Ross Douthat is a very slippery customer. There is just no getting around it. It’s this slipperiness, no doubt, that earns him the appellation of being a ‘thoughtful conservative’ i.e., not a foaming-at-the-mouth wingnut. His latest Op-Ed is a classic instance of this well-greased slipperiness.
It is ostensibly a critique of Republican tactics in the ongoing, entirely ludicrous fiasco engineered by the most extremist faction of the party:
[T]here is…something well-nigh-unprecedented about how Republicans have conducted themselves of late. It’s not the scale of their mistake, or the kind of damage that it’s caused, but the fact that their strategy was such self-evident folly, so transparently devoid of any method whatsoever.
Every sensible person, most Republican politicians included, could recognize that the shutdown fever would blow up in the party’s face. Even the shutdown’s ardent champions never advanced a remotely compelling story for how it would deliver its objectives. And everything that’s transpired since, from the party’s polling nose dive to the frantic efforts to save face, was entirely predictable in advance.
But there is no shortage of apologia in it nevertheless.
For instance, the classic ‘pox on both your houses’ coupled with the ‘it ain’t so bad’ moves:
Politics is a hard business, and failure is normal enough. It’s not unusual for political parties to embrace misguided ideas, pursue poorly thought-out strategies, persist in old errors and embrace new ones eagerly.
So we shouldn’t overstate the gravity of what’s been happening in Washington. There are many policies in American history, pursued in good faith by liberals or conservatives, that have been more damaging to the country than the Republican decision to shut down the government this month, and many gambits that have reaped bigger political disasters than most House Republicans are likely to face as a result.
Some strange analogies:
[I]magine an alternate reality in which figures like Joe Lieberman and John Kerry were stuck trying to lead a Democratic Party whose backbenchers were mostly net-roots-funded fans of Michael Moore, and you have a decent analog for where the post-Bush Republicans have ended up.
The touching faith in the idea, still, that the Tea Party is a true grass-roots movement and the source of policy ‘innovation’, and one that, pardon my French, actually gives a flying fuck about the middle-class:
Republicans need to seek a kind of integration, which embraces the positive aspects of the new populism — its hostility to K Street and Wall Street, its relative openness to policy innovation, its desire to speak on behalf of Middle America and the middle class — while tempering its Kurtzian streak with prudence, realism, and savoir-faire.
Nothing else quite makes me snicker as much as this refusal to note that it is still big money that drives the Tea Party, that its so-called policy innovation is mostly either rehashes and variants of old, discredited, stale Republican ideas or, classical progressive ideas, cleverly co-opted.
But as my intemperate language above shows, what’s really bothersome about Douthat’s apologia for the Mad Hatters is his insistence that they have the interests of middle-class Americans–and some nebulous entity called ‘Middle America’–at heart. This refusal to peer into the quasi-fascist heart of the Tea Party is what ultimately gives the game away.