Why the Right Went Wrong by E. J. Dionne Jr.

book cover upside down elephant logo of republican partyWhy the Right Went Wrong: Conservatism – from Goldwater to the Tea Part and Beyond

Doggone it, someone put a reserve on this book at the library so I will not have as much time as I wanted to completely read in detail the 475 pages. But it so fascinating how interconnected the books I’ve been reading are and since this is recent history, I lived it, although somewhat unaware of the depth and complexity of the issues and people involved. I don’t know why there wasn’t more liberal activism at that time, but perhaps I just haven’t come across a book on that. The Claire Conner book made it clear that there was serious radical right wing Bircher activism going on.

I find it fascinating to discover connections between people that I was unaware of, like the fact that Hillary Clinton worked for the Goldwater campaign at one point early in her career despite the fact that he was a serious racist and opposed segregation to the point that President Johnson sent in the National Guard to force the desegregation of Alabama schools when Goldwater was governor.

And I had read that Joe Scarborough was actually a conservative despite the fact that he is currently hosting on MSNBC and it used to be the “liberal” station but of course, it barely is since Comcast acquired it. Not much in-depth investigative journalism going on there anymore. Must rely on John Oliver for that, thank goodness for his HBO show and YouTube videos. And now we have Samantha Bee‘s Full Frontal and she is doing a fantastic job.

I was delighted when I turned on BookTV today on C-SPAN to discover that I had tuned in in time to catch most of an interview with Mr. Dionne, Jr. and it was really fun to listen to the fuller discussion and it is on YouTube.

Back to the book. I guess I remain completely mystified that there are conservatives at all because they basically oppose their own economic interests and are bigots, religious zealots, irrational, delusional, misogynistic, greedy, egotistical, authoritarians who are obedient to authority when cloaked in religious or patriotic colors. It is so easy to compare them to the ordinary German people who without a bit of compassion spat on Jews and stole their businesses and belongings and lives.

Listen to some of the crap Goldwater spouted and try to imagine if instead of his hatred being directed at African-Americans, he insisted all blue-eyed people were inferior and deserved nothing but contempt. (As a person with blue eyes, this social study class exercise in high school incensed me when all blue-eyed people had to sit at the back of the classroom and other effective exclusions or required unpleasant actions.) And as a half-Irish person, I was shocked back in the day, when I learned that the Irish were once also treated with contempt (No Irish Need Apply signs).


So in the beginning chapter there is a quote from historian Clinton Rossiter that I just can’t agree with: Conservatives, he said, have an obligation to “steer a prudent course between too much progress, which throws us into turmoil, and too little, which is an impossible state for Americans to endure.” I don’t think there can be “too much progress” when we are talking about social justice. Just like it is wrong to say someone reads “too much” – seriously? Or be too smart?

Again, seriously? Why do we pay athletes millions of dollars but smart teachers peanuts? Why don’t we want the best teachers and reward them according to their value: educating the children for the future? Contrasted with professional athletes, for example. Kind of like caregivers for kids or elderly get paid little to less when they are responsible for the children and the families so touted in the “family values” crowds. What kind of family value is it to not offer paid maternity leave? For a reasonable length of time. They worship motherhood to the point they want to force birth but then when they need to put the tax dollars out to provide minimal assistance, they call the mothers lazy and require them to work to be eligible for assistance (Thanks Bill Clinton) and that means that about half or more of the pittance they get for the work (being underpaid because they are women, and being forced to work at limited jobs to be able to deal with child care, and oh the list goes on and on. If they really cared about mothers and children, they would embrace extreme progress and grant all women (people really) a universal basic income without strings or urine tests for drugs, or surprise visits for “male visitors” for single women who dare to have a relationship when the man is then expected to “take care of” the family (even if the kids aren’t his).


