I was too untrusting and superstitious to post any of George Packer’s October 23 New Yorker piece, “End of an Era”, before tonight. Now that the results are in, here it is,
Step back a moment from the robocalls and the Biden gaffes and the Valentino jacket to take in the history being made as we watch. I don’t mean the likelihood of a black American President, though that’s mind-bending enough. I’m referring to the complete collapse of the four-decade project that brought conservatism to power in America. The conservative movement was driven by the single unifying idea that government is the problem, not the solution. It attained and kept power through the highly successful political strategy of dividing the country into the hard-working, America-loving, God-fearing majority and the minority of élitist liberals who wanted to tell the majority what to do. What’s happened to that idea and that strategy over the past few weeks? When Obama told an Ohio plumber on camera that his tax plan would take some money from the rich and give some back to the middle- and working-class, the McCain-Palin campaign got very excited — they finally had the key to turning the race around. Since then, the Republicans have been talking about Joe, socialism, and spreading the wealth around at every turn. Did Obama begin to sink in the polls, as pundits predicted? Was Dick Morris finally going to get something about this election right? No, Obama rose—and even on taxes he’s preferred over McCain. Like Democrats running against Herbert Hoover well into the 1970s, the Republican campaign still thinks it’s 1980. But it turns out that in 2008 voters can actually imagine worse things than tax rates on upper incomes returning to their Clinton-era level. What about Republican strategy, which still wakes Democrats up in the middle of the night — the devastating invocation of Bill Ayers, terrorists, real Americans, small-town values, Hollywood, and (on the fringes of the McCain-Palin campaign and Fox News) the spectre of a Muslim President destroying the country from within? Even right-wing commentators have been begging the campaign to drop this line of attack — not because they disapprove, but because it isn’t working. If anything, it’s dragging McCain’s numbers down and driving moderate Republicans and Independents toward Obama. A Republican congresswoman from Minnesota deployed the strategy at its most unvarnished on national television, and the Party has had to desert her. Who can blame Michele Bachmann for being dumbfounded? It was always O.K. when it was successful. As for Palin, the incarnation of red-meat, know-nothing Christian nationalism, she turns out to be McCain’s single biggest mistake. The Republican Party’s immediate post-election future will be a bloody struggle over Palinism. It’s already started at National Review online, where the growing hysteria of the posts signals that the roof is falling in on conservatism. Everything that worked for forty years has suddenly not just stopped working, it has become self-defeating. Republican candidates, strategists, and pundits are like witchdoctors who keep repeating the old incantations over and over, their voices rising in furious shock, to no effect. That’s the sound of an era ending.
Filed under: Current Events