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“They’ve Been This Crazy For A Long Time”

March 19, 2012

In the “liberals who understand the conservative movement” category, Rick Perlstein is at or near the top.  Author of Before The Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus and Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America, Perlstein has spent much of his career studying how post-World War II American conservatives talk to each other. His conclusion?

Over the last sixty years or so, I see far more continuities than discontinuities in what the rightward twenty or thirty percent of Americans believe about the world. The crazy things they believed and wanted were obscured by their lack of power, but they were always there – if you knew where to look. What’s changed is that loony conservatives are now the Republican mainstream, the dominant force in the GOP.

And, as the dominant force in the Republican Party, conservatives now have more political power than they had when Ronald Reagan had to deal with Speaker Tip O’Neill’s House majority, or when Richard Nixon faced large Democratic majorities—-with a not-insignificant number of liberal Republicans like Mark Hatfield and Jacob Javits—in the Senate.  Reagan and Nixon made numerous compromises in order to govern, not because they wanted to but because they didn’t have the power necessary to avoid those compromises.  A President Romney or a President Santorum wouldn’t have to make nearly as many compromises with liberals and moderates.

Perlstein’s concluding exhortation to his fellow liberals?

Conservatism is not getting crazier, and it’s not going away, either. It’s just getting more powerful. That’s a fact that a reality-based liberal just has to accept – and, from it, draw strength for the fight.


From → History, Politics

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