Political Animal


October 16, 2012 9:20 AM Frank Rich and Liberal Fatigue

By Ed Kilgore

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.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • T2 on October 16, 2012 9:37 AM:

    oddly, just a few minutes ago I was thinking about how tired I was (and by extension, all liberals) of fighting the Conservative Machine. It is exhausting, vexing and quite unsettling. They lie, they do everything they can to set up a country that basically ignores the general public - and yet the general public continues to vote for them in more or less the same numbers as the opposition. I guess this is why they need the mega-donors, the Major Media Outlets, the constant obsfucation of actual goals...all this is required to just beat us into submission over a period of years. I'd hate to think it will work, but........here we are, scratching out way out of a Conservative Recession and watching their candidate take the polling lead, determined to repeat all the failed policies and more.

  • Peter C on October 16, 2012 9:43 AM:

    People don't lie to their friends in a small room; they lie to their enemies in a national setting.

    The American Public are the enemies of the Republicans; they are consistently more progressive in their policy preferences than the Republican Party. The American People LIKE Social Security and Medicare; the Republicans HATE them. They fought against both programs; they've mismanaged them when in power; they've tried 'spending their political capital' to 'reform them' away.

    The 1% don't need a social safety net; they've got MONEY. They want it to go away so they don't have to pay for it.

  • Josh G. on October 16, 2012 9:45 AM:

    I'm not buying Rich's argument. He seems to think that the conservative movement's racism is sort of an incidental thing that can be dropped (at least as regards Latinos) if the political situation calls for it. But if that were the case, it would have been dropped already. Yes, George W. Bush sought the Hispanic vote and managed to get nearly 40 percent of it... and as a result, he faced a massive backlash from the right-wing party base, and no Republican candidate in 2012 dared to do the same thing, even though it makes even more demographic sense now than it did during Bush's two terms. No, the bigotry is the heart of the conservative movement. It animates the whole thing. Even the opposition to government spending is almost entirely due to the belief that the "unworthy" (read: racial minorities) are the beneficiaries of that spending.
    And Rich's article completely overlooks women, who are, after all, a *majority* of the electorate. Since modern conservatism is an anti-woman philosophy, right-wingers face an increasingly steeper hill as older white women (who don't have to worry about reproductive health and can vote based on bigotry if they want) are replaced by younger women who are also more likely to be racial minorities.
    The plutocrats we will always have with us, but the modern "conservative" movement will die of old age along with its Silent Generation adherents.

  • c u n d gulag on October 16, 2012 9:51 AM:

    I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, if Obama was a white man, this election wouldn’t even be close.

    The legacy of slavery and racism – that is the great shame of this country.

    Oh, and case any of you were still sleeping too well, here’s a piece about how the people behind the newer Electronic Voting Machines are Mitt supporters, and many of them are former Bain employees:


    Nothing can go wrong with this, can it?

    In a sane country, electronic voting machines would be outlawed until they were 99.999% secure from tampering, and gave everyone a little receipt to take home, in case of a recount.

    Obama needs a big turnout, and the buffer of a few point lead in the polls going into Election Day, or, like 2004, everyone will wonder how the “Exit Polls” could possibly have differed so dramatically from the tabulated results?
    Yes, how did THAT happen?

    And believe me, if McCain and Palin were close going into Election Day in 2008, McCain would be the one running for reelection in 3 weeks.
    Does anyone doubt they’d have flipped the vote if it was close that year?
    But after 8 years of W., and with the economy flushing down the toilet, they were afraid there would actually be a revolution if a 3rd straight election had doubtful results.

    And this year looks prime for people who hate democracy, and are looking to grab what’s left of the country for themselves, and fellow Fascistic Plutocrats.

    If you can't win elections outright, use wedge issues, try to suppress the votes of people who aren't likely to vote for your party - and then, as a back-up, have EVM's that will flip at speeds and frequencies that Mitt Romney will envy.


