It didn’t take long for the shift to transpire. The conservatives, after eight years defending the obscenely criminal and authoritarian Bush regime to the most degenerate depths, have rediscovered their role as rigorous defenders of Constitutional federalism, boasting that dissent is the highest form of patriotism, questioning the very legal and moral legitimacy of governmental and even executive power, daring to hope aloud that the regime fails. The left-liberals, meanwhile, have resumed their role as the most enthusiastic admirers of American leviathan, calling for its expansion in a hundred different directions, questioning the patriotism of those who oppose their commander in chief and even, at times, calling dissent treason. The transition concerning who plays opposition is typically awkward but usually has the pretense of being gradual and organic. This time, it came rather quickly right after Obama’s inauguration and, in the last two years, has taken on a surreal character.
Now it is the beginning of the 2012 election season and the same maddening hypocrisy will surely escalate. We will hear absurdities that would cause a saint to lose his composure in frustration. Much of the dissonance arises because both Bush and Obama have been unspeakably energetic and abusive with government power, and because more than 95% of their policies are identical. And so when those who a few years back lobbied for loyalty oaths today question the legitimacy of the president, cheering on some of the most histrionic and irreverent displays of political protest since Vietnam – and when those who once called the president a war criminal today declare that those who deride the president are anti-American and should be censored – all of this is much more frustrating since the domestic and foreign policies are fundamentally the same.
One could say the conservatives are more jarring in their metamorphosis given how completely brown-shirted they could be at the height of the Bush years, and just how Jeffersonian they pretend to be today, some of them even comfortable with the ideas of challenging the Federal Reserve. You turn the radio’s dial to the right and it’s all about the Founding Fathers, the Declaration of Independence and the Tenth Amendment. The blather is intolerable.
But the liberals can be, in their own way, just as perplexing to ponder. All the wars and surveillance and detention abuses they decried for years continue on their guy’s watch, and although some protest, most are at best vaguely discontent with the murderous bombings, but much more preoccupied with defending the president’s war on the American economy.
So let us consider what some would call a strategic matter. Whether in terms of activism or educational outreach, what exactly do we make of this phenomenon of yesterday’s neoconservatives sounding like libertarians today? What kind of inroads can be made into the chaotic conservative movement, defined by a fractured and vacuous party and a sort of crisis of identity? What are the dangers of being co-opted?