Political Animal


May 25, 2012 7:24 AM Conservative Ideological Infrastructure Decaying?

By Ryan Cooper

John Quiggin pulled together a very interesting list of happenings the other day. Simply put, many pillars of the conservative universe look to be in trouble:

* Rush Limbaugh’s attack on Sandra Fluke and subsequent abandonment by sponsors
* The failed attempt by rightwing operatives at the Komen Foundation to blacklist Planned Parenthood
* The exposure of ALEC’s responsibility for the “stand your ground” laws that played a critical role in the Trayvon Martin case
* Most recently, the Heartland Institute has seen sponsors bail and its entire Washington team (mostly focused on insurance issues) decamp, promising that their new operation will have nothing to do with climate “scepticism”
In addition to this, but arguably sui generis are
* the attempt (which looks like succeeding) by the Koch Brothers to take control of Cato, easily the most credible thinktank on the right of politics
* the denunciation of the Republican party by Norman Ornstein, long presented as the intellectually respectable face of the American Enterprise Institute

Taken all at once, this list is quite remarkable, especially given what happened to the likes of Limbaugh. A few months ago I would have said his position was nigh-invincible, and nothing short of biting the head off a rabbit on a live show would have caused him trouble. But as John says,

…the simple proposition that “truth will out” seems to be working at some level. As long as things are going well, these organizations and pundits benefit from the reflexive assumptions of balance, two sides to every story and so on. But they’ve lied so often and so blatantly that this requires a lot of cognitive dissonance. When they overreach and screw up in the process, the cognitive dissonance is resolved against them.

The Overton Window is a bit elastic, apparently. I would add that the increasing ideological extremism and purging of “RINOS” has led to a palpable decay of ability across much of the conservative apparatus. How else to explain their bizarre fascination with “vetting” the president? No one in charge seems to understand that the idea of vetting is to look at prospective candidates to find out how they might govern; if they’re looking for a second term, why you just skip a step and look at how they actually governed.

Ryan Cooper is a National Correspondent at The Week, and a former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @ryanlcooper


  • Emma on May 25, 2012 8:21 AM:

    No one in charge seems to understand that the idea of vetting is to look at prospective candidates to find out how they might govern; if they’re looking for a second term, why you just skip a step and look at how they actually governed.

    And that's the problem, isn't it? They don't dare actually examine the record, because if they honestly did, if would become clear that Obama has governed from an impeccable center-left position. They would have no red meat to feed to the savages. They would have to admit that he has done the country some good. They can't admit that because they would lose.

  • Ron Byers on May 25, 2012 8:24 AM:

    I have long thought there were limits on how far somebody like Limbaugh could take the crazy. In an earlier time Father Conklin talked himself off the air. Joe McCarthy stepped over the line and into the abyss. Just recently some very successful shock jocks went a couple of steps too far and lost their shows. Remember Glenn Beck. A guy like Limbaugh can go only so far. The problem is their rabid audience demands they dance closer and closer to the edge. Sooner or later they all fall off.

    Usually what happens is the person talking crazy starts punching down at a real human being instead of up at an idea, and that target is seen by average people as needing and deserving protection. Sandra Fluke and the team of "natty headed hoes" where properly seen as sympathetic young people needing the parental protection by parents everywhere.

  • martin on May 25, 2012 8:30 AM:

    What makes you think biting the head off a rabbit on a live broadcast would hurt Rush with the right wingers? They would probably look on it as proof of Rush's manly manishness. Especially if he determined the rabbit was "liberal".

  • mad_nVT on May 25, 2012 8:32 AM:

    Yes , "the truth will out,"

    -- but it happens more quickly if the liberals and progressives are constant in their pushback against the outrageous assertions of the right. And if they offer compelling visions and plans for the future, near-term and long-term.

  • c u n d gulag on May 25, 2012 8:39 AM:

    Good morning, Ryan.
    It's nice to see an early-riser writing here again (and yes, I know Ed, you're up early for West Coastal-elite :-)

    As for vetting," they're the ones who need it - they've turned rabid!

    And here's another Conservative has a “Come to Jesus!” moment about how crazy his side is getting:


    Interesting reading.

  • square1 on May 25, 2012 8:39 AM:

    IOW, if you give the Republicans enough rope...eventually it will be darned hard for Republicans to walk around without occasionally tripping over all the rope that is lying all over the place.

  • DKDC on May 25, 2012 8:59 AM:

    The Republican party clearly has some major challenges and may be headed for a historic crack-up. In addition to the ideological purges and increasing extremism that you point out, there is the pseudo-libertarian insurgency of the Paulites and then there are the inevitable demographic trends. I would caution against reveling in the schadenfreude, and instead encourage a hard analytical look at what the Democratic Party needs to do to strengthen itself and what it would have to do in the case of a Republican party collapse.

  • Steve P on May 25, 2012 9:01 AM:

    We like to think that Uncle Bob is really a goodhearted soul who has been led astray by the radio and cable gasbags. Their simple solutions appeal to his simple soul. But it's more probable that Uncle Bob's dark heart beats a little faster when he hears that ugly talk, and it's possible that these gasbags aren't satisfying his increasing need for spatter-hate.
    I'd do a check on the ratings and sales of someone like Neal Boortz to see if he's trending up.

  • low-tech cyclist on May 25, 2012 9:19 AM:

    No one in charge seems to understand that the idea of vetting is to look at prospective candidates to find out how they might govern; if they’re looking for a second term, why you just skip a step and look at how they actually governed.

    Hopefully they'll spend millions of Koch dollars in their 'vetting' that nobody except a handful of wingnut True Believers will pay attention to.

