Sam Tanenhaus, editor of The New York Times Book Review, has some good news for conservatives. He does not, I hasten to add, intend it to be good. On the contrary, like Mark Antony (well, sort of . . .) he comes not to praise conservatism but to bury it. But when someone of Tanenhaus’s disposition comes along bearing tidings–and in The New Republic, no less–that Conservatism is Dead, it is time for us knuckle-dragging right wingers to rejoice. It’s not just that Tanenhaus doesn’t get what conservatism is all about: his immersion in the left-wing echo chamber that is The New York Times assures that his understanding of recent history will be composed entirely of fact resistant establishment clichés.
Tanenhaus begins by telling his readers that, bad though things were for conservatives after Barry Goldwater’s defeat in 1964, they are actually much worse now:
After George W. Bush’s two terms, conservatives must reckon with the consequences of a presidency that failed, in large part, because of its fervent commitment to movement ideology: the aggressively unilateralist foreign policy; the blind faith in a deregulated, Wall Street-centric market; the harshly punitive “culture war” waged against liberal “elites.”
This is one of those rhetorical gems that requires the tartness of Mary McCarthy on Lillian Hellman’s veracity–every word out of her mouth, said McCarthy, is a lie, including “and” and “but.” McCarthy’s judgment has to be somewhat altered in the case of Tanenhaus, for the lack of truth is not, I think, a product of mendacity so much as sclerotic liberal orthodoxy. The Left is everywhere engaged in a process of mythopoeic misrepresentation. George W. Bush must be demonized so that the Messiah, BHO, can be properly exalted.
Absent that distorting filter, we can see that 1) President Bush’s presidency cannot really be said to have “failed” 2) far from being committed to “movement ideology,” Bush was strikingly wet on many issues (prescription drugs for seniors, no child left behind, “compassionate”–gag–”conservatism,” etc.); 3) his foreign policy was not “aggressively unilateralist”: it just wasn’t a model of capitulation; 4) Bush did not exhibit a “blind faith in a deregulated, Wall-Street centric market” but intervened massively in the market when the economy faltered; 4) he did not, alas, pursue a culture war, “harshly punitive” or otherwise, against liberal “elites,” much as we might have wished he had. One sentence, five untruths: good job, Sam! But I do want to give credit where credit is due and point out that there is one element of truth to that sentence. It’s not an assertion, or even a word, rather a bit of punctuation: the scare quotes around “elite.” Conservatives should be proud to welcome genuine elites–i.e., those who excel in one pursuit or another–and he is surely correct that liberals can only be described as “elite” in a Pickwickian sense.
That’s the strophe of Tanenhaus’s broadside: trashing Bush. The antistrophe proceeds to the strains of a heavenly choir: Barack Obama pushing “boldly ahead” to bring light to a nation that is not just “sunk” but that has “been plunged” by you-know-who into “darkest economic passage since the Great Depression.”
We should not minimize the economic turmoil the country is proceeding through. But we should be skeptical of the crisis mongers–the Rahm Emmanuels who warn the Left never to let a crisis go to waste. In September, a large boulder was dropped in the pond. Ripples emanated out from that splash and they are making their way to the shore. All the bad news–the unemployment figures, the slowdowns, the problems with liquidity–all that was foreordained when Lehman Brothers imploded and the market sank. What seems not to be much noticed is the fact that the Bush administration’s actions stabilized the situation and laid the groundwork for recovery. Not, of course, that Bush will get any credit for this: but when you see that economy righting itself in a few months, remember that it was not because of Obama’s pork-filled pseudo-stimulus package but because banks and other credit institutions had been granted some necessary breathing space to get their businesses rolling again.
I like Edmund Burke too much to subject readers to a summary of what Tanenhaus does to him in his interminable (nearly 7000-word) essay. He ends by calling on conservatives to reject “ideology” and “recover their honorable intellectual and political tradition.” What he means, of course, is that conservatives should stop being conservatives and get with the leftoid program as epitomized by the Geist of The New York Times and Barack Obama. Sam Tanenhaus has written a piece that is half epitaph, half sermon for the conversion of sinners. He tells us that conservatism is dead, and then how conservatives might save themselves. Most conservatives, I suspect, will take a pass on the offer of redemption à la Tanenhaus. And as for the funeral Tanenhaus came to preside over, I suspect that conservatives will respond as Mark Twain is said to have done when he heard of his own obituary: rumors of their death have been exaggerated.