There was once a movement, born of desperation and a sense of embattlement at being on the losing side of historical forces. This movement saw itself as the inheritor and the guarantor of true American tradition and identity, and it sought to restore those things to their rightful primacy in national life. But because the movement did feel embattled, and because it did view itself as the victim of powerful forces, it chose to not merely fight its foes, but emulate them. It saw the prime virtue of its enemies as their ability to win, and if they could just crack the code — if it could grasp the very methodology of victory — then they would turn the tables, and victory would be theirs.
The history of the John Birch Society is a colorful one, and it is easily-forgotten today what a powerful force it once seemed. In the era of its genesis, conservatism was on the ropes — an incoherent public ideology, discredited, if conceived at all, by its popular (and incorrect) association with the Great Depression, and its somewhat more deserved opprobrium for prewar isolationism. The march of history seemed to be on the side of the statists, and the great questions of the day revolved about how, rather than whether, the state would manage the lives of the people. Against this, the conservative was ill-equipped; and so he often enough took his refuge in anger, in symbolism, and in isolation from the public square.
The American left today is not quite in the position of the American right circa 1960. But it is suffering nonetheless, having been in slow decline for the past quarter-century. Even when it wins the Presidency, it loses the Congress: and even when the President is the inept, uncommunicative George W. Bush, it still cannot make a dent in the ascendancy of its enemies. The end result of this is a group of Americans, identifying as members of the left, that is strikingly similar to the conservative movement of a generation past: inchoate, angry, and prone to “irritable mental gestures which seek to resemble ideas.”
Consider the average member of this group. He (or she) remembers the era of leftist dominance of American politics — and he remembers the beginning of its end, on election day 1980. He is around 50 years old. He is professional living in a coastal enclave, mostly on the Pacific coast or the northeast. His political consciousness was formed by the McGovern and Carter campaigns — and of course the American retreat from Vietnam. He may have grown up in Iowa, or Texas, or Missouri, or Utah — but he went to college elsewhere, and fell in love with the people in California, or New York, or Boston, who were so much more progressive and intellectual than the hayseeds back home. His initial concept of conservatives, which he’s never really abandoned, was formed by Nixonian malfeasance: they’re all crooks and corrupt, in his mind. The ascent of Reagan in 1980, and later the 1994 revolution, came as a profound shock — how could America forget so soon? He is well-off: and the bulk of his working career — and hence the font of his personal prosperity — was spent in the boom markets of the 1980s and 1990s, under Republican national governance in one form or another. He doesn’t think about the implications of that much.
But for all his generally good circumstances, he’s been on the political and cultural losing side all his adult life. He’s tired of it. And he’s found a website which, at last, makes him feel empowered. He is, in short, the typical member of the so-called netroots: the left-wing movement, organized around blogs, that seeks to “take back” this country from its usurpers. The netroots is a movement born of desperation and a sense of embattlement at being on the losing side of historical forces. It sees itself as the inheritor and the guarantor of true American tradition and identity, and it seeks to restore those things to their rightful primacy in national life. Critically, it choose to not merely fight its foes, but emulate them. It sees the prime virtue of its enemies as their ability to win, and if they can just crack the code — if it can grasp the very methodology of victory — then they will turn the tables, and victory will be theirs.
Sound familiar? It is — to us. To the left, it’s all very exciting, and all very new. And so we see the self-proclaimed netroots go through a trajectory very much like what the Birchers went through, albeit in highly compressed time. The elements are all there: the resentment, the conspiracy-mindedness, and especially the leaders with stupefyingly poor judgment married to Napoleon complexes. I’ve noted before that they are “frank proponents of outright mimicry of the mechanisms of GOP ascendacy.” Add to this the horrifying, alienating statements ranging from the mockery of dead Americans at war to the derision of political opponents’ personal sorrows. Add to this the demonization of the very people who should, in a sane world, be their friends — The New Republic chief among them — and the formula is complete. Messianism and paranoia marry to make this.
There’s already some evidence of pushback. The journalistic establishment won’t take the abuse forever. The purported agents of the Communist — sorry, the vast right-wing conspiracy won’t endure the smears indefinitely. And the left’s political establishment won’t kowtow endlessly — and certainly not so long as the netroots keep losing. For the sake of American civic life, one hopes this is true.
But for the sake of the enemy — we conservatives of all stripes — we need merely note that whereas they have a pint-sized Welch, they have no Buckley.
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Wednesday, June 28, 2006
Marko Moulitsas is th erobert Welch of the 21st Century. Wha dn what are thes two people? Read this by Enchiridion Militis: