The End of the GOP

by , July 03, 2007

"Endism" has been a favorite neoconservative theme over the years: every once in a while the neocons announce the death of some commonly assumed idea that the rest of us take for granted– during the 1950s, for example, they wrote the obituary of ideology itself, proclaiming that their own self-satisfied complacency was the apotheosis of human achievement. In the early 1990s, we heard all about the purported "End of History," similar to "the end of ideology," except extended to the four corners of the earth. No one thought it at all unusual or alarming when Irving Kristol welcomed Hegel and his contemporary doppelgänger into the pages of The National Interest, at the time the leading neocon theoretical journal devoted to foreign policy. More recently we have seen the implicit endism energizing the post-9/11 ideology of the official conservative movement, which has ended its long-standing defense of the Constitution, narrowly constructed, against the modern liberal "expansionist," or loose constructionist, view, which likens the original intent of the Framers to the primitive thoughts of Neanderthal man and avers that the Constitution and its meaning are always "evolving."

The rise of the surveillance state, the repeal of habeas corpus, the consolidation of a police-state apparatus that spies on Americans and foreigners at will – these post-9/11 assaults on constitutional government in America have all been adopted as holy writ by a thoroughly neoconized "conservative" movement, which these days is just an adjunct of the GOP. The Goldwater-fusionist devotion to decentralized power, the genuine fear of Big Government, the libertarian disdain for officialdom and its inherent inefficiencies have all been thrown overboard and a state-and-leader-worshipping cult of power installed in their place. As the favorite slogan of these post-9/11 Bizarro-cons puts it: Everything has changed. Including what used to be called "conservatism," which morphed rapidly into an inverted funhouse-mirror image of itself.

The neocons have been consistently wrong in their "endism," although this sorry record hasn’t punctured their intellectual pretensions. The Grand Consensus of the 1950s, which saw the welfare-warfare state as the culmination and endpoint of Western civilization, was soon wrecked on the rocky shores of the 1960s, which gave birth to a popular rebellion against an unpopular foreign war and a thoroughgoing exposure and rejection of the government’s war on domestic dissent.

The termination of History, announced by Francis Fukuyama in his famous 1992 essay, proved even more problematic, what with 9/11 and the subsequent Middle Eastern wars that promise to preoccupy us for decades to come. Instead of blending into the bureaucratic grayness of the Universal Homogenous State – as Fukuyama’s inspiration, the philosopher Alexandre Kojève, characterized the "final form of human government" – the waters are roiled by powerful currents of nationalism and religiosity that threaten to unleash a global conflagration.

The implied end of constitutional government in America, as a matter of supposed necessity, may have been yet another case of premature burial. There are now powerful dissents coming from conservatives, including this pledge to uphold the Bill of Rights and "restore the Constitution’s checks and balances as enshrined by the Founders," issued to all the GOP presidential candidates by a panel of right-wing leaders. Add to this the excitement generated among the younger set by the Ron Paul campaign – which is to antiwar conservatives what the Eugene McCarthy effort to take the White House was to an earlier generation of antiwar activists – and we have the makings of a full-scale rebellion on the Right. What Lew Rockwell calls "red-state fascism" is facing a significant challenge from within the conservative movement.

Having sacrificed everything – their devotion to less government, their traditionally prudent temperament, their general distrust of power – in order to follow the neocons off the Iraqi cliff, the ostensibly "conservative" wing of the Republican Party faces an electoral catastrophe. There is, consequently, a "surge" of skepticism in GOP ranks as the administration tries to tamp down Republican voices of protest in the Senate. The GOP caucus was supposed to be giving the White House until September, when Gen. David Petraeus is slated to give his much-vaunted progress report, but they aren’t waiting to jump ship. First in the water is Sen. Richard Lugar, the GOP’s foreign policy maven:

"Mr. President, I rise today to offer observations on the continuing involvement of the United States in Iraq. In my judgment, our course in Iraq has lost contact with our vital national security interests in the Middle East and beyond. Our continuing absorption with military activities in Iraq is limiting our diplomatic assertiveness there and elsewhere in the world. The prospects that the current ‘surge’ strategy will succeed in the way originally envisioned by the President are very limited within the short period framed by our own domestic political debate. And the strident, polarized nature of that debate increases the risk that our involvement in Iraq will end in a poorly planned withdrawal that undercuts our vital interests in the Middle East. Unless we recalibrate our strategy in Iraq to fit our domestic political conditions and the broader needs of U.S. national security, we risk foreign policy failures that could greatly diminish our influence in the region and the world."

