.