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July 22, 2013 1:15 PM The Dirty Hippies of Conservatism

By Ed Kilgore

In a well-circulated piece today, New York’s Jonathan Chait engages in a chore a lot of us progressive bloggers (most definitely yours truly) find ourselves spending a great deal of time doing these days: trying to put the recent radical trajectory of the conservative movement and the Republican Party it controls into some sort of historical context. This passage caught my attention:

The Republican Party has spent 30 years careering ever more deeply into ideological extremism, but one of the novel developments of the Obama years is its embrace of procedural extremism. The Republican fringe has evolved from being politically shrewd proponents of radical policy changes to a gang of saboteurs who would rather stop government from functioning at all. In this sense, their historical precedents are not so much the Gingrich revolutionaries, or even their tea-party selves of a few years ago; the movement is more like the radical left of the sixties, had it occupied a position of power in Congress.

Is that hyperbole? Take a look at this famous quote from one of the earliest voices of the 60s New Left, Berkeley Free Speech Movement leader Mario Savio:

There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious—makes you so sick at heart—that you can’t take part. You can’t even passively take part. And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop. And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all.

Savio was talking about the defense-industrial-academic “machine” represented by the administration of the University of California. But for today’s movement conservatives, you could easily substitute the “machine” of secular-socialism and make Obamacare, debt limit votes, reauthorization of SNAP, or any of the regular business of the federal government the “gears” and “wheels” and “levers” that the ideological warrior must stop. Chait’s right: it’s a very apt analogy, different as their goals and values undoubtedly are, and mortifying as it well might be to a Tom Cotton or a Jeb Hensarling or a Ted Cruz or even an Eric Cantor to be compared to a dirty hippie.

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.

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