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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Big Book of Conservative Disillusionment

Last week the editor of Blueprint Magazine and I had a casual conversation about a New York Times article about a mammoth new publication entitled American Conservatism: An Encylopedia. I just as casually agreed to review the book, not realizing the deadline was, well, now, and that the tome would land heavily on my desk the next morning. Thus, I spent a good part of the weekend slogging through the book and trying to get a handle on it.I won’t scoop my own review, but suffice it to say that this encyclopedia is, among other things, a solid repudiation of much of the political and theoretical success of the very movement which inspired it. In the introduction, the editors flatly say they “do not see in the history of conservatism the inevitable development of an increasingly powerful and coherent ideology of any kind.” And the book expresses a very lukewarm attitude towards virtually every conservative politician other than Taft, Goldwater and Reagan. The entry about W. says: “The presidency of George W. Bush has proved problematic for conservatives and the conservative movement,” and concludes: “Bush’s presidency revealed starkly the philosophical cleavages in the conservative movement as much as it also helped redefine political conservatism in the public mind.” I acknowledge and agree with those who view the current disenchantment of conservative journalists and activists with Bush and the GOP in general as in no small part an exercise in denial based on the failure of their policies and the unpopularity of their agenda. But American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia illustrates a more systematic disillusionment among conservative intellectuals with politics generally, and with the unity and integrity of their own tradition. For those on the Left who still believe in the elan of the Right Wing Machine, and want to emulate it, this book is a good reminder that the Machine’s design is flawed, and the engine is sputtering.

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