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Today From The Tnr Archives: The End Of Conservatism

This piece from the 1992 presidential campaign, by TNR senior editor John B. Judis, holds up remarkably well:

When conservatives repeatedly declare that George Bush's failures as president are the result of his having spurned their ideas and movement, they are harboring illusions born of their fleeting success under Ronald Reagan. In fact, the conservative movement that carried Reagan to victory barely exists any longer; it has dissipated into various cantankerous and confused factions; and the ideas associated with it have become obsolete, discredited, or heavily in dispute among conservatives themselves.

Judis explains that the very idea of a conservative movement is a sort of misnomer--that, in fact, Bush Sr. (and, we now know, Bush Jr.) never could have enjoyed the success that Reagan did.

Until the mid-1950s there was no common body of "conservative" political ideas or any movement that was called "conservative." Instead, conservatives and the right consisted of disconnected and often feuding factions that could claim few common causes.What has happened over the last five years is that American conservatives -- who created a coherent movement about thirty-five years ago and won national power in 1980 -- have slipped back into the chaos and impotence that prevailed before the mid-'50s. ...

What conservatives were discovering was that they had aligned themselves with a movement that was genuinely reactionary and that by its nature would dwindle rather than grow. ... As Bush enters his last political campaign, he has suffered as much from the conservatives' decline as they have from his.

Read the entire piece (and try to remember you're reading about George H.W. Bush and not his son) here.

--Max Fisher