Political Animal


November 26, 2012 4:49 PM Living Under the Ban

By Ed Kilgore

Those of you who are familiar with the formerly-conservative economics writer Bruce Bartlett—who worked in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, and held very visible posts at the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute—should definitely check out his succinct apologia at The American Conservative detailing his long road from GOP orthodoxy to becoming perhaps the country’s most acerbic critic of supply-side economics. He writes it as a series of encounters with empirical reality, reinforced by banning from polite conservative society. And he considers the two closely connected, because he is convinced the closed world of conservative political discourse cannot tolerate serious questions, even when it is obvious the conflict between theory and reality has become acute. His conclusion is well worth pondering:

I am disinclined to think that Republicans are yet ready for a serious questioning of their philosophy or strategy. They comfort themselves with the fact that they held the House (due to gerrymandering) and think that just improving their get-out-the-vote system and throwing a few bones to the Latino community will fix their problem. There appears to be no recognition that their defects are far, far deeper and will require serious introspection and rethinking of how Republicans can win going forward. The alternative is permanent loss of the White House and probably the Senate as well, which means they can only temporarily block Democratic initiatives and never advance their own.
I’ve paid a heavy price, both personal and financial, for my evolution from comfortably within the Republican Party and conservative movement to a less than comfortable position somewhere on the center-left. Honest to God, I am not a liberal or a Democrat. But these days, they are the only people who will listen to me. When Republicans and conservatives once again start asking my opinion, I will know they are on the road to recovery.

I get the impression Bartlett is not holding his breath.

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.


  • cwolf on November 26, 2012 4:58 PM:

    Honest to God, I am not a liberal or a Democrat. But these days, they are the only people who will listen to me...

    If this is true, then Bartlett is still an idiot with a long way to go...
    ...but we're listening.

  • T2 on November 26, 2012 5:08 PM:

    Bartlett now sees what is clearly visible to a majority of America. The question is not why it took him so long, but rather why there are so few like him. I'm wondering if the "defects" he is referring to may be the fact that racial and cultural prejudice seem to make up a very large portion of the Republican party base?

  • Doug on November 26, 2012 5:27 PM:

    cwolf, certainly you're not saying we "liberals and Democrats" are the font of all wisdom? Today's "conservatives" aren't conservative - they're radical reactionaries, a sort of anti-Jacobins who, by their very radicalism, let us seem to be the only serious people around. We're not.
    There's definitely a roll for honest, constructive conservatism to play in any society, with an accent on the word "constructive". Such a group is needed if only to catch errors and mistakes in policy of the other, in this case our, party.
    Otherwise, what we support isn't "policy", it's "dogma"...

  • c u n d gulag on November 26, 2012 6:12 PM:

    I'm with you.
    I remember the Republicans that I used to argue with back in the 70's and 80's.
    But, since Clinton, they have gotten increasingly more irrational, insane, and Nihilistic.

    I want those people back.
    Liberals don't have a monopoly of good idea - just better ones.
    But sometimes, we need people to stop us from excess. And that's what the old-time Conservatives/Republicans used to do.
    Now, they are their own excess!
    They are as close to Fascism as you can get, without growing a little mustache, raising their right arms, and screaming "Heil!" to whoever is in front of them.

  • little ole jim on November 26, 2012 7:23 PM:

    Why should we believe a word of Bartlett's "evolution" foolishness. When it counted, he was a supply-sider who towed the line for Bush. Bartlett reminds me of David Stockman, a guy many of us just assumed was lying when he worked for Reagan and kept coming up with bogus numbers and flakey logic. Still seems to be a pretty safe assumption. By the time Bartlett was defending supply side hooey, there were mountains of evidence against it. When it counted, Bartlett cashed in. Now he bemoans how much his evolution has cost him.

  • bluewave on November 26, 2012 9:10 PM:

    I notice he still managed to get his piece published in "The American Conservative", so they can't consider him that much of an apostate. Bartlett is just longing for the good old days when his country club Republicans were in charge and "those people" did what they were told.

    To the extent he's had a genuine awakening, yay, I'm happy for him. But the situation the Republican Party finds itself in was eminently predictable a long time ago-- you can't consistently allow the ignorant, the crazy and the hateful to become the new definition of normal, however much it may suit your short-term political purposes. The Republicans did, and now they are reaping the whirlwind, the question is, what will it take to stop it, or can it even be stopped?

  • RaflW on November 27, 2012 2:30 AM:

    Watching Tom Ricks get cut off on Fox recently when he went after Fox rather than buying the 'emerging White House scandal' line that Fox is marketing was instructive. He's now I'm sure added to the list of banned guests.
    It really feels like Pravda these days over there...

  • Bruce K on November 27, 2012 4:42 AM:

    One thing that sticks in my craw about that column is that he actually was pushing for a GOP effort to woo minority votes by playing up who was on which side PRIOR to the Civil Rights Act, and that he actually thought this was a proper tactic - completely disregarding the fact that LBJ and the Democratic Party consciously rejected Jim Crow (where the heck else did the Dixiecrats come from, anyway?), and that when that happened, the GOP actively embraced the racist elements as part of the Southern Strategy. Playing up the old history is an attempt to paper over those stark choices made by the two parties, and ignore the real consequences of the choices the two parties made back then:

    LBJ and the Democrats knew they were going to "lose the South for a generation" if they backed the Civil Rights Act, but it's pretty clear that they thought it was worth it, even if they'd never live to see a political dividend. Two generations later, American demographics are falling more and more in line with the attitudes that made the Civil Rights Act a reality, and the price the Democrats paid back then is now paying political dividends to them.

    Nixon and the GOP went for the short-term advantage, pandering to the Dixiecrats and the reactionary South in the Southern Strategy, and it served them well ... but the bill's coming due now.

    Playing up the positions of the two parties prior to 1964, and hoping they'll ignore who did the right thing and who did the politically expedient thing when the time came, is fundamentally dishonest. It's also sort of symptomatic of the GOP's current problem: they're trying to alter their appearance without fixing stuff that's wrong at the core.