The Russell King Piece and the Inevitability of Conservatism


It’s caused a little bit of a stir as a rallying cry for the Netroots, and rightfully so. King has assembled massively damning instances of Republican hypocrisy and mendacity. Emily Hauser is on the case:

King’s open letter is stunning for a variety of reasons, only starting with the sheer amount of labor that went into creating it — he has summarized, in trenchant and often wry fashion, and with a dizzying amount of documentation to back himself up, virtually everything that American conservatives have done badly over the past two-three years. And, sadly — “done badly” hardly begins to cover it.

Indeed. A brief selection:

You can’t call a reconciliation out of bounds when you used it repeatedly.

You can’t spend taxpayer money on ads against spending taxpayer money.

You can’t condemn individual health insurance mandates in a Dem bill, when the mandates were your idea.

You can’t demand everyone listen to the generals when they say what fits your agenda, and then ignore them when they don’t.

You can’t whine that it’s unfair when people accuse you of exploiting racism for political gain, when your party’s former leader admits you’ve been doing it for decades.

You can’t portray yourself as fighting terrorists when you openly and passionately support terrorists.

You can’t complain about a lack of bipartisanship when you’ve routinely obstructed for the sake of political gain — threatening to filibuster at least 100 pieces of legislation in one session, far more than any other since the procedural tactic was invented — and admitted it.  Some admissions are unintentional, others are made proudly. This is especially true when the bill is the result of decades of compromise between the two parties and is filled with your own ideas.

You can’t question the loyalty of Department of Justice lawyers when you didn’t object when your own Republican president appointed them.

You can’t preach and try to legislate “Family Values” when you: take nude hot tub dips with teenagers (and pay them hush money); cheat on your wife with a secret lover and lie about it to the world; cheat with a staffer’s wife (and pay them off with a new job); pay hookers for sex while wearing a diaper and cheating on your wife; or just enjoying an old fashioned non-kinky cheating on your wife; try to have gay sex in a public toilet; authorize the rape of children in Iraqi prisons to coerce their parents into providing information; seek, look at or have sex with children; replace a guy who cheats on his wife with a guy who cheats on his pregnant wife with his wife’s mother;

And I get annoyed when I have to link to more than two sources.

Anyway, this is all well and good. It gives a person like me a lot ammunition against conservative talking points; yet, King’s claims (the majority of which are already widely known) and the facts within them do not seem to have an impact on American voters. While GOP self-identification is hovering around 20%, somehow, the GOP congressional candidates are still in great shape (tangentially, this contradiction is more evidence for my theory that the Tea Party is little more than the right-wing of the GOP [which is enormous]). Nate Silver sinks liberals’ hearts and minds:

At the very least, there does not appear to be any fresh animus toward the Democrats for their actually having passed health care, whereas there probably is some fresh enthusiasm from their base. As such, I would probably revise my estimate of the Democrats’ losses just slightly, from a loss of 20-60 seats to a loss of 15-55. (Think of these numbers as representing perhaps the 10th and 90th percentiles, respectively; there remains some chance that the Democrats could lose more than 55 seats, or fewer than 15.)

So after passing something that has been attempted for about a hundred years, the Democrats only managed, current best case scenario is that they lost 15 seats. This happens while fighting off GOP obstruction at every angle, including the extension of unemployment benefits–widely popular in this economic climate.

So why, in the face of stunning hypocrisy and taking positions that most economists believe would hurt the economy, is the GOP winning? Silver again on his methodology:

I took each Democrat-held House seat and assigned it points based on the race ratings from the four major forecasters: Cook, CQ, Rothenberg and Sabato. One point was awarded for a characterization of likely Democratic, 2 for lean Democratic, 3 for toss-up, 4 for lean Republican, and so forth. I then summed the ratings between the four forecasters and sorted the races from most to least vulnerable, randomly ordering the Democrats in the case of ties.

The idea is to assess how the ideological position of the median member of the House changes with an increasing loss of seats. Assuming that there were no changes in the composition of the Congress, for instance — no loss of seats, including in upcoming special elections, and that any retiring members were replaced by ideologically-identical cousins from the same party — the median DW-Nominate score of the House would be -.186 on a scale that runs from -1 (very liberal) to +1 (very conservative). This represents, in essence, the status quo.

The last election was of course 2008, which was an enormous victory for Democrats. But look at that number at the end. Stat nerd translation–even with an overwhelming majority for the liberal party, the average congressman leans conservative. Again, the Democrats have an overwhelming majority. Is this “center-right country” thing starting to make sense?

I’d argue (unsuccessfully) that this is illogical as the conservatism of the Bush years created a climate that was terrible for incumbency–which was, of course, conservative. But Americans are stubborn things. Two years removed from what looked like a mandate, we’ve already retreated to our conservative roots. It’s hard out there for a liberal.


Two addendums (or for us Latin buffs–Addendos [right?]):

We became a center-right country in the late 1960s. Guess what reached it’s peak then. It hasn’t always been this way, and one might only need to look at liberalism’s record in the years following FDR. Moreover, while information does travel very quickly these days, it’s worth putting into perspective how long 40 years is in terms of history. About 40 years after the Boston Massacre, we were back at war with Britain.

The other is, as a liberal, I know Charlie Rangel has done some messed up stuff. I’d really like to see him primaried. That being said, against a generic Republican, I’d take Rangel every time. That’s just me, as one who never sees himself voting for a Republican. And surely, there are many out there who would choose a corrupt Republican over a generic Democrat.

2 Responses to “The Russell King Piece and the Inevitability of Conservatism”

  1. 1 emilylhauser

    I think that we’re all battling over, like, 7% of the electorate, really.

    As my husband is constantly saying: Political parties are like soccer teams (he’s a foreigner. Translate to: baseball teams) — for the most part, you back who you back, your identity is partially based in who you back, and that is who you back! End of story. A Cubs fan is a Cubs fan. I will never, ever vote for a Republican.

    But a small number of us float back and forth a bit, and a similar number (I’m guessing, as I am no Nate Silver) would be willing to punish their team/party by not going to games/voting when they feel the games/policy decisions have been bad enough. A small number will also just lose interest when unhappy and not show up at the polls.

    So, I don’t think that King’s list will change the way that American conservatives, writ large, feel about their team, but I do think that a) it can serve to light a fire under the butts of possibly complacent or disinterested or not-sufficiently-terrified liberals and b) it might sway X number of people, while pushing Y number of people away from the polls in disgust.


    If you see what I mean.

    (Actually, it’s worth noting that slowly but surely, the liberal agenda is winning. I realized this when I hated the last Administration’s Secretary of State, and the Secretary was an African-American woman. The arc of the universe, etc, etc, etc).

  2. 2 Russell King

    Thank you for this!

    For what it’s worth (not much), my opinion aligns with Emily’s in her comment above. Although Americans still like to call themselves conservative, when you look at public opinion polls on the issues, Americans are quite solidly left-of-center. I think so many of us still call ourselves conservative because when we were growing up that was the word we used for the people who presented themselves as clam, rational, reasonable and pragmatic (as I detailed in a follow up post) — and it still carries that meaning for many, despite the evidence of my lengthy post.

    The more that we point out just how radical, reckless and unreasonable (really, wild-eyed) today’s Right has become, the more the word conservative will lose that connotation.

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