Conservatives Attack President Bush
The Los Angeles Times yesterday run a set of four editorials by putative conservatives, all arguing that that President Bush is a failure and/or not really a conservative. Steve Bainbridge rounds them up and provides brief summaries.
Three of the pieces are fine in their own right and make some valid, if familiar, points. Dan Drezner writes that, “Republicans like me are angry at Bush because he has frittered away one of the party’s greatest assets — the belief that when it came to international relations, the GOP was the party of competence.” Daniel Casse points out that, “This tension between the modern conservative agenda of promoting accountability, competition and individual choice on the one hand and the Reagan vision of small government on the other is rarely acknowledged by Republican leaders. But it is at the heart of many of the disputes between Bush and his conservative critics.” Bruce Bartlett, who is trying to make a career on the “Bush is no conservative” meme tells us, “George W. Bush is not one of us and has never been. There can be no denying that he has enacted policies contrary to conservative principles on far too many occasions.”
All well and good. I agree with Casse almost entirely, have only minor quibbles with Drezner, and think Bartlett misses the point because he doesn’t understand the difference between ponticificating and governing. All three of the piece, though, are worthy of publication and debate. But packaging these pieces together under the collective title “Conservative Crackup” is simply disengenuous. Drezner would not claim to be a conservative. And even though there is a lot of disillusionment with the president, he still enjoys overwhelming support among conservatives. The LAT couldn’t fine one conservative to defend Bush?
The fourth piece, Jeffrey Hart‘s “He’s a right-wing ideologue, not a true conservative” is sheer nonsense. The former Reagan speechwriter criticizes Bush for lacking “realism” in claiming that “Human cultures can be vastly different. Yet the human heart desires the same good things, everywhere on Earth,” a phrase right out of the Reagan hymnal.
He says Bush isn’t a conservative because,
Since Republican Theodore Roosevelt created our national parks, every president has worked to protect them. Free-market ideologue Bush neglects them except as a playground for more snowmobiles. He wants to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He talks about fuel-efficient cars but does nothing to encourage their production.
This is nonsensical. First, TR was many things but certainly “conservative” isn’t one of them. It is simply juvenile to argue that Bush “ignores” the national parks because he has sided with those who want to be able to enjoy the vast acreages by riding snowmobiles (an issue on which I’m agnostic) or because he wants to allow drilling for oil in one tiny corner of a hardly visited park larger than most of our states. It’s especially ironic to chastise Bush for being an ideologue while taking a hard core ideological stand that zero use of national parks is permissible. Understanding that life requires trade-offs is the first step toward “realism,” after all.
Bush is a privatization ideologue. Not surprisingly, his scheme to privatize Social Security sank like a stone. Who wanted to attach the social safety net to stock in such companies as Enron and WorldCom? And Bush’s Medicare prescription drug plan, another privatization scheme, has been a disaster.
Privatization is a cornerstone of the modern conservative movement. Certainly, Reagan was a huge proponent. That the Social Security proposal did not go over well politically is not evidence of Bush’s lack of conservatism but in the public’s love of the nanny state when they are the beneficiaries. And Bush did not advocate investing in single companies but in broad based annuities–which any realist will tell you outperforms government IOU’s over any long period.
And, while I opposed the prescription drug plan–which was not a product of conservative ideology but rather nanny state pandering–I would like to see more than mere assertion that it “has been a disaster.” How so?
As for me, I’m in favor of treating disease and avoiding unnecessary death.
Stem cell research promises to do that. But not long after his inauguration in 2001, Bush greatly hampered stem cell research by severely limiting federal support for it. Why?
Bush puts it this way: “It’s wrong to destroy life in order to save life.”
That works only if you think a dozen cells is the equivalent of an infant diagnosed with diabetes or an adult with Parkinson’s disease. If you believe that, you will believe anything. In actuality, the supposed “culture of life” is a culture of disease and death.
Opposition to abortion and the sanctity of human life are cornerstones of conservativism. I’m largely agnostic on stem cells but lean toward the pragmatic “aborted fetuses are a sad reality, so it’s better to do research with them than throw them in a landfill” side. But then I don’t claim to be a “conservative” in the traditional sense of the word (although I accept the label under most circumstances because swimming against the linguistic tide is usually pointless). Regardless, though, his argument makes clear Hart is simply not a conservative in any sense of the word.
Bush would like to abolish abortion. No one likes abortion. But a demand for it exists today that did not exist in 1950, let alone in 1920, when U.S. women got the vote. Today, look at a university campus. Half women. They are represented in all professions. They demand the right to decide if and when to have children. Criminalizing abortion would be folly, a disaster — and would fail, like that other prohibition. That’s the actuality.
All likely true. So what, though? Bush is a conservative. He ran on this position, as have Republicans (and some Democrats) going back to Richard Nixon. Reagan made abortion and the “culture of life” fundamental pieces of his campaign and his speeches.
Bush is not a conservative. He has bushwhacked the term. He is a right-wing ideologue.
The fact that someone who is demonstrably not a conservative vehemently disagrees with Bush does not mean that Bush isn’t a conservative. Bartlett’s thesis, that Bush is not conservative because he does not hold the line on spending, is at least plausible given that conservatives give lip service to fiscal responsibility. But holding to traditional social values is at the heart of conservatism, indeed, it defines the term.
There are legitimate definitions of “conservative” that permit a lot of spending on national defense and social programs; there are none that include an indifference to cultural values.
Elsewhere: Amy Ridenour liked this collection less than I did.