  • Ron Byers on October 16, 2012 9:54 AM:

    The difference between the right and left starts at the local level. The conservative candidates are all well schooled in the mechanics of campaigning, they are taught how to act and what to do. From dog catcher up young Republicans are helped along by the Republican party.

    Democratic candidates are likely well intentioned untrained volunteers. They are often retreads from numerous campaigns who are primarily interested in having their ticket punched for the state or federal convention. Many are tied to unions so their party activities come 4th or 5th behind family, church, work and union. The Democratic party doesn't seem to provide them any assistance. They are over matched by the bright fresh Republicans and their cheery campaigns.

    Years ago I wanted to learn about campaigning and the campaign process. I had to work hard to find training. When I did the only session I could book it was organized by feminists and they were primarily interested in feminist issues. I was about the only man at the training session. Great training, but I had to work hard to find it and the Democratic party didn't help, not one little bit. The Republicans nurture their young. Democrats tend to believe in survival of the fittest.

  • Celui on October 16, 2012 9:55 AM:

    So, after having read the article above on Frank Rich's 'analysis' of the Conservative juggernaut, let me suggest this shameless commercial plug for Glastris' and Peters' new book (available on this website for a 'song', really): Elephant in the Room. The articles therein are solid references to past GOP/TP tactics and how the Conservatives have set out to beat the Progressives at their own game. And, there's a lot of suggestions that 'Democrats (today) should learn to fight like Democrats'. I agree. A good investment in sanity, this book.

  • David Martin on October 16, 2012 10:09 AM:

    A week ago, the National Theatre of Great Britain telecast "The Last of the Haussmans", a new play by Stephen Beresford. The central figure is dear Mom, who dumped the kids back in the 60s to live at an ashram and be revolutionary. One of her offspring points out (approximately) "You wanted a revolution and what you got was Margaret Thatcher. And Jesse Helms and Ronald Reagan!"

    Helms' negative agenda was effective. No need to do anything, just obstruct.

  • frazer on October 16, 2012 10:11 AM:

    I'm not that pessimistic. If Obama is reelected, and the ACA provisions kick in in 2014, I don't think the public is going to want to go back to the old model of being at the mercy of the insurance companies. Ditto with privatizing Medicare and Social Security. But the commentators are right that we need to work on local elections and training the next generation of political operatives.

  • Daryl McCullough on October 16, 2012 11:06 AM:

    I wouldn't mind the endless see-saw between conservatism and liberalism, except that I think that there is an asymmetry in the situations of the two sides that makes political balance much more advantageous to the conservatives.

    Conservatives don't really want to accomplish anything; they want to derail government's ability to accomplish anything. In contrast, liberals actually want to use government to improve things, and improvement takes time and commitment.

    If every four or eight years, the pendulum swings the other way, from conservative to liberal, then the result is not really some compromise between liberalism and conservatism--the result is that conservative obstructionism wins.

    The only way for liberals to win is either to have a majority for a long period of time, or else to take advantage of periods of overwhelming majority support (which only happens once a generation, if that) to put into place programs (such as Social Security and Medicare) whose popularity is great enough to insure that they won't be easily dismantled by the next conservative wave.

  • Th on October 16, 2012 11:07 AM:

    What I hate is that we have to spend so much time, effort and money to just hold off the crazies. They aren't going to give up as long as Democrats keep coming back to power to rescue the country, but we can't let them have their way because we all go down. If I lived in the northeast or west coast, I would spend all my energy on a secession movement. Time to stop protecting these idiots from themselves.

  • PTate in MN on October 16, 2012 11:28 AM:

    ron byers: "The difference between the right and left starts at the local level. The conservative candidates are all well schooled in the mechanics of campaigning, they are taught how to act and what to do. From dog catcher up young Republicans are helped along by the Republican party."

