Tuesday, January 21, 2003

Last month I suggested that the path to success for liberals is to consider conservative positions as if they were the widely accepted conventional wisdom, and start figuring out, as outsiders, how to take potshots at the more politically vulnerable ones. Of course, it's difficult to adopt such a posture if you don't actually believe in its premise, and there are certainly good reasons for skepticism. Another one just showed up in the Wall Street Journal: Bob Bartley hailing the advent of a new, Republican "Establishment".

Bartley quotes the Oxford English Dictionary's definition of "The Establishment,": "a social group exercising power generally, or within a given field or institution, by virtue of its traditional superiority, and by the use esp. of tacit understandings and often a common mode of speech, and having as a general interest the maintenance of the status quo." In other words, one thing an Establishment doesn't do is write self-congratulatory op-eds celebrating its new ascension to Establishmenthood. Such a tactic is more typical of an insurgent movement celebrating some recent victories, and optimistically hoping for lots more of the same.

That's not to say, of course, that there's a healthily regnant Democratic Establishment, either; witness last year's book by Judis and Teixeira, entitled "The Emerging Democratic Majority". Obviously, an ideology in firm control of the culture doesn't produce heavy tomes pronouncing its own impending victory; it simply assumes its continuing dominance as given.

It's certainly an interesting time for American politics to be in a state of flux. Ideally, a condition of general turmoil--war abroad, economic troubles at home--would be a usefully challenging crucible in which to test various competing political ideas and ideologies, and determine their relative merits. In practice, however, difficult times tend to push societies towards a simple, coherent consensus, so as to minimize conflict. In other words, one of these two predictions is likely to be correct; we just don't know which one yet.

No comments: