Diary

'Crunchy Cons' Rod Dreher Thinks Republicans Will Lead Populist, Anti-Business Revolt?

Rod Dreher, author of the “crunchy cons” definition of that certain sort of “Birkenstock wearing, environmental, gun-loving” Republican has weighed in on the economic crisis the US faces and is attempting to further expand his factional theory of the conservative side of the political aisle. This time Dreher is claiming that the next anti-corportate, anti-Wall Street populist revolt will be led by his “crunchy con” faction of the center-right electorate, but I think he misses the mark with this one.

Linking the current economic crisis to past religious revivals that have periodically swept the country, what he calls a “creedal passion period,” Dreher thinks he sees where this will all soon be heading, at least as far as center-right voters are concerned.

Don’t be surprised if 2009 is the year that the creedal-passion dam gives way and a new populism arises to wash away many conventional assumptions about American politics – and come the 2010 elections, many conventional politicians.

Just you wait. We are soon going to see some sort of populist movement stirring at the grassroots. Ironically, it’s more likely to emerge from the right than the left. After all, the Democrats have a status quo to protect, and few conservatives have much faith in the current Republican leadership.

Dreher goes on to say that conservatives are “ripe” for an anti-Wall Street, anti-corporate populist movement and the dreaded demagogue that often goes with such a movement.

As Michael Lewis and David Einhorn recently explained in a New York Times column, we got to this terrible place through a political system that served the Wall Street elite at the expense of ordinary people.

“And here’s the most incredible thing of all,” they wrote. “Eighteen months into the most spectacular man-made financial calamity in modern experience, nothing has been done to change that or any of the other bad incentives that led us here in the first place.”

Just you wait. We are soon going to see some sort of populist movement stirring at the grassroots. Ironically, it’s more likely to emerge from the right than the left. After all, the Democrats have a status quo to protect, and few conservatives have much faith in the current Republican leadership.

Dreher is wrong in part to say that favoritism to the “Wall Street elite” is what drove this mess. What really drove this mess was wrong-headed federal regulation fueled by campaign donations to Congress.

But, I also think he throughly misunderstands conservatism itself when measured opposite populism. You see, conservatives don’t do “join” well and populism is little else, but a movement of “joining,” one of being swept up in a fleeting and often ill-defined feeling that turns into a frenetic, yet ill-defined movement.

The most basic aspect of American conservatism is that conservatives wish to be left alone to do for themselves. That very sentiment works against populism of any kind, really. It will also work against tearing down business, for the most part. In fact, it may rather inspire more businesses to be spawned as more conservatives take to doing things for themselves. And what gets in the way of all of that is government, not Wall Street.

Conservatives will have to go back to seeing government as the problem as Reagan was wont to say.

Dreher also proves to be overtaken by Parkeritis, which would be defined as an ostensibly conservative writer that hates Sarah Palin so much that it seems to make him lose his mind in the process.

What would a healthy conservative populism look like? Not like Sarah Palin’s saccharine shtick, which candy-coated conventional Republican ideas with a bright red culture-war gloss. Palinism co-opts and deflects legitimate populist anger by allowing its adherents to hate elites without really challenging the system. A true conservative populism would not tolerate an arrangement in which the few profit at the expense of the many – which, no matter how many flags she waves or hockey games she attends, is all Palin offers.

Before going on, I think it must be said that no one can say with any degree of certainty what “Palinism” is! Sarah Palin has never once laid out a coherent or even a widely generalized philosophy of what are her basic creeds, in reality. Let us remember that she was the junior member of the McCain/Palin ticket and her “policies” had to more-or-less conform to McCain’s vision. He was the top of the ticket, not her.

We all still await the day when Sarah Palin lays out some more direct sense of what “Palinism” could mean. This being the case, there is no way at all that Dreher can claim that he knows what it is or isn’t — at least not entirely.

For Dreher to dump on Sarah Palin like this before we all even really know what sort of national candidate she will be seems to me a preemptive and presumptuous perception, one that will rather tend to put off many of the very conservative grassroots folks he claims to speak for. It seems based on a preconceived dislike of her that is not justified at this point.

In any case, the rest of Dreher’s piece almost seems to drop the anti-corporate, anti-Wall Street focus with which he begins but rather turns to the do-it-yourself sentiment that conservatives most often exhibit. It is almost like he had two different thoughts that he tried to marry together in the same article — to unsatisfying effect.

Dreher misses the mark with his prediction of a conservative populism that is anti-corporate and anti-Wall Street in focus, I think. Rather, his second thought is closer to the truth. The conservative grassroots will tend to focus on the folks farther down the line from corporations. This focus won’t be a populist revolt against corporations, but rather a shift in focus that doesn’t necessarily make corporations and Wall Street into an enemy in the sort of adversarial process that populist movements always seem to fall into. In fact, if any groups become the center of conservative grassroots anger it will be the Old Media and liberals.

For Dreher, it seems he is working too hard to shoehorn his “crunchy con” theory into his newest thought that a conservative populism will turn its pitch forks and torches toward Wall Street and corporations.