The Heart of the Right Wing Conspiracy

by Henry Farrell on August 2, 2006

Thomas Medvetz has just published an article in “Politics and Society”: (my favourite academic journal) that deserves a wide readership; he’s given me permission to “post it”: temporarily. The piece is about the role that Grover Norquist’s Wednesday meetings play in cementing the conservative movement and indeed, in an important sense, in constituting its identity (Medvetz attended fourteen of these meetings and interviewed several key figures separately). Readers who aren’t familiar with current debates in sociology shouldn’t be put off by the initial theoretical discussion – the points that Medvetz makes in the main part of the article are clear, and easily understood. He’s claiming that these meetings serve a key function in creating a cohesive conservative community, centered on agreement over those things that aren’t open for discussion – babies (abortion), guns and taxes. It also helps conservatives frame issues for wider debates, and constitute themselves as distinct from the wider Republican party – participants frequently criticize centrist Republicans, or those who are too willing to bow to their constituents rather than sticking to conservative principal. Finally, the meetings are a point of exchange among movement conservatives themselves, and between the conservative movement and elected officials – both have something to gain from the other.

Medvetz backs up his story with juicy ethnographic details. His account of the debate over Medicare (beginning on the bottom of p.354) is a highly valuable piece of political history. A Heritage Foundation fellow denounced the forthcoming legislation as a massive expansion in government. The White House, aware that this was in the offing (and that conservatives were highly suspicious of the legislation), sent Doug Badger to make the positive case for the legislation. He and Newt Gingrich claimed that the legislation should be seen as an important incremental step towards privatizing healthcare and dismantling the welfare state. Gingrich’s argument that the healthcare bill was a victory for conservatism seemed to win his audience over. This account is a lovely illustration of Jacob Hacker’s “argument”: about the new politics of welfare state entrenchment. It also serves as a capsule account of what the conservative movement has become today. Great stuff – go read it.

(via “Dan Nexon”:



Daniel Nexon 08.02.06 at 10:46 am

Plus, the article is probably the only place you’ll find Grover Norquist’s name next to Pierre Bourdieu’s. But I want to second Henry’s comments: the piece is a great read and provides a lot of interesting analysis.


Henry 08.02.06 at 10:51 am

yikes – I had meant to include a “via Dan Nexon” link at the bottom of the post – will do so forthwith.


EWI 08.02.06 at 4:03 pm

Where have you been, Henry? Whatever his faults may be (and they’re many), Marshall Wittman – the Bullmoose – spilled the beans on this little shindig on his blog a long time ago.


Henry 08.02.06 at 5:10 pm

ewi – I haven’t read Wittman on this, but he would surely know from his Ralph Reed days. But what I’m saying isn’t that this is the first time that it’s been described (there have been several journalistic descriptions over the last few years as far as I remember); it’s that it’s the most thoughtful and comprehensive description of how these meetings work that I’ve seen.


John Quiggin 08.04.06 at 6:50 am

Hacker’s piece is very interesting, but the prescription drug benefit seems to run against his argument. Granted it’s a terrible policy, but it is a big expansion of public health spending, and it may pave the way for something better- certainly it’s hard to imagine either party scrapping it and not replacing it.

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