Party Collapse • 17 October 2008

I worry, and hope, that Stephen Colbert will go out of business. Another brand that’ll be hit hard by the coming recession, because the GOP is imploding. Right now. The key strategists are sabotaging each other and the real conservative ideologues—David Brooks, National Review writers, Peggy Noonan—are filled with new remorse and self-hatred. They’re letting go of their party ID, sickened by the too-close association with the knuckle-dragging nationalists out there on the frontier. The racist family-values authoritarians Sarah Palin represents. The “real John McCain” has left the building they claim, abandoning his class (doubly understood) and pandering to the haters.

But is that really it? I think they’re using Sarah—and the regressive culture she symbolizes—as an excuse. The GOP is really imploding not because of some last-ditch gaffe on a cultural dimension but because of economic policy. The ideology that just expired is economic—that of the invisible hand of the market—and it will be a while before the conservative definition of the situation can absorb that. Meanwhile, GOP strategists are reaching down to the uglier parts of the platform and the ideologues are having a really hard time now that they have to see party clearly. Good for them.

So the party is imploding. The few smart people are bailing, claiming to blame Sarah when really they just need cover for their new Keynesian conversion. It’s ok.

I give them eight years to articulate a way more, well, “progressive” conservatism. One that decries the loss of rational thought and classical high culture. The party rose from the ashes of Nixon in 1980 and I don’t doubt they’ll do it again in 8 years. In the meantime, they’re actually going to have to learn something about the economy. The really hilarious thing about freemarket ideology (which isn’t really Smithian so much as know-nothing, do-nothing voodoo economics) is that politicians who promote it are experts in not knowing how economies work. Seriously, how much does the finance-captured policymaking crowd actually understand about the interiors of the “self-regulating” black box? It’s probably too much to learn in eight years, but in the meantime, I look forward to Brooks, Noonan and friends rearticulating a Republican cultural elitism unhampered by the mouthbreathers in Montana. They need to re-learn to fight with pens rather than with swords.