(The penultimate part of my study of American conservatism, picking up from here)
In a nutshell: too Southern, too greedy, too contradictory.
Take Trent Lott and his racist gaff…and there lies the contradiction because Bush quickly removed him and has taken many steps to make the GOP more multi-cultural and mostly, he personally refuses to play the race card (clearly, still a vote winner with some backward types).
It says a lot about the strength of will and discipline of the conservatives that they are able to control and deal with their many contradictions without destroying the GOP; which after all is a party full of extremism, intolerance, a weakness for vested interests and a history of government spending mismanagement.
The success of modern conservatism and why it dominates America so successfully is that it is a broad church, the Democrats would kill for such diverse support but it comes with its problems. There are 3 main contradictions that threaten to tear modern conservatism back into the political Stone Age: traditionalists vs. libertarians, religious conservatives vs. business community and free market principles vs. heartland values. These diversions have to be managed and at times, the strain is visible. If the liberals can unpick the unlikely alliances then they have a chance of success.
Then there is the incompetence with money, an area in which Bush broke his pre-election promise and instead of the predicted $5.6 trillion surplus, the American people are saddled with $5 trillion debt. And its not just the executive branch which is overspending, Republican state legislatures outspend their Democratic counterparts by a whole 1%. Conservatives are many things but frugal ain’t one of them and people like their government to get more bang from their tax buck.
When the dust finally settles on the Bush regime, there is no doubt that their relationship with corporate America will not be looked on fondly by historians. It has been one of the worst governments in living memory for exploiting vested interests and lining the pockets of big business. Like the steel and lumber tariffs of 2002 that made the companies concerned very happy but did little for the conservative idea of free trade. Or the 2002 Farm Bill which retained government involvement and therefore massive government subsidy to go directly into the pockets of the very rich, some $180 billion of taxpayer’s money. A real low point was when the energy industry wrote the government’s energy policy, rather like letting lawbreakers re-write the laws; these kinds of acts alienate and anger the average voter.
Last and by no means least we have the conservative reputation for intolerance, which stems from GOP taking the South but having to also take its religious and racial extremism. This, quite simply, scares off more moderate voters and provides and endless raft of gaff-ridden media fodder.
If the conservative movement fails to keep control of these factors, or the woeful liberal movement can seize the moment and strike at these very real weaknesses, then we may see some cracks start to appear in the façade of “The Right Nation”.