  • bluestatedon on May 25, 2012 9:20 AM:

    In addition to Fumento, add to the list the highly-visible defections of conservatives like Andrew Sullivan, Bruce Bartlett and David Frum, the open derision expressed by David Stockman for Bush/Romney economics, and the interestingly frequent criticisms of GOPers by Joe Scarborough—including a loud rant just the other day.

  • Stephen on May 25, 2012 9:23 AM:

    The most certain way to beat a Republican is to give them what they ask for. We had eight years of a Republican president and 12 years of a Republican congress. We got the wars they wanted, we got the tax cuts they wanted and we got the deregulation they wanted. I think most people view those policies as less than successful. What do they have left ? Gay Marriage ?

  • Anonymous on May 25, 2012 9:42 AM:

    …the simple proposition that “truth will out” seems to be working at some level.

    The operative phrase in that line is "working at some level". We have witnessed a sea change in American conservative politics, and a few tiny dams against the fast rising tide of neo-fascism is hardly cause for celebration. Reactionaries have now taken over one out of the only two major political party apparatuses in this country and they did so openly and brazenly. Overreach has gotten them Citizens United, the 2010 midterms and its census redistricting, control of the overall media message, and the establishment of a new "normal" that makes the Ryan budget the baseline for fiscal policy talks in this country. But Yay!!! Limbaugh and Heartland lost a few sponsors!

  • Lolly on May 25, 2012 9:43 AM:

    The increasingly hysterical call for "vetting" is part of their effort to overcome their own cognitive dissonance.

    They claim to love democracy and America, but they hate and despise the person that Americans democratically elected.

    Their solution is to de-legitimize the vote. It doesn't count because Americans didn't really know who they were voting for. If only the media had done its job and told Americans who Obama really was, then of course they never would have voted for him.

    They can't seem to figure out who Obama really is, though. They have to keep making stuff up, or screeching about stuff that is irrelevant to everyone but them.

  • boatboy_srq on May 25, 2012 9:46 AM:


    So true. Look at Governor Voldemort - er, Scott, in FL. I lost track of the number of folks I knew who said something like "I voted for him, but I never thought he'd do all the crazy stuff he talked about!"

    Ask, and it shall be given unto you.

    The one problem is that what they ask for gets inflicted on all of us.


    @Emma: If, as you suggest, they took the time to notice that "clear that Obama has governed from an impeccable center-left position," it would make no difference. These people, for all their demands for "freedom" and "liberty" seem to want (Godwin forgive me) someone part Hitler, part Ivan the Terrible and part Urban II. Using those metrics, Obama could govern in the most reactionary way imaginable short of actual Fascism and he'd still be too "socialist" for them.

    Captcha: theological tourfun. So that's how the wingnuts view the Crusades/Inquisition/Counter-Reformation.

  • boatboy_srq on May 25, 2012 9:51 AM:

    @Lolly: the Reichwing is all for "democracy," so long as democracy is defined as "the electorate going to the polls and electing people we like who do things we want." Look at what's happened in Lebanon and Palestine: the US pushed for "elections" and they got Hezbollah and Hamas - so the US promptly disavowed those elections as "caving in to terrorists."

    It isn't cognitive dissonance - it's a steady effort to rewrite the dictionary to support their worldview. Newspeak, here we come.

  • Skip on May 25, 2012 9:51 AM:

    But the Republicans keep winning, and in doing so feel that their positions are validated, case in point: 2010 elections. The Republican platform is being held together by little else than blaming that other party and unsubstantiated pronouncements of what they'd do better and sadly, that appears to be enough "qualification" for half a nation of disgruntled voters to put these nuts in office.

    We have only the two parties and time and again, I've watched the masses get fed up with one party and somewhat mindlessly vote the other in as a solution, obliviously disregarding past history (history even as recent as four years ago). Because of the dumbing down process, voters are now like a boat full of panicky passengers running from political gunwale to political gunwale in miscalculated rebound voting. The media has done a great job undercutting the decent job Obama is currently doing and we're facing more rebound voting in November because he didn't do the hopey-changey thingy fast enough. Sheesh.

    Mitt Romney can't lead this nation, he's simply appeasement for the Anyone But Obama crowd and that is no qualification for POTUS. You won't get teh ABO crowd to understand their error, but everyone else with half a brain cell should understand this and be at the voting booths to keep Obama in the Oval Office, not just for the sake of party any more but for the sake of nation and stability and the forward momentum our country needs. Not Voting is Not an Option this time. The margin of winning needs to be large enough that any monkey business with voting machines and swing states simply cannot take place.

  • bloomingpol on May 25, 2012 10:15 AM:

    My opinion, for what it is worth, is that the effects of social media networking are being felt. I think the 99% has Occupied social media and is using it to bring down some of these guys. Look at what is happening to ALEC. It's very hard to keep secrets from getting to a lot of people when there is so much more connection with Facebook and Twitter, etc.

  • BroD on May 25, 2012 10:41 AM:

    All well & good but understand that we can expect a massive, scorched-earth media campaign on the part of right-wing PACs

  • c u n d gulag on May 25, 2012 11:00 AM:

    The "New Republicans" aren't reactionaries - they're nihilists.

  • meady on May 25, 2012 2:33 PM:

    I had to post something here simply because captcha was "condemned tiptin". Sums up a whole lot of campaigns to me.

    Never underestimate the ability for Americans to delude themselves about the state of things. I had a discussion with a coworker yesterday who was concerned about the national debt and thinks we are all doomed because of it as well as his kids who can't find jobs. How we got there is not important, its where we are now and who's in charge. There is no past, just illusions of the present. Rush hasn't been dealt with and a year from now, people will not remember Fluke but will still be parroting Limbaugh. Cato will be taken as gospel and the hostile takeover by the Koch's will be forgotten. Memory hole indeed!!