The Ongoing Chemistry Experiment

Bemusing that even today, most ‘mainstream’ political commentators and elected Democrats are surprised by and ill-equipped to deal with the Movement phenomenon. You, Dear Reader, look at the Hill and see: (x) a non-structured ideological phenomenon; that (y) exists apart from traditional institutional entities; that (z) when it wins elections retains primary loyalty to itself, not the institution. Others see something unprecedented.


A Movement is anchored to ideological purities as it lacks any formal structure. Moreover, ideology must evolve, imparting Movement direction and dynamism. Movements manufacture or benefit from crisis mentality for that dynamism and individual self-identity. All is cast in binary terms: victory or defeat, forward or back, with us or against us. Never compromise.

Membership retention and recruitment occur via public theater (protests, rallies, votes). Movements naturally flourish in times of social upheaval and fear (often creating or exacerbating those very circumstances).

The amorphous nature of Movements ensures that there may be sub strands or variants participating. Align with and internal loyalty to core polestar tenants key, not the optics from an external ‘other’ point of view.

Wherever Movements successfully assumed political control after infiltration they swept aside traditional, conventional political behavior. Wherever Movements failed? They co-mingled with existing norms and thus lost ideological dynamism, self-generating radicalism and members.

All of the above summarizes our long running conversation. Professional elected Democrats and pundit class still don’t understand what they’re seeing. Consumed by frisson of tactical minutiae. Lessons learned the hard way.

Now What?

Let’s turn to the Movement’s next steps. Where are they?

Strategically and tactically, the Movement can feel good. The country is further radicalized. Democratic opposition begins with a traditional rightist offer. They in turn avoided ideological dilution. Forcing a DOA House bill a win for the Movement’s internal dynamics. Boehner’s Defenestration after eating Balanced Budget Amendment language a possible treat. How necessary to reject Boehner’s appeals to status quo behavioral expectations. That outside observers don’t get it? Who cares. Disdain from McCain and others in the Senate? Less than notable. On a good day the House and Senate often treat the other as a hostile nation.

In Old School terms the Movement already “won”. Democrats gave up deep social cuts. Conceded no revenue. Won’t take yes for answer. And so on.

But all subjectively tainted with the stench of lethal ‘compromise’. Binary narratives yield the seeming illogic of a ‘win’ being really a major setback. Always start with a Movement’s own internal needs and narrative. To grasp fully the multi-dimensional power of “Cap, Cut And Balance” is to see it’s about far more than plutocratic agendas. For Movement adherents is radiates powerful notions about public rituals recognizing who/whom. Explicitly coercive compulsion. Which is missing from the near deal Boehner reached at the WH. Thus, preference for an empty House vote that satisfies narrative loyalty.

The Movement’s next priority per above is a new crisis. Soon. Some talk about the upcoming renewal of the funding Continuing Resolution. A side drama will be Boehner’s individual fate. From the Movement perspective, they proved cohesion on a close vote. The Senate Republicans remain reactionary (in this eschatology). Another will also help re-define the Movement. All unfolding as the zero sum of victory (or noble, Wagnerian) defeat oddly both outcomes satisfying on some level.

Some political commentators speculate re a looming formal Tea Party break with the Republican host. We doubt it. Some strands may do so. Not just because Ross Perot remains a third party highlight. Or American politics is a football team sport, choose one, etc. Their very dynamism gives them an outsized advantage in primaries. At the presidential level, like the Neocon strand under Bush, the Movement continues to believe the trick is finding the right specific host.

Democrats, independents and everyone else we are not merely spectators. We can effect and seek to forestall events. To sidestep being used as a prop. Only if we first recognize what is happening and why. To prepare, counter and prevail. Dare to win.

The Movement’s fortunes -like all others – will play out like a chemistry experiment. Each radicalism produces the new reagent. And the test: ‘sell out’ by becoming merely conservative or further the Cause? If the latter, a new reaction. Until it can go no more.


  1. Dr Leo Strauss says


    Yes, he is a catalyst in the process — although palpably he doesn’t understand that or what it means. (Er, that was yes about him bringing it about).

  2. sglover says

    Semantics problem: Is it fair to say Hope’n’Change got punked, when he practically begs for it?

  3. DrLeoStrauss says

    Good point re trad conservatives in the William Rusher vein. They made the mistake in the 1970s welcoming the Movement into the GOP ranks. Gaining power together under Reagan sealed the deal.

    The Movement after Reagan II and GHWB no longer would accept crumbs from the adult Republican table (Duberstein famously said the way to control the Movement was to toss them a bone only 10% of the time). 1994 was one reaction – the Movement would now seek power overtly and directly.

    Another was a fairly vicious internal Republican war mostly at state/local levels. The Movement attack usually relied on social/religious litmus, but not always (Grover, etc.). It was a fairly overt war within the party. The moderate/secularist trad cons usually lost. Those that didn’t were either chastened to acceptable for the moment. The moderate purges 2001-2008 are best seen as an extension and mopping up.

    A reason any trad con surprise today explains their earlier defeats: a failure to understand what ideological war is and requires. For example, a Movement attack doesn’t just release an opinion poll, etc. in conventional political means. They shape, manipulate and try to dictate the political consciousness/environment. “Move” is after all the first part of movement. (Consider Fox News, essentially a Movement AgirProp vehicle. It’s a powerful Movement platform. Remember for so long conventional media and politicians didn’t get it?).

    The few trad cons left might well wish to keep their head down. Of if they choose to stand, they look at the costs, emotional, psychological, capital, etc. required. Usually they next announce retirement.

  4. RedPhillip says

    “[…]most ‘mainstream’ political commentators and elected Democrats are surprised by and ill-equipped to deal with the Movement phenomenon.”

    Do you think that a non-trivial fraction of the Republicans are not equally surprised and ill-equipped? The non-Movement old-guard component seems to have misjudged their ‘colleagues’ too.

  5. DrLeoStrauss says

    Neocons send up a flare via Krauthammer.

    Their priority has always been access to and control over U.S. foreign policy. It’s how they got their name, with Podhoretz, Kampelman, Kirkpatrick and Kristol Sr leading the exodus from Democratic to conservative circles.

    Neocons prefer to affiliate with the much larger Movement. The Movement gave them power first under Reagan and then 2001. All loath James Baker Republicans for their empiricism, restraint. Even so, recall under Bush Kristol Jr. threatened to a leap back to ‘Neoliberals’ if Bush wobbled on war, terror, etc. That’s how we interpret Krauthammer now.

    Hard to symathize with their existential bind, isn’t it?

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