In retrospect, I can see that it was too much to expect a Republican Joy Division. The Republican party is too far gone. It has become...get ready...a rabid, senile, sclerotic rat, backed into a corner by its own paranoid visions, simultaneously choking on and excited by the bloody froth in its mouth leftover from chewing off its own limbs.
But outside the Grand Old Guignol itself, a few reflective conservatives are gathering their thoughts. Distancing themselves from the abuse of power, corruption and lies of the party itself and to varying degrees willing to acknowledge the failures of, well, just about everything over the past eight years, this brotherhood (it is too small, too soon and too male to call it a movement) is groping its way back to first principles and in the process, rediscovering the idea that human frailty is not something to be ashamed of. It is the basis of reasonable politics.
David Brooks stumbles across this idea every twelve months or so, in last year's defense of institutions and this year's reminder that we can't be protected against everything. (Though he promptly forgets again, as in this week's description of the Tea Party movement as passionately "disgusted" by things they appear to be merely uninformed about and afraid of.)
But Andrew Sullivan gets right to the point in The Conservative Soul:
All conservatism begins with loss. If we never knew loss, we would never feel the need to conserve, which is the essence of any conservatism...these experiences teach us the fragility of the moment, and that fragility is what, in part, defines us.
He excoriates the Bush administration as incompetent fundamentalists who lost sight of classical conservatism's acceptance of loss, frailty and consequent politics of doubt. In doing so, he seems pretty darned close to Tony Wilson's description of Joy Division as the band who turned punk's "Fuck you" on itself in order to say "I'm fucked."
It may be that Sullivan's existential sense of fuckedness is reinforced by the fact that he is not just conservative, but Catholic, gay and HIV-positive as well. When the cultures you call home officially condemn you as a low-life, you might develop a complex. And though it could be a simple failure of rhetorical technique, there does seem to be a touch of Stockholm syndrome in his bizarre attributions of support for Saddam Hussein and anti-gay posturing to Democrats. (This is particularly puzzling coming from a former editor of The New Republic.)
I am a big fan of failure, so a Republican platform based on human frailty and the inevitability of loss could be engaging, interesting and even somewhat seductive. But while I'm waiting for the sirens' call of a more reasonable right, I'm not holding my breath.