    This is absolutely true, and it is essential to remember why. This is what the Koch brothers and their ilk have invested billions in: an infrastructure to identify, nurture and promote stooges like Paul Ryan; "think tanks" to give them the necessary credential and write up "position papers", media dominance to perpetuate "fair and balanced" propaganda, promote the stooges, report the "position papers" and suppress criticism, and lawyers to write the right wing legislation that the stooges in office will promote.

    The Republican party is not an organization of volunteers. It is a cabal run by a handful of operatives who prey on a suggestible (and racist) population. A billion dollars can buy 6,666 well-placed stooges at $150K per year. We have seen the damage that can be done by an "militia" that size.

    The conservative movement is not going away; it is small, well-funded operation, and it will never adapt. It is not a political party, and its goal is not governing, but dismantling the modern nation-state in order to secure the vast wealth of this nation in the hands of an elite. The challenge we citizens have is how to fight them when so many Americans have been beguiled. We need 55% of Americans not to be gullible fools. So far, we have mostly been able to achieve that.

    But this year, the volume has been cranked way up and in the noise, the cabal is close to achieving their victory. This is truly a frightening time. What did Yeats say, "the best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity"

  • Steve P on October 16, 2012 11:28 AM:

    It's like the Garrison Keillor meme about the blowhards at township meetings who go on and on until everyone else who want to go home give in and give them their re-zoning.

    Or that tie salesman who used to come in to the store and you'd buy a few dozen of his least worse samples just to get rid of him.

    They may get what they want, but they know they're creeps, always and forever.

  • Mimikatz on October 16, 2012 12:17 PM:

    I'm with Josh G. Demographics are against the conservatives. Not only is it unthinkable that a party whose core are racists and nativists would embrace Latinos because most are Catholic or evangelical Protestants and good family people, women have changed greatly since the Goldwater days. What we used to call "little old ladies in tennis shoes" who flooded into the Goldwater movement in the late '50s and '60s are gone. Now we have smart, and very hard-working, independent women who make up a majority of the workforce, a majority of college graduates, a majority of managerial positions and by 5-6% or more the majority of the electorate. Anyone who thinks that women, whose very economic existence depends on the availability of birth control and, as a last resort, abortion, are going to flock to a revanchist, reactionary, anti-woman party in great numbers is smoking crack. Ditto the young, who are so much more tolerant and liberal than kids in the 50s and who find those porky, pasty-faced Young Republican types to be hopelessly out of time.

    Rove was right. They had a chance, but they blew it on immigration. This is their last ditch effort, with all that the Kochs' and their ilk's money can buy. If we survive this election, we can turn this thing around.e

  • TCinLA on October 16, 2012 12:46 PM:

    I can't agree with the ultimate defeatism, but Rich has very usefully pointed out something I have been trying to educate liberals to for the past 48 years: there is a solid 25%-28% of people who will go to the polls every time, every election, work every day for their right wing candidate. Any time the overall vote drops below 50% (with liberals and moderates not having the commitment to even go to the polls because politics is so "icky"), that permanent minority becomes a majority. Witness the 2010 election for the latest example.

    I've been around politics since JFK ran. I was in the Navy in 1964, and if Goldwater had won I was planning on taking my discharge in Australia and never coming back to the U.S.

    Liberals have a hard time showing up every four years to reluctantly vote for President, and then they sleep through the off-year elections. And that is why our side is in the deep shit we are in. Look at the Registered Voter vs. Likely Voter poll results for Obama.

    Any Democrat I run across after November 6 who says "I didn't vote" is going to be in Serious Danger.

  • Anonymous on October 16, 2012 2:56 PM:

    "Anyone who thinks that women, whose very economic existence depends on the availability of birth control and, as a last resort, abortion, are going to flock to a revanchist, reactionary, anti-woman party in great numbers is smoking crack."

    Over the weekend I commented that within the past few years, Gallup found that 49 percent of women were pro-life and only 44 percent were pro-choice.

    Any democracy is doomed when nearly half of any major group in the electorate is content to vote against its own self interest repeatedly.