Furthermore, the progress we have made for women in particular is being legislated out of our grasp every fricking day. It makes me just about vomit to listen to the conservative screechers about God and abortion is murder and complete losers like Ann Coulter saying women don’t really need the vote! My god, what the original suffragettes went through to get the vote and not getting it until 19 f-ing 20 just makes my head explode. Telling women not to have sex unless they are prepared to become pregnant rather than supply birth control as part of a normal part of women’s health care. Geez! And deciding that employers get to have a say whether or not they will let you have it, or might fire you for getting pregnant, especially out of the all-answering “find a man and get married” solution conservative politicians have proposed as a solution to this problem. And this completely contradicts reality where more women are choosing not to get married and are perfectly content to have sex like a man, for pleasure, not procreation. Furthermore, there are a whole lot of men who aren’t making enough money to support a family, so expecting women to latch on to them for financial security of a home, food, and healthcare is just wrong, outdated, archaic, and not even desirable given the large proportion of domestic violence experienced by women who have no option to leave because they have no true choice.

If the conservatives were truly compassionate, they would be busting heads to make sure there was free child care provided by businesses for their workers. After school care with activities until the parents get off work. School lunches that cost more than $1 a meal budget so that they are healthy and filling and restaurant quality. That’s only the beginning of possible “progress” we could have if the conservatives would practice actual Christian values as well as adhering to fiscal conservationism for the military industrial complex and corporate subsidies, as well as tax loophole for the rich.


The author goes on to say:

That Eisenhower and the Modern Republicanism he preached are now regarded as moderate or even liberal is a sign of how far to the right American conservatism has moved.

He points out that this book “is to argue that there was a road not taken by American Conservatism. It was a path laid out by Dwight Eisenhower and the like-minded Republicans of his time. The moderation that characterized their approach is precisely the quality that American conservatism is now missing and badly needs.”

I don’t think moderation is what is needed for conservatives. I think they need to all go see the Wizard of Oz and get hearts.

As it has developed in the years since Goldwater, conservatism has come to operate almost exclusively on behalf of older, culturally conservative whites and a new class of wealthy Americans who see any IMPOSITION UPON THEM BY GOVERNMENT AS THE WORK OF A “TAKER” CLASS intent on tearing down capitalism. This worldview is reinforced by an increasingly closed right-wing media system that disciplines those who depart from orthodoxy and screens out dissent, and also by an increasingly powerful donor class that the conservative writer David Frum has called “the radical rich.”

As a result, the Republican Party is no longer the broad coalition of diverse groups that it once was. [!] It has become instead what the political scientists Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein have called “the insurgent outlier in American politics.” Compromise becomes impossible when it is EQUATED WITH SELLING OUT PRINCIPLE. Tactics such as government shutdowns and threats to the nation’s credit in debt ceiling battles become routine. The opposing party’s legislative achievements are neither accepted nor reformed. The contrast between the Republican Party’s response to the enactment of Medicare and its reaction to the passage of the Affordable Care Act could hardly be more dramatic. Republicans rapidly came to terms with Medicare, even if they have in recent years tried to pare it back or partially privatize it. Obamacare, on the other hand, has been under constant attack from the right — on the floor of Congress, in the courts, and in many of the states Republicans control. Republicans have talked of “repealing and replacing” the Affordable Care Act, but all their efforts focused on wiping it off the books.

The radicalization of the right produces a zero-sum game. If it cannot take power, the GOP is committed, on principle, to preventing its adversaries from governing successfully. (emphasis mine, p. 6)


So the Republicans don’t fund agencies, don’t confirm appointments to offices, and then, as some clever person pointed out, then the conservatives complain that government isn’t working. (And it is all Obama’s fault.) However, I do not see how, given the conservative intransigence,  that they will change. In fact, they seem to be doing everything in their power to roll back time while proclaiming an opposite world reality that it is the liberals that are trying to take away their guns, their freedom of religion, their civil rights, and force us to live under tyranny.  And tyranny is really what they are trying to do and we’ll have to pry their guns from their cold, dead hands.


They pass laws that directly violate the Constitution and since W packed the courts (democrats were not obstructive enough!) with conservative religious cranks, they delight it having laws suck up time and money of liberals to fight back. And thankfully, their ace in the hole (asshole) Scalia is dead, they are freaking out because they have been using the Supreme Court to make unlawful and unconstitutional decisions based on personal religious beliefs and corruption by corporations. Thirty years of Scalia!!! ARRRGGH!

