How Conservatives Created the Party of the Mob

In today’s New York Times, David Brooks writes an elegy for the modern conservative movement that was founded by William F. Buckley, Russell Kirk and George F. Will. 


Brooks observes that modern conservatives like Buckley, Kirk and Will shared a disdain for the violent, ignorant masses as articulated in Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France and the Federalist Papers, coupled with “a celebration of urbane values, sophistication and the rigorous and constant application of intellect.”

They detested the Mob.

They were anti-populist and anti-egalitarian, in culture as much as in politics. 

In short, they were elitists in the literal sense, and proud of it.

These Edmund Burke-inspired conservative elitists became the intellectual leaders of the mid-20th century Republican Party, critiquing not only the Democratic Party’s foreign and domestic policies, but also its post-Chicago Convention embrace of the youth culture of the 1960s. 

Edmund Burke

Edmund Burke

Unlike their counter-parts on the Left, they wore their hair neat and short, they wore ties and jackets not tee-shirts and jeans, they preferred classical music to rock and roll, whiskey to marijuana, and John Milton to Allen Ginsberg.  In George F. Wills’ words, they valued “the sober side of the Enlightenment.”

Now, Brooks notes, the Republican Party has rejected these urbane and elitist values, as well as the class of urban and sophisticated people with whom these values are associated. 

DS001872As Brooks acknowledges, “the Republican Party has driven away people who live in cities, in highly educated regions and on the coasts” and has become the party of the uneducated, the rural, the crude and unsophisticated.

In other words, the Party of the Mob.

“Once conservatives admired Churchill and Lincoln above all — men from wildly different backgrounds who prepared for leadership through constant reading, historical understanding and sophisticated thinking,” Brooks writes. “Now those attributes bow down before the common touch” and “a disdain for liberal intellectuals slipped into a disdain for the educated class as a whole.”

David Brooks is not the only conservative of the Buckley, Kirk, and Will mold who is in mourning because of the current state of the Republican Party, as indicated by the selection of self-described hockey mom and friend of Joe Sixpack, Sarah Palin. 

George F. Will has called Palin“obviously not qualified to be President.”  Similar, or more severe, criticisms of Palin have come from conservatives David Frum, Charles Krauthammer, and Kathleen Parker.  On television, you can see the same despair that Brooks articulates in his Times column on the face of David Gergan and in the stupefied expression of Tucker Carlson.

Brooks attempts to fix the blame for the ugly transformation of the Republican Party and the death of his urbane, sober, and elitist version of conservatism to the Party’s tactical decision to engage in “class warfare” against the wealthy and sophisticated. “This expulsion has had many causes,” he writes, “But the big one is this: Republican political tacticians decided to mobilize their coalition with a form of social class warfare.”

I think Brooks has let the Republican Party  — as well as his fellow conservatives and himself – off far too easily.

In my view, the end of modern conservatism and the triumph of the mob rule in the Republican Party began with the “Southern Strategy” – which capitalized on white rejection of, and hostility toward, the Democratic Party’s embrace of the civil rights movement.

After a Democratic Congress and Democratic President forced the Southern states to integrate in the early 1960s and passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act in 1965, the Republican Party warmly welcomed into its ranks every racist in country, from Strom Thurmond to Jesse Helms to Trent Lott, along with their white resentment and anti-elite populist rhetoric.

Politically, the result was a Republican stranglehold across the South and a series of Republican electoral victories in national elections.

But the Republican Party paid a steep cultural price to become the political home of the nation’s white racists -– because the culture of white racism and resentment eventually took over the Party and became not only its “base” but its defining core.

looting3And so when George W. Bush’s ratings tanked, the Republican Party had to “energize” this core to overcome its falling popularity with other groups.

Yet as this base was “energized” -– for example, by the selection of Palin as vice president and by Palin’s inflammatory rhetoric –- other groups were driven away.  As Brooks points out, “Republicans have alienated the highly educated regions — Silicon Valley, Northern Virginia, the suburbs outside of New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and Raleigh-Durham. The West Coast and the Northeast are mostly gone. The Republicans have alienated whole professions. Lawyers now donate to the Democratic Party over the Republican Party at 4-to-1 rates. With doctors, it’s 2-to-1. With tech executives, it’s 5-to-1. With investment bankers, it’s 2-to-1.”

And as the Republican Party ever more desperately relied on the “energy” of its base, it lost control over the racism and resentment that made them become Republicans in the first place.

David Brooks’ mourning for conservatism and the Republican Party is based on his fear of the mob that the Republican Party has become. 

He knows that the controlling emotions at McCain-Palin rallies are now fear and rage.  He knows that people have yelled “Terrorist!” and “Kill Him!”  when Obama’s name is mentioned.

He also knows that McCain cannot control the mobthat the Republican Party has become, and that the demagogue Sarah Palin would like to inflame its rage and resentment even further.

As David Gergan said on CNNon Thursday, “This — I think one of the most striking things we’ve seen now in the last few day. We’ve seen it in a Palin rally. We saw it at the McCain rally today. And we saw it to a considerable degree during the rescue package legislation. There is this free floating sort of whipping around anger that could really lead to some violence. I think we’re not far from that. … ‘

In the end, what is so profoundly disturbing for Brooks — as well as for George F. Will, David Frum, Charles Krauthammer, Kathleen Parker and David Gergan — is that they are now all members of the Party of the Mob — that they helped to create.


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