Friday, March 26, 2010

Kirttimukha - The Conservatives Consume Themselves

Kirttimukha is a symbol in the Indic traditions. The Lord Shiva had to assuage a monster's appetite, and, borrowing words from Heinrich Zimmer, "suggested that the monster should feed on the flesh of its own feet and hands. Forthwith, to this incredible banquet that incredible incarnation of blind voraciousness proceeded. Ravished by its congenital hunger, it ate and ate. And having devoured not only its feet and hands, but its arms and legs as well, it was still unable to stop. The teeth went through its own belly and chest and neck, until only the face remained." This face is Kirttimukha (roughly face of glory) and is part of the symbology of Lord Shiva.

After the passage of Health Care Reform, David Frum, a conservative, resident at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), wrote, among other things this

Conservatives and Republicans today suffered their most crushing legislative defeat since the 1960s.

It’s hard to exaggerate the magnitude of the disaster. Conservatives may cheer themselves that they’ll compensate for today’s expected vote with a big win in the November 2010 elections. But:

(1) It’s a good bet that conservatives are over-optimistic about November – by then the economy will have improved and the immediate goodies in the healthcare bill will be reaching key voting blocs.

(2) So what? Legislative majorities come and go. This healthcare bill is forever. A win in November is very poor compensation for this debacle now.

So far, I think a lot of conservatives will agree with me. Now comes the hard lesson:

A huge part of the blame for today’s disaster attaches to conservatives and Republicans ourselves.

At the beginning of this process we made a strategic decision: unlike, say, Democrats in 2001 when President Bush proposed his first tax cut, we would make no deal with the administration. No negotiations, no compromise, nothing. We were going for all the marbles. This would be Obama’s Waterloo – just as healthcare was Clinton’s in 1994.

Only, the hardliners overlooked a few key facts: Obama was elected with 53% of the vote, not Clinton’s 42%. The liberal block within the Democratic congressional caucus is bigger and stronger than it was in 1993-94. And of course the Democrats also remember their history, and also remember the consequences of their 1994 failure.

This time, when we went for all the marbles, we ended with none.

Could a deal have been reached? Who knows? But we do know that the gap between this plan and traditional Republican ideas is not very big. The Obama plan has a broad family resemblance to Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts plan. It builds on ideas developed at the Heritage Foundation in the early 1990s that formed the basis for Republican counter-proposals to Clintoncare in 1993-1994.

Barack Obama badly wanted Republican votes for his plan. Could we have leveraged his desire to align the plan more closely with conservative views? To finance it without redistributive taxes on productive enterprise – without weighing so heavily on small business – without expanding Medicaid? Too late now. They are all the law.

And so on. The Wall Street Journal went after him thusly:
In Washington, political defeats always produce finger-pointing, so the conventional wisdom has suddenly turned on a dime and decided that Republicans were wrong to have opposed ObamaCare. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs was especially taken yesterday with blogger and Bush speechwriter David Frum’s argument that if only Republicans had negotiated with Democrats, they could have somehow made the bill less awful than it is.

Mr. Frum now makes his living as the media’s go-to basher of fellow Republicans, which is a stock Beltway role. But he’s peddling bad revisionist history that would have been even worse politics.

And next you know,the American Enterprise Institute fired him.

PS: Paul Krugman on the firing of Frum.