However, when something happens and the court does not go their way, they cry like babies about how there are bad “activist” justices making Law when that is the job of Congress. Not, mind you, that they are doing their jobs. They filibuster, they block things in committees, they refuse to even consider a supreme court justice nominated by Obama, and they sneak little give-away treats for corporations in “must pass” legislation, like the recent preemptive elimination of the people’s right to sue Monsanto for their Frankenstein GMO products and their patented seeds.

Or the irresponsible actions by the Governor of Michigan in switching the Flint water system to their polluted (by industry) river to save a few bucks, only to now have caused permanent brain damage to 8,000 kids and adults from lead in the pipes and requires over a billion dollars to replace all their pipes, but they are dragging their heels on this. One Congressman or two even put a hold on funds to help speed this up while people — we cannot live without water — have nothing to drink, bathe, wash clothes in, or anything else. But no rush. They are going to vote Republican anyway.


The author states that he believes that “The civil rights, cultural, and moral revolutions of the 1960s created the backlash that helped the conservative movement grow between 1964 and 1988, prompting the shift of white southerners to the GOP, the rise of the Reagan Democrats, and the birth of the religious right.”  I don’t think I agree.

That is kind of like blaming the victim. Especially when you read about things like the Powell memorandum plotting a way to change the country based on beliefs I am sure he developed prior to the sixties liberalization of sexual life especially for women, and pretty sure he was a bigot, and a Christian of some denomination. The horror is that he ended up on the Supreme Court. I have not yet reviewed cases he ruled on to see if he was a swing vote to roll back progress or sell out to corporations. I mean, good grief, he was a TOBACCO LAWYER!

Which reminds me, WTF is up with continued government subsidies for that industry. We know the cancer sticks kill people in a very slow and painful variety of ways costing the people and the insurance companies billions. Why is it that marijuana is the devil’s weed and felony in many states, but something that definitely kills you and others stuck sucking in your smoke second hand end up dead too? Look at Colorado! More tax money than they know what to do with selling weed instead of letting the street criminals run the business and not pay taxes. How can any conservative with or without family values justify supporting a deliberately addicting lying bunch of thieves who make billions off the death of people.

Check back later for an update. My battery has run out.


The dominance on the right of a sharp-edged ideological conservatism is also out of step with a fundamentally moderate country. “Moderation” has itself been seen as a bad word on the right since Goldwater demonized it in his 1964 speech to the Republican National Convention. And Republicans called “moderates” these days are, with very few exceptions, quite conservative, moderate only in relation to their Tea Party colleagues and in their skepticism of extreme tactics such as government shutdown. The clash between Tea Party and “Establishment” forces should NOT BE mistaken for a fight between conservatives and moderation. (p.9)

And now we have the secret cabal of Tea Party extremists in Congress that admitted only True Believers to the group of 40 in Congress needed to control legislation. Is that really acceptable for our House of Representatives to allow members to belong to a secret society and act NOT FOR THE PEOPLE of the whole country they are supposed to represent but according to their extremist beliefs? Why do they dare proclaim 51% majority in elections to be “landslides” and therefore a “mandate” to govern according to their beliefs?

They must represent ALL constituents! And they should make laws that respect the civil rights of the PEOPLE, living breathing people, not corporations, and especially the MODERN WOMAN who should not be bound by a 2,000 year old book of myths written by men who had the power, physically and legally, to relegate women to being, essentially their sex slaves and domestic workers. And breeders of course. I mean, gosh, if you could physically control and order a capable human around without having to pay for any of their labor, wouldn’t you maybe think: this is a good deal for me, let’s keep this going! I think I’ll write a book for the Bible to make sure women know that God wants them to keep their mouths shut and obey their husbands, no matter what their own needs are as women. Oh wait, some asshole preacher just came up on video telling women they need to subsume their needs to their man. Guess keeping women in their place is being handled.