    "Ditto the young, who are so much more tolerant and liberal than kids in the 50s and who find those porky, pasty-faced Young Republican types to be hopelessly out of time."

    Yet if each succeeding generation were more progressive than the one before it, we'd be a very liberal society right now.

    Fear and ignorance and religion are tools that have always been used to keep the electorate in check. Twenty-first century America is no different in that regard than Europe was in the Middle Ages.

  • Mitch on October 16, 2012 4:46 PM:


    "Yet if each succeeding generation were more progressive than the one before it, we'd be a very liberal society right now."

    Well, socially at least, we are. This is not to say that the nation is perfect, or without bigotry, but it IS getting better. At least in the social sphere (alas, economics seem to only become more "conservative" as time goes by).

    These days interracial relationships are common; 30-40 years ago they still shocked much of the nation. Fifty years ago, they were grounds for scandal and public shame in much of the nation. A decade before that, such relationships were frequently met by violence, lynching and murder. Even in the South (my point of origin) racism is losing ground, particularly among people my age (early 30s) and younger. The GOP itself has many more public figures of non-caucasian heritage than in recent decades. I expect this trend to continue in the future, despite the racists who vote Republican.

    Our LGBT brothers and sisters have a much more accepted place in our culture than even a decade or so ago. One glance at a television shows this fact. The amount of gay characters and LGBT themed content on television right now would have been unthinkable even during the 1990s, let alone during any prior time.

    Women are growing in power in the work force, and in public. Female specific issues are accepted in a way that they have never been in human history and public culture. Remember the "scandal" of Murphy Brown? That wouldn't raise an eyebrow these days. Remember when women's health/reproductive issues were NEVER mentioned on television? We all should; it was not that long ago.

    Now, I am NOT saying that everything is peachy-keen. Racial minorities still suffer under the hate of racists. Our LGBT friends still have to walk on eggshells, and lack the fundamental right to live their lives as they so chose in many important ways. Women are still mistreated, underpaid and undervalued in far too many situations. I am NOT saying that racists, misogynists, homophobes and other bigots are going extinct. They are still around, and probably always will be around, knowing Homo sapiens sapiens.

    But one simple look at our society does indeed show a marked improvement in the social sphere over previous timeframes.


    It is driving them insane. The insanity of closed minds is directly correlated to the slow weakening of the old ways of bigotry and hate.

    You are 110% correct in your statement "Fear and ignorance and religion are tools" used for control. If you've ever read any of my comments on here, you probably have noticed that I am more than a little paranoid about the rise of theocratic insanity in America. Most of my family and many of my friends fit that bill. They are as full of hate for The Other, as they claim to be full of the Love of Christ. They always vote against their interest because they believe they are doing the Will of God by voting GOP (because of abortion, primarily).

    I do fear for our nation due to this rise of religious hubris. And I am totally aware that an impassioned group can easily overthrow the good work of decades and centuries, even if they are a minority.

    But we do ourselves harm if we focus only on the evil in this world. We have come a long way during the past century or so, and we should celebrate the victories that we have achieved. Just as we must all acknowledge that there is still much work to be done to ensure freedom and equality for our neighbors of all stripes. Indeed, this work will probably never be finished.

    Tribe Ashanti have two sayings that I value as highly as any other words, and feel are appropriate to this discussion:

    "If I go backward, I die. If I go forward, I die. Better go forward and die."


    "A charge to keep they have, the human race to glorify; all other neighbors to save; and ra

  • Mitch on October 16, 2012 4:48 PM:


    "A charge to keep they have, the human race to glorify; all other neighbors to save; and raising human esteem high."

    I believe that his is our destiny, as a species: to go forward and to raise each other up. I hope that we can live up to it. Let's not allow the evil and ignorant among us to devalue the good that we have accomplished, just as we must not allow them to destroy such good, or prevent us from doing more.

    Sorry for the verbosity. I've been trying to keep things short, but sometimes it's just difficult.