I’m amazed by the almost unquenchable Conservative anger. They’re angry at President Obama, certainly, and willing to do anything to destroy him and defeat his programs, but they’re also surprisingly angry at each other. Conservatives have been angry for a long time, but the intensity rose after Obama’s election, and boiled over after the Health Care reform law passed. This sent the Tea Party into the streets and started their jihad against moderate Republicans. Their anger is now an incoherent rage.
This underlying anger is baffling to many liberals. I know because I am one. Most of my friends are liberal, and much of what I read comes from liberal news sources. Liberals don’t understand the anger because, from their perspective, conservatives are winning. Conservative ideas dominate most areas of American political life, including the economy, foreign policy, and the law. This is a product of a thirty year conservative ascendancy, which began with Reagan and culminated in the Bush years, when Conservatives controlled the White House and both houses of Congress. Even now Conservatives control the House and have a virtual lock on the Senate. Conservatives are winning, but are madder than ever. Why is that?
I think that their political success is a major cause of their anger. Since the Fifties, if not before, conservatives have decried the supposed decline of America, and in particular, the decay of the American culture. This decay is brought about, in their minds, by government policy. Regulations hamstring the entrepreneurial spirit and stifle American’s innate drive. Welfare leads to dependency and contributes to the breakdown of the family, and this leaves people open to the allure of promiscuous sex and illicit drugs.
Movement conservatives have been plotting their take-over of the government for generations. Their goal has always been to save America, and they think that the only way to do this is to transform government. Since 1980 they’ve been remarkably successful. Reagan won in 1980, and Republicans have held the presidency 20 out of the last 33 years, and since the Republican revolution of 1994, they’ve controlled one or both Houses of Congress as often as Democrats. In that time taxes were cut, welfare reformed, the military bolstered, Originalists put on the bench, and bureaucrats friendly to industry and hostile to regulation peppered throughout the government. And conservative political theories (limited government and states’ rights), and legal theories (originalism) dominate the national political debate. Now even liberals accept these views. Refugees from Wall Street run the Obama administration economic team, Obama’s foreign policy is a pale legacy of Bush policies, and even ostensibly liberal judges base their rulings on the supposed original intent of the framers of the Constitution.
But here’s the problem: this political success hasn’t cured the social ills that Conservatives are fighting against. If anything, society has gotten more tolerant, or if you’re a conservative, more decadent. Popular entertainment is worse than ever. Divorce rates have stabilized, but remain at spectacularly high levels. Nearly half of all births are out of wedlock. Drugs are rampant, religion is fading.
There was a saying when I was a kid: “the faster I run, the behinder I get.” That’s how conservatives must feel. The more political victories they gain, the sicker society gets.
But there’s something else that must add to their despair. Conservatives are not only winning politically, they have won economically. Conservative economic theories—capitalism, free markets, limited regulation—dominate, not only at home, but around the world. In the grand, one-hundred-and-fifty year battle between capitalism and communism, between free markets and socialism, capitalism and free markets won. And won overwhelmingly. There are only a handful of communist nations left, and they’re a pathetic bunch: North Korea, Cuba, Burma. Even China has thrown off communism as an economic theory, though they hold on to aspects of dictatorship.
The free market won, but what has it wrought?
There’s no market more free than the marketplace of the American culture. Our debased culture is the product of nothing but the desires of the consuming public: no government control, no outside oversight. The only driving force is the desire to make money, which according to Adam Smith’s theory of the free market, should benefit society as a whole. There’s a demand, and someone creates a supply. Whether it’s hard core pornography, misogynistic music, moronic movies, a “liberal” news media, or a television culture disdainful of religion, tradition, morality, and family values, all of these exist because of the demands of the American people. The culture is a perfect free market. And it’s a sewer.
Let me be clear, the free market didn’t debase the American culture. All the free market did was give Americans the choice, and they chose. Take music as one example. Every type of music under the sun is available on iTunes, from alternative to Zydeco, and literally everything in between. Opera? check. Classical? Absolutely. Bluegrass? Yep. Contemporary Christian, smooth jazz? You name it, it’s all there. But what’s at the top? Schlock, nonsense pop, and thuggish rap. The free market gave the American people the choice, and they chose the music, the television, the movies, in a word the culture, that we have today. Make no mistake, that which conservatives most revere—the free market—has produced that which conservatives most disdain—the American culture.
The unseen hand, which is supposed to guide free exchange based on supply, demand, and the profit motive to produce socially beneficial outcomes, has instead slapped us in the face.
Most conservatives don’t make this connection directly, but there’s no doubt they feel it in their bones. “The faster they run, the behinder the get.” They are closer than ever to the Government takeover they envisioned in the 1950’s, but their political and their economic success has only made things worse. When they win, they lose. Something seems wrong, but they can’t quite identify it. And it’s making them frantic.
A rational, disinterested observer (admittedly not me) might suggest that their underlying theory is flawed. But conservatives are unwilling to engage in critical self analysis and unable to question their theories of government, economics, and society. In their view the theory can’t be wrong, it must be something else. The most obvious target is their political opponents, and in their frenzy they accused liberals of all manner of treachery. And so we have Fox News and talk radio calling liberals treasonous, and Rick Santorum accusing President Obama of actually hoping that Iran develops nuclear weapons. Or as Newt Gingrich once said: “no grotesquery is too extreme.” But this tactic hasn’t succeeded because they’re attacking the wrong target. But rather than re-assess, they just get madder, and look for other targets. Now they purge the impure: Witness Tea Party candidates challenging moderated Republicans in the last few primary elections. But that too has failed, as it inevitably would.
Conservatives are now turning on themselves, like Soviet commissars casting about for blame for the failure of the latest five year plan. The theory must be sound; the problem lies in implementation. And so each group within the broad conservative coalition blames the others. The libertarians, Ron Paul and his supporters, blame the Bush era neo-cons for screwing things up when they were in charge. The Tea Party blames the moderates. The cultural warriors, like Rick Santorum, blame the moderate and the libertarians. Romney, the Rockefeller Republican, didn’t share the rage, and tried to rise above it all, and ended up as everyone’s target.
Conservatives must be confused. Their economic ideas have won, and they can win politically, yet they keep losing socially and culturally. At some point reality becomes inescapable, and they must feel, deep in the pit of their stomach, that there’s a problem with their underlying theories. But they can’t change because they’ve developed a perpetual motion machine of anger, a möbius strip of confusion that leads back to frustration, and as they go around and around they get madder and madder. Each economic success further debases the culture; each political victory is more futile.
There must be some disquiet, some deep angst in knowing that your lifelong goal is a failure. But not just a failure, more than that. Your pursuit of the beast has only made it stronger, more adept, more popular. It is as if, at the end, Ahab realizes that his pursuit of the whale has increased its virility, his chase allowed it to spread its seed beyond its natural realm, and now the oceans are full of white whales.
Conservatives like Senator Ted Cruse are like Ahab, roaming the deck and raging against forces beyond their control. Ahab thought his foe was a whale but he was really up against nature and a changing world. Conservatives think their foes are liberal politicians, “secular humanists,” and the “biased liberal media.” But, like Ahab, they are up against forces beyond their control. Perhaps, in the dark of night they recognize this, and they lay awake worrying that others may catch on. But during the day they lash out, using anger to mask their fear, and vicious attacks to hide their frustration. But their anger is leavened not just with shame but with the disbelief that as they get closer to one goal their ultimate goal slips further away.
Conservative anger has become an incoherent rage that is incapable of being sated. It is a rage that has become so hot that it is now self-consuming.