ELECTORAL COLLEGE (see also my little rant on Seriously? blog)

The first chapter has an informative description of the consequences of the electoral system, between the Electoral College (bullshit, especially with winner take all states ([31] that basically throw out all not winning popular votes on the “losing” side. This is wrong and must be stopped to actually have fair elections. States should not have been given the right to decide methods, time frames, or anything else about voting for Federal government positions. Back when there were 13 states and no telephones, computers, TV, or cars, or planes, the Electoral College had a functional purpose, but no longer. Now it just allows the will of the people to be thwarted by Ohio or Florida voters and/or corruption. And when combined with the cursed gerrymandering, that is how we end up with perpetual candidates retaining offices for DECADES (Strom Thurmond the hypocritical old racist with his opposition to desegregation while screwing the family’s 16 year old African American maid and having an out of wedlock child with her, for example, lived to 100 and was serving until his 90s at least.)

Thankfully, we at least, back when their was a semblance of statesmen instead of career politicians, a Constitutional Amendment was passed to allow us to do direct voting for our Senators. Can you imagine the rabbit hole we’d be down now with the plotted coup of all government at all levels by conservatives if the Governors could cherry pick their crony brethren for Senator instead of an actual election?!

Some details are described about what all the various combination of factors can result in that is NOT to the benefit of democracy. The filibuster by one guy just saying “I am going to filibuster that” and the lazy ass Senators just say, oh ok, and don’t actually make them stand up and talk the whole time. And when they do talk, they do bullshit like read Dr. Suess books rather than actually arguing the point of why they are opposed to having a bill come to vote. Because of course, the answer too often is some variation on some of the hundreds of thousands of lobbyist have paid a million dollars to a superpack so that I can keep my cushy prestigious well compensated and no actual work required job plus benefits and pension for life.


And that’s why we should eliminate all lobbying by anyone other than citizens activist groups and ordinary citizens. Because this is our only defense to having our voices heard rather than the corporations for profit motives or illegal state laws that directly oppose Federal constitutional rights.

All the freaking “traditions” and “rules” the party in power has made up as we go along directly impacts how the legislature actually functions and bears little resemblance to the original Founding Fathers vision for our democracy. The rules that prevent bills even getting out of committee means that constituents don’t even know what was proposed sometimes, and definitely don’t get to know the votes of the committee members, and by refusing bills to come to the floor for a vote, the slimy bastards don’t have to even stand up for their votes so the public can know whether the representatives and senators are doing what they think they should be doing. And then, years later, when a politician, say Hillary Clinton, runs for President, she calls out my man Bernie Sanders asking where was he when “I was trying to get single payer?” And there he is in a photo, standing right behind her. But it’s funny that knocking him down for TRYING TO DO something that is actually something she failed at is, apparently in her mind, a criticism. She wants us to settle for “half a loaf” but Bernie Sanders wants BREAD AND ROSES!


Arcane, ridiculous, procedures are killing democracy at every level. Super majorities to override the intransigent right-wingers. Outright refusal to even consider a nomination for SCOTUS with a democratic president in office when their pet Scalia got sent to his just rewards.

The problem for progressives is especially acute when it comes to passing even broadly popular gun control measures such as background checks. By contrast, Republican senators, representing the most conservative parts of the country, are pushed further to the right because they have more reason to fear primary losses than general election defeats. Comparable pressures are at work in the House, where the vast majority of Republicans, because of the makeup of their [gerrymandered] districts, also have far more reason to fear defeat in primaries than in general election challenges from the center or the left. (p. 11)

The Republicans are an unapologetic ideological party. The Democrats are not. (p. 12)

Herein lies the problem. The Republicans fight unconstrained by any wish to actually govern. They fight to pass authoritarian ideology, especially regards to social justice. They fight to force their beliefs down on everyone else. This is so WRONG on the face of it, that there MUST BE SOMETHING WE CAN DO TO STOP THEM and restore statesmanship and the good of the citizens to come first. Single minded uncompromising ideology and dogma is antithetical to democracy.


4/2/2016 new link: YouTube discussion on the book with the author. Warning it starts with little Marco Rubio spouting nonsense at the start before the discussion begins. Actually there are several videos there with him discussing the book and more.

Leave a Reply