Translation: Our neocon-driven foreign policy has lost contact with reality – it’s time to pull up stakes, minimize our losses, and get out of town.

Senators Voinovich and Warner echo Lugar’s dissent, with the former refuting the canard that a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq would hand the country over to al-Qaeda, as the McClatchy papers report: "’That’s nonsense,’ [Voinovich] said. Iraq’s Shi’ite majority would reject any Sunni al-Qaeda effort to set up a religious government under a supreme leader."

Lugar, you’ll remember, has always been a critic of the war, and he authored, in collaboration with Sen. Joe Biden, an effort early on to attach certain conditions and benchmarks to U.S. involvement but was rebuffed. Now he raises his objections once again, going the diplomatic route by not reminding his colleagues – and the administration –of his earlier qualms.

This is not to say that Lugar’s dissent is principled, as is, say, the position of Rep. Paul, or even Chuck Hagel. It is, instead, remarkably cynical, addressed to policymakers in the spirit of a sympathizer advising his fellows to rein themselves in for their own good:

"The president and his team must come to grips with the shortened political timeline in this country for military operations in Iraq. Some will argue that political timelines should always be subordinated to military necessity, but that is unrealistic in a democracy. Many political observers contend that voter dissatisfaction in 2006 with administration policies in Iraq was the major factor in producing new Democratic Party majorities in both Houses of Congress. Domestic politics routinely intrude on diplomatic and military decisions. The key is to manage these intrusions so that we avoid actions that are not in our national interest."

Yes, occasionally the American people "intrude" on the exclusive preserve of policymakers, but that’s just one of the horrible inconveniences the elites have to put up with: it’s really a shame, but there’s nothing to be done about it. What Lugar is telling his Republican compadres is what they know very well already: it’s time to rid themselves of the neoconservative millstone before it drags them all down to defeat – and destroys the GOP, reducing it to a Southern regional party.

The political disintegration of the Republicans was preceded by a long, drawn-out intellectual decline that dates from the time of the neoconservative incursion into GOP ranks during the Reagan presidency, when the Scoop Jackson Democrats first landed on right-wing shores and carved out a beachhead in the conservative movement. The birth of "Big Government conservatism," and the role this oxymoronic set of ideas played in leading to the GOP’s present debacle, sounded the death-knell of the movement as a coherent set of ideas historically rooted in American traditions. Since 9/11, conservatism has reverted back to European-style absolutism, as evidenced by the Right’s embrace of the revisionist theory of the "unitary presidency," which elevates the president in wartime to monarchical status. That Bruce Fein, a leading conservative legal theorist of the Reagan era, is now calling for the impeachment of Dick Cheney, on the grounds that his office has been the intellectual nerve center of this administration’s bid to rule by edict, signals the end of the GOP coalition as we know it.

Fein’s sentiments are hardly limited to the upper intellectual reaches of Washington’s conservative circles. As Sally Quinn reports in the Washington Post:

"The big question right now among Republicans is how to remove Vice President Cheney from office. Even before this week’s blockbuster series in The Post, discontent in Republican ranks was rising. As the reputed architect of the war in Iraq, Cheney is viewed as toxic, and as the administration’s leading proponent of an attack on Iran, he is seen as dangerous. As long as he remains vice president, according to this thinking, he has the potential to drag down every member of the party – including the presidential nominee – in next year’s elections.

"Removing a sitting vice president is not easy, but this may be the moment…."

When a cancer is generated by the body, the only recourse is to cut it out – but, even then, sometimes it is too late. I’m afraid, in this case, the disease has progressed too far to save the patient. The best that can be hoped for is a relatively painless death.

Read more by Justin Raimondo