Add one more name to the lengthening list of long-time conservatives who've had enough with the imbecility of the Republican Party and have now enlisted into the ranks of the Loyal Opposition to either reform the GOP from within or fight it from without.
Michael Fumento is a writer and one-time airborne trooper whose conservative bonafides include stints with the Reagan Administration, Hudson Institute, American Enterprise Institute and whose writings have appeared in nearly the entire fleet of conservative flagship publications: The Washington Times, National Review, The American Spectator, Forbes, The Weekly Standard, among others.
Yet, last Thursday Fumento was front and center in Salon explaining the whys and wherefores of what he called "My break with the extreme right."
Apart from making a few right wingers rich and famous, Fumento claims modern conservatism has accomplished nothing, nada, zip for America except to "demonize" its opposition, "brutally" enforce Republican "team loyalty" and turn Bismarck's words upside down by making politics "the art of the impossible" - mostly because the right wing does not believe in politics, since "politics" is impossible without compromise and compromise is impossible for right wing conservatives.
Republicans may not have created today's "reservoir of fear, anger and hate," says Fumento, but it taps into it liberally and "roils it." Consequently, he says, Republicans have "no serious incentive to help solve or ameliorate" the nation's problems since their strongest motive is to make problems worse if doing so makes Barack Obama a one-term President.
It's nothing personal, mind you, it's just that Obama is the most recent Democrat to stand in the way of right wing attempts to remold a New America in which the New Deal and the liberal vision of a single national community valuing individual freedom and liberty -- but also embracing a common destiny and shared responsibilities for one another -- becomes nothing but a faded memory of a long distant past. Bill Clinton, after all, was once standing exactly where Barack Obama is now and we all know what almost happened to him.
Thanks to Republicans, says Fumento, political polarization and animosity have "now reached levels both hysterical and historical."
The last time anything like this occurred, he notes, was during World War II when the nation's hate and anger were turned outward, and before that the Civil War when the nation was eventually consumed in the fires of its own anger and hatred.
Complaining of the "mass hysteria" that is endemic to the Republican Party and epidemic within it, Fumento is now part of a mass exodus away from a modern conservatism whose most prominent refugees include: former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum, former Bush press secretary Scott McClennan, Reagan economic advisor Bruce Bartlett, former Reagan OMB director David Stockman, Bush Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neil, Bush Secretary of State Colin Powell and chief of staff Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, Bush terrorism czar Richard Clarke, former Barry Goldwater speechwriter and press secretary Victor Gold, former Nixon White House Counsel John Dean, Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld, and many others besides.
In one way or another, all of these once loyal Republicans have gone public to say that what Congressional scholars Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein recently said about the GOP in their widely-discussed Washington Post op-ed was all too true: That the Republican Party has "become an insurgent outlier in American politics...ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition."
Fumento also follows in the footsteps of Mike Lofgren, who ended a 30-year career as a Republican Capitol Hill staffer to the House and Senate Budget Committees last year when he broke up with the GOP in another widely-disseminated Dear John letter explaining he could no longer work within an organization that "is becoming less and less like a traditional political party in a representative democracy and more like an apocalyptic cult, or one of the intensely ideological authoritarian parties of 20th century Europe."
What unites all of these Republican ex-pats, apostates and RINOs is the belief that what a party thinks may be less important than how it thinks -- and that how the Republican Party thinks today has made it unfit for democracy.
Once upon a time, note Lofgren and Fumento, Republicans believed in science, reason, empirical evidence, parliamentary procedure and, most of all, what the liberal icon Walter Lippmann once called "the traditions of civility."
Such traditions, said Lippmann, were at the core of the public philosophy that nourished and sustained the Western democracies: respect for political opponents, respect for the results of free and fair elections, respect for rule of law, tolerance of dissent and intolerance for unaccountable power based on arbitrary and capricious whim.
Yet, quoting approvingly from the New Republic's John P. Judis, Lofgren believes: "Over the last four decades, the Republican Party has transformed from a loyal opposition into an insurrectionary party that flouts the law when it is in the majority and threatens disorder when it is the minority."
