PRIMAL SCREED/James McCarty Yeager

Reading Some Entrails,
Crumbling Some Cookies

Washington, D.C.

It is not impossible that Shrub could become president. But it is very improbable. Here's the mantra: The party in power in the White House has never been turned out in any election year in which economic growth exceeded 2%. The Federal Reserve Board is worried about too much economic growth, not too little, which is backwards of them but that's how they are. My friend the World's Oldest Living Liberal Lobbyist argues that even a 4th quarter stock market crash can't hit fast enough to put the whole year in the tank. (He came to town in Franklin D.'s first term, which doesn't mean he knows everything, but he does know that.)

Key to the forthcoming Republican defeats in the House and Senate: Democratic fund raising is keeping pace with the Republicans in all the closest races. That is, the smart money already knows the Republicans are beaten. A similar fundraising shift presaged, and indeed caused, the Democrats' historic loss of the House and Senate in 1994.

Even as the advertising wars are fought out and the images preened, or pruned, it is already possible to see the fissures along which the Republican Party will split after its massive defeat this fall. After all, no matter how much we Americans like to think we are different from the rest of the world, we are still part of it. And the rest of the developed world is repudiating its conservative parties with, if not always a vengeance, at least with extreme prejudice.

In Canada, the Tories, the party of summer homes and country clubs, were so wiped out in the last national elections that the new Alliance party has surpassed it as the Official Opposition. As befits a branch-plant ideology, the Tories suffered from the worst of Thatcherite nationalism and Reaganaut free-market irresponsibility. Moreover, they couldn't handle Quebec separatism with any tone other than the threatening. Accordingly, they were turned out after a disastrous Prime Ministership under Brian Mulroney proved to be as corrupt as it was incompetent.

The conservative movement in Canada has degenerated into what the US would look like if the Perot Reform party had taken over the Republicans: glad-handers in slick suits promising bitter governmental cutbacks so that the rich can pay fewer taxes. If it sounds familiar, that's because it is.

In Great Britain, the Tories are almost as badly off as they are in Canada, though they remain the Official Opposition in the British Parliament. As fixated with horror about the European Common Market as their US counterparts are on other people's sexuality, the British Tories are so far behind in the polls that there is no chance they can win the elections a year or more from now, after suffering a defeat of historic proportions last time.

The conservative movement in Britain has mutated into the loony right singing "God Save The Queen" as if the pound sterling were intrinsically important instead of being an historical artifact. The common European currency could well make Europe a more unified market with lower costs. The Tories fear an end to London's dominant role in banking and insurance, and against their fear have created the totem of the pound sterling. They are likely to be sacrificed upon its silver altar throughout the foreseeable future.

In France, a conservative president has lost the legislature and is likely to lose the presidency next time. In Germany the conservatives were turfed out last year and have since been discovered not only in disarray but with their hands in the till. In Helmut Kohl they have a displaced leader who is as oblivious as Reagan, as crooked as Meese, and has a residual popularity resembling Quayle's in infinitesimality.

In Mexico, the sclerotic and corrupt PRI was defeated for the presidency earlier this year for the first time in 70-plus years. Granted, the defeat was by a conservative splinter from the PRI -- but remember that even the leftist Cuahtemoc Cardenas used to be in the PRI. Apparently the technocrats got tired of being dominated by the landlords and split off to form their own party, which won. The historical parallel to note is that the first administration of the technocrats in the 20th century was that of Vichy France. This is not an encouraging endorsement of conservative technocracy.

At least in Ireland the conservatives still hold national office. The conservative movement in Ireland has disassembled into the antiabortionists and the anti-taxers, but is so mired in payoffs by builders that their survival in government is unlikely. Every now and again the Irish discover that the revolution has been betrayed. They used to shoot people for this. It remains to be seen if they will change parties instead. The only thing holding the present government in office is their engagement with the British over inducing peace in Northern Ireland. Bill Clinton's lasting foreign policy achievement may turn out to have been his relentless fostering of Irish peace talks, which was so strong it even forced the former British Tory government to go along.

The way the conservative cookie crumbles in the US after the Republican defeats of 2000 will be instructive at worst and amusing at best. As Bush-Cheney's "All Oil -- All the Time" ploy fails to sway the electorate while the impeachers and anti-taxers are decimated in the House and Senate, we may end up seeing one of several outcomes.

After November somebody is bound to claim that the noble German Army of the Kaiser (I mean the Republicans) was stabbed in the back by the Jews (I mean the Democrats) or it would never, ever have lost. This claim may be uttered in all seriousness by the religious right, or by the suburban underground racists. The Big Business wing of the Republicans is likely to whine that it was that evil, evil labor money that beat them, as I believe they have been saying in every election they lost since 1936.

In any case, just as the liberals fragmented after passing the Great Society programs of the 1960s, never to reunite except under economically conservative Democrats such as Carter and Clinton, so the conservatives are going to fragment after trying the desperate expedient of nominating an empty vessel for president. After all, the conservatives have conspicuously failed either to dismantle the government or to run it. The most they managed was to interfere with it, and people the world over seem to have tired of that. The Americans look set to follow.

James McCarty Yeager is a lifelong adherent of the Texas Catholic left, which either makes you crazy or makes you an internationalist.

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