Losing Ground

In what many of his commenters seem to be dubbing the worst post of all time, Kevin Drum draws what I agree are some rather curious conclusions, the primary one being that the Bush administration is in any way conservative. I also don’t think that “Big spending increases, both in defense and nondefense spending… Sarbanes-Oxley…McCain-Feingold…[and the] Medicare prescription bill” are intrinsically liberal; in fact, big defense spending increases and a corporate giveaway under the guise of Medicare expansion both seem decidedly illiberal to me. And I would argue that simply because something like the Patriot Act had bipartisan support doesn’t necessarily make it neutral or not conservative—there are none too few Democrats who are willing to support illiberal policy initiatives.

That said, in truth, I almost agree with the overall conclusion of his post (“The fact is, conservatives haven't won much of anything in the last 10 years except a PR triumph”), because time after time polls still show the majority of Americans being in favor of the liberal agenda (especially when laid out in a questionnaire not associated with a political party, indicative of what poor communicators the Dems are), and because Mencken (as one example of many) was bitching about the same shit a billion years ago. Reading cultural essayists from just about any point in American history will inevitably give one the sense that the more things change, the more they stay the same—and yet the most evident changes are the expansion of rights and opportunities for women, ethnic minorities, and the LGBT community; the margins aren’t as populated they used to be, and the center of the page is more so. Liberals have ever looked ahead while conservatives peek under their beds in search of demons, yet the PR struggle, and which side has the bragging rights over the popular ideology at any given time, is indeed always ongoing with different victors at different times. Right now, Bush-brand conservatism undoubtedly has the upper hand in that tug-of-war, and has little to celebrate in terms of what they’ve managed to win as Drum defines it, but it is in that definition where I also differ with him.

I’m not convinced that a list of bills, wars, and judicial appointments really encompasses everything they’ve done. Some of their accomplishments are not “wins” by the same kind of horserace definition. Failing to adequately fund and enforce existing liberal programs and legislation isn’t something they’ll put on a record of success, but if the hard-fought protections for civil rights, labor rights, and the environment aren’t adequately enforced, that’s a blow to liberalism, and a “win” for Bush-brand conservatism.

Media deregulation and the resulting consolidation is symptomatic of the corporatism for which Drum registers disdain, and is, of course, part of a coordinated effort also including the associated attacks on media standards, such as tossing out the Fairness Doctrine. By allowing (and encouraging) monolithic media interests, conservatives have ensured that the conduits through which flow messages and ideas—the shells and mortar of a PR war—have a vested interest in favoring one side’s victory over the other’s. That’s a “win” for Bush-brand conservatism.

And not only that, it increases the likelihood that they’ll have more to celebrate than just winning a PR war. That the Dems are poor messagemakers makes navigating increasing hostility from the media that much more difficult—and helps explain why many Dems are no less likely to be in the pockets of corporations than their conservative counterparts, viewing “joining ’em” as infinitely easier these days than “beating ’em.” The rightward, pro-corporate lean of those elected ostensibly to represent liberals is a big fat “win” for Bush-brand conservatism.

When the Democratic VP candidate who ran against BC’00, Liebertwat, in a sickening display kisses President Sideshow after his SOTU address, I don’t think that we can consider that anything but a “win” for them.

Drum isn’t wrong that Bush & Co. have precious little to boast by his limited definition. I just think his definition needs work—expansion. Winning on those terms isn’t everything; hell, many of us will argue they’ve not even won the two presidential elections they claim. But it doesn’t matter if they can’t claim victory by a particular definition if we end up getting trounced in the long run anyway.

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