This has been evident from its behavior as "the party" of Watergate and Iran-Contra, but also of the government shutdown in 1995 and the impeachment trial of 1999, he says.
And, if there is a precedent for today's Republican Party, "it is the antebellum Southern Democrats of John Calhoun who threatened to nullify, or disregard, federal legislation they objected to and who later led the fight to secede from the union."
These were the same reasons I abandoned the GOP years ago after serving as communication director and speechwriter for Republican officeholders.
Glad though I am that another "Neo" conservative has experienced an epiphany that lets him escape the right wing's mind-imprisoning Matrix, Fumento exhibits certain cognitive quirks that reveal he's not fully ready to let go of the illusions of conservatism.
There is, for example, his assertion that conservatives are not responsible for creating the "reservoir of fear, anger and hate" they exploit so expertly. Oh, really? I would have thought that, other than ratings, creating fear, anger and hate is the only reason Fox News exists.
And then there is Fumento's instinctive bristling at liberals who he says have for decades "unfairly accused conservatives of 'McCarthyism' to shut down debate." Yet, somehow Fumento's knee-jerk recoil occurs at almost the precise moment he provides ample evidence the accusation is entirely just, in the form of Florida Republican Congressman (and Tea Party darling) Allen West who has made himself both famous and rich by insinuating in full-stop Joseph McCarthy mode that somewhere between "78 to 81" Democrats he serves with in Congress are card-carrying members of the Communist Party.
And finally, while Fumento sounds all the proper notes about why today's "conservatism" is not conservatism at all - namely that it is far too violent, far too uncivil, far too contemptuous of facts, far too reckless with the nation's traditions and institutions, far too enamored with ideology and utopian scheming, far too anti-democratic in tone and mindset to count as real conservatism -- Fumento nevertheless shows he's still the prisoner of his own intellectual preconceptions when he says that "real conservatism" is just the thing that many "allegedly godless, treasonous" liberals would embrace if liberals only understood conservatism better.
What Fumento fails to consider, however, is that maybe he's the one looking through the wrong end of the telescope. Maybe what he admires most about American "conservatism" are in fact its "liberal principles." Maybe the reason he is so horrified by conservatism's right wing mutation is that it's not a mutation at all but the genuine article -- "real conservatism," like they have in Europe, where Conservatism with a capital-c began many hundreds of years ago, when "freedom" for the masses did not exist and "individual liberty" was a blessing that was bestowed depending on where, and to whom, you were born.
There is a reason professor Clinton Rossiter in his classic history, Conservatism in America, calls conservatism "the thankless persuasion."
Like all conservatives, American conservatives are committed to the conservation of their society's history, traditions, institutions, norms and mores. But it is a "thankless persuasion" as Rossiter says because the society that American conservatives are pledged to conserve is a liberal one.
Conservatives have great respect for the naturalness of societies. And America is, by nature, liberal. This is why Edmund Burke, the "father of conservatism," was so hostile to the French Revolution but warmly friendly toward the American one.
"The great advantage of the American is that he has arrived at a state of democracy without having to endure a democratic revolution and that he is born free without having to become so," said Alexis de Tocqueville in his own epic Democracy in America.
This means that, throughout American history, a classless, egalitarian and democratic society has been the conservative status quo while the truly radical and revolutionary periods in our history have been those times when the wealthy and well-born have waged class warfare on the rest in a vain attempt to reconstitute themselves in the mold of the privileged, conservative elites of old.
It happened once during the Gilded Age as a farming society turned into a manufacturing one with "robber barons" emerging outside the law and Lippmann's traditions of civility. It is happening again today as that same manufacturing country churns out a new plutocratic elite that is sustained by its dominance of a new form of global, finance capitalism.
The awareness that the best parts of conservatism are America's liberal democratic tradition is a realization that comes to many conservatives once they, like Keanu Reeves' Neo, swallow the equivalent of their own little red pill and see the right's Matrix for what it is. Maybe, soon, that moment will come to Michael Fumento.