One of the more enjoyable aspects of the current insurrection is watching the popinjays in the Conservative Establishment writhe in agony at being cast as establishment men. Their utter astonishment at the little people, the hoi polloi, giving them the business about their perfidy and cronyism has been a blast. In the Bush years I developed a healthy dislike for many of the more oleaginous charlatans in the commentariat. My heart feels like an alligator.
A theme around here is that the panic in conservative media is due to the sudden rush of dis-conformation washing over them. For the longest time, they have believed they are the vanguard of a popular revolt against the Progressive establishment. Suddenly, everyone has joined a different revolt, a revolt against them. These putative champions of the people are like the character in the supernatural mystery film that suddenly learns he is the villain.
Here’s an interesting piece on the same theme. I wonder if this guy is a reader.
Once upon a time, in the immediate postwar years, the elites who ran the country’s two major political parties were part of the country’s broader political establishment, which included the owners of The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Time magazine, the heads of the three national television networks, and the directors of a small number of leading political, cultural, and religious institutions.
This establishment was dominated by an ideology of liberal centrism that one of its key figures famously described as “the vital center.” It fostered, cultivated, and presided over a broad consensus in favor of the New Deal at home and the Cold War containment of communism abroad.
From the beginning, the modern conservative movement thought of itself as an insurrection against the liberal establishment and its representatives at the head of the Republican Party. One of the movement’s formative, galvanizing events was the 1955 founding of National Review by William F. Buckley, Jr. as a place where right-wing intellectuals could work on fashioning an anti-liberal governing ideology. Less than a decade later, the magazine championed the populist candidacy of Barry Goldwater in the hopes that he would depose the reigning liberal consensus and pursue a policy of rolling back both the New Deal and the Soviet Union.
The effort failed. But by the mid-1970s, the movement had been joined by a new group of intellectuals. In addition to uncommonly sharp polemical skills and a training in policy analysis, the formerly liberal neoconservatives brought to the movement an awareness that to succeed it would need foment a counter-establishment, both to help overthrow the liberal establishment and to serve as an alternative to it once an electoral victory had been achieved.
I’d add that the so-called neoconservatives never abandoned their technocratic impulses. They just rejected the dovishness of the New Left, preferring a more muscular response to the Soviets.
This counter-establishment tasted power for the first time with the inauguration of Ronald Reagan 35 years ago, and since then it has grown massively in strength and influence. Today the counter-establishment simply is the conservative and Republican establishment.
And yet, because its ideological outlook was formed when it was out of power, this establishment seems incapable of thinking about itself as an establishment. And so we get the editor of National Review, a regular fixture on TV, saying (presumably with a straight face) that his magazine, which has been closely read among leading members of the Republican Party for decades, isn’t a part of the Republican establishment.
I’ll note that an integral part of Progressive mythology is the struggle. Despite being in charge for close to a century, Progressives still think of themselves as an insurgent minority at war with their oppressive overlords. Elizabeth Warren is worth millions, yet she spends her time in the Senate ranting about the one percent. Her neighbors in the one percent cheer her on. It’s false consciousness.
Another theme around here is that the two sides of the American political elite are two sides of the old Yankee elite. Yankeedom came to dominate America after the Civil War and has occupied the commanding heights ever since. The old Yankee sense of being a soldier of God in a fallen world morphed into a worldview where they are always the heroic underdog of their story. Both sides of the ruling class see themselves as noble warriors fighting the good fight against the ruling class.