So what happened? Douthat posed three solutions and it is the third one that makes the most sense:
But there's a third answer as well - which is that the smart center-left, embodied by Larry Summers as much as anyone, has moved steadily leftward over the last ten years, as part of a broader Bush-era rapprochement between the Democratic Party's moderate and liberal factions. On health care, the environment, income inequality and other fronts, figures like Summers are closer to their erstwhile lefty antagonists than they used to be, sharing common ground even when they don't have identical policy preferences. Thus the Obama team can include many of the same people who worked for Bill Clinton in 1998 or so, and still produce a more leftward-tilting policy agenda than the second-term Clinton White House - because the people in question don't have the same priorities they did a decade ago.
I think this is correct. What many conservatives (again, myself included) forgot is that the so-called New Democrats ala Bill Clinton, came about because the Dems had lost the presidency several times and were losing key voting blocks. The Republicans were ascendant, so the New Democrats decided to steer the party where the country was at that time.
These days you don't hear much about the New Democrats and they have for the most part, dissapeared. That's mostly because as the Bush Administration drifted ever so rightward, that caused the moderates and liberals in the Democratic party to seek common ground and move leftward. As the GOP faltered, there was no need for the New Deomcrats on a social or economic front, so we have what we have today: former Clintonistas who are more left of center than a decade ago.
But Douthat notes that something else has changed, besides the Dems-the nation:
American public opinion has moved leftward with the Clintonites, and under the influence of the same trends and events - from the mounting health-care crisis to the post-Clinton return of wage stagnation to the current financial debacle. And this is what's missing from the conservative attacks on Obama's radicalism - a recognition that the political landscape has shifted dramatically since the days when Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich were struggling over the American center, and that in the absence of a conservatism that's responsive to the changing situation, yesterday's radicalism can start to look a lot like today's common sense.
Let's face it, the ideas being proposed by Obama are hardly new: they are old liberal chesnuts that have been sitting on a shelf somewhere for the last 30 years. But the fact that the nation is moving leftward and more importantly, the fact the the GOP doesn't seem interested in engaging in debate on this, means that everything old is new again.
The speech that Rush Limbaugh gave a few weeks ago at the Conservative Political Action Committee Conference was not that surprising- I mean that's the stuff Limbuagh has been pushing for years. Nevertheless, what was disturbing was what he had to say in response to those within the GOP calling for change:
Now let's talk about the conservative movement as it were. We, ladies and gentlemen, have challenges that are part and parcel of a movement that feels it has just suffered a humiliating defeat when it's not humiliating. This wasn't a landslide victory, 52 to, what, 46. Fifty-eight million people voted against Obama. There would have been more if we would have had a conservative nominee. [Applause] I don't mean that -- I mean that in an instructive way, as a lead-in to what I'm talking about here. No humiliating defeat here. I can't -- sometimes I get livid and angry. We do have an organizational problem. We have a challenge. We've got factions now within our own movement seeking power to dominate it, and worst of all to redefine it. Well, the Constitution doesn't need to be redefined. Conservative intellectuals, the Declaration of Independence does not need to be redefined and neither does conservatism. Conservatism is what it is and it is forever. It's not something you can bend and shape and flake and form. [Applause] Thank you. Thank you.
His belief, which is shared by others, is that there is nothing wrong with conservatism, that it does not need to change, and that those who question that are elitists.
No doubt, there were many a liberal saying that circa 1988. They believed that nothing was wrong with liberalism and that it didn't have to change with the times.
That worked out well.
So, the question that needs to be asked today is where are the New Republicans? Where are the people who are interested in trying to make the GOP and conservatism viable for the current age?
Rush and others are betting that people will not go for Obama's plans. That well might be the case...in time. But in the midst of a crisis, people want answers and if the only person around is giving bad answers, then they will take them.