GOP Must "Atone" for Conservative "Death Grip"

Repent, GOP, says Book Review Editor Sam Tanenhaus: "The G.O.P.'s embrace of the conservative movement is beginning, some say, to resemble a death grip. But there have been no signs of atonement within the movement."

Dominating the front page of the Sunday Week in Review was the latest requiem for the right wing. Sam Tanenhaus, editor of the Times Book Review, penned "Down, but Maybe Not Out," accompanied by a graphic showing "The Right" in a literal state of collapse. The text box: "The persistence of Paul Wolfowitz, Jerry Falwell and the conservative movement."

After one tough election and in the middle of a tough war, it still seems a little early to pronounce conservatism dead and buried. But Tanenhaus seems to be waiting for the movement to hurry up and die, or at least prostrate itself before the public for messing up in Iraq.

The latest signs of conservative crack-up, according to Tanenhaus? Jerry Falwell's death and Paul Wolfowitz's resignation.

"With the death on Tuesday of the Rev. Jerry Falwell, the Baptist minister and founder of the Moral Majority, and the announcement on Thursday that Paul D. Wolfowitz would resign from the presidency of the World Bank, two major figures in the modern conservative movement exited the political stage. To many, this is the latest evidence that the conservative movement, which has dominated politics during the last quarter century, is finished."

Isn't it a stretch to suggest the death of Falwell, a not-so-young televangelist whose prime influence ended years ago, means the conservative movement is "finished"? And the academic Wolfowitz was hardly a movement conservative.

"But conservatives have heard this before, and have yet to give in. Weeks after Barry Goldwater suffered a humiliating defeat in 1964 to Lyndon B. Johnson, his supporters organized the American Conservative Union to take on the Republican Party establishment. After failing to unseat Gerald Ford for the Republican nomination in 1976, Ronald Reagan positioned himself for the 1980 election. The conservatives dismayed by the election of Bill Clinton spent the next eight years attacking him at every opportunity. And after failing to win a conviction of Mr. Clinton following his impeachment, Republicans, far from retreating into caution or self-doubt, kept up the pressure and turned the 2000 election into a referendum on Mr. Clinton's character."

"What accounts for this resilience - or stubbornness?"


"During this period, the ideas espoused by Mr. Falwell and Mr. Wolfowitz, though both were valued on the right, did not mesh; they were unconnected, spokes in the large conservative wheel. And so they remained during the first months of George W. Bush's administration.

"But after 9/11, neoconservatives and evangelicals found common cause in their shared belief in American exceptionalism and in the idea that the country's values could be exported abroad. Mr. Bush was receptive to the synthesis, and it became the ideological centerpiece of the war on terror, with its stated mission to combat the 'axis of evil' in a global 'war on terror.'

"Today, of course, this vision, has been widely repudiated, if not altogether discredited. The public has grown skeptical, or maybe just tired, of the hard-edged and often polarizing politics. And this change coincides with broad-based skepticism of the Bush presidency itself - as witnessed by Mr. Bush's and his party's perilously low approval ratings. The G.O.P.'s embrace of the conservative movement is beginning, some say, to resemble a death grip.

"But there have been no signs of atonement within the movement. Mr. Falwell, who notoriously suggested that the Sept. 11 attacks reflected God's judgment of 'the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians,' said last September that he hoped Hillary Clinton was running for president because she would outdo 'Lucifer' in energizing his constituents."