Jewish World Review Oct. 18, 2013/ 14 Mar-Cheshvan, 5774
Tea Party wasting energy hunting an extinct species
By Jonah Goldberg
"We've got to get the Rockefeller Republicans out of the party," a fellow told me in
For those of you who don't know, the Rockefeller Republicans -- named after the former
Liberal Republican sounds like a contradiction in terms today, particularly for young people who grew up in the age of strictly ideological parties. But for most of American history, the parties weren't strongly ideological institutions so much as coalitions of interests. There were very liberal Republicans and very conservative Democrats. Occasionally parties were defined -- or indeed created -- over single issues (the
The Rockefeller Republicans were authentic liberals well to the left of
And guess what? The Rockefeller Republicans are basically extinct, at least among
And yet, there's this idea that they control the party.
There are certainly some similarities -- there are familiar contours to every battle for control of a party. But the differences are far more relevant and profound. Pick any three defining issues of conservatism -- say, smaller government, low taxes and opposition to abortion, or a strong national defense, entitlement reform and gun rights -- and you'll be hard-pressed to find the supposedly liberal Republican "establishment" on one side and the
Even on the policies that are splitting Republicans these days -- say, foreign policy or immigration -- the rift does not neatly divide the establishment and the "real conservatives."
Such a statement will no doubt infuriate many conservatives who believe that the establishment is insufficiently committed to conservative principles. And that is an entirely fair complaint. But that criticism is about efficacy and passion, not policy or philosophy. And this is a hugely important distinction that has been deliberately airbrushed out of the picture painted by groups like Heritage Action and FreedomWorks. The inconvenient truth for these groups is that the current
In the recent internecine conservative donnybrook over the government shutdown, the insurgents insisted they were in an ideological struggle with the establishment. But there was precious little ideology involved. Instead, it was a fight over tactics and power.
I have enormous sympathy for their frustration, because I share it.
But the real source of that frustration is not the insufficient conservatism of the establishment; it's the insufficient power and popularity of conservatism coupled with the very real failures of the
That's certainly reason enough to be mad at the establishment. But replacing the current leadership with even more ardent, passionate and uncompromising conservatives is far from a guaranteed formula for making the
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