2007 June 03 Sunday
Conservative Commentators Failed To See Bush Clearly

In reaction to Peggy Noonan's column arguing Bush has betrayed and abandoned conservatives on immigration and other topics and they should treat him likewise, Rod Dreher points out that conservatives (at least those who supported Bush for years) bear a lot of responsibility for the failed Presidency of George W. Bush. I gotta agree.

I've got no strong objection to Noonan's analysis, and indeed I'm thrilled to see it. But it seems to me that we conservatives need to avoid falling into a historical revisionism that allows us to portray ourselves as passive victims of a feckless president. Not saying she does this, but I think as the last wheel comes off this presidency, and the GOP comes to grips with what this presidency has meant for the Republican Party and the conservative movement, there will be a strong temptation to resist owning up to our own complicity. Success has a thousand fathers, after all, and failure is an orphan. This failure is not President Bush's alone. The Republican Party owns it. The conservative movement, with some exceptions, owns it.

Bush supporters should take a hard look at themselves and how they came to support him for so long.

If we're looking to blame someone for the failure of Republican government and the conservative crack-up, look to the White House, yes, and look to the late, unlamented Republican Congress. But also look to the conservative talk show hosts, the conservative columnists, and finally, in the mirror. The only way we're going to rebuild after the present and coming political shattering is through honest reckoning, and taking responsibility for what we've done. It is tempting to blame Bush for everything. But it's not fair, and it's not honest. Bush is today who he always was. The difference is we conservatives pretty much loved the guy -- when he was a winner.

My one mistake with Bush was not to oppose the Iraq invasion before it happened. As soon as the looting started I started thinking the people like Eric Shinseki were right about needed troop levels. Then I started thinking that Greg Cochran's interpretation of the supposed WMD evidence was correct. I already disagree with Bush on immigration, border security, energy policy, the Medicare drug benefit, No Child Left Behind (which I call No Lie Left Behind), the nature of Islam, the prospects for democracy in Iraq (I never saw any such prospects), and many other topics.

Note that the exception Dreher links to is The American Conservative. Yes, the AmCon guys definitely did not drink the Bush Kool-Aid. Whereas the National Review folks drank it in large quantities and cried for more. The list of conservative commentators who supported Bush through thick and thin is quite long. I'm going to discount many of their views in the future. Though I can't say I spend much time reading commentary anyway, preferring mostly to read rawer sources of information with which to do my own analyses.

At this point I'd like to know: Who called Bush correctly early on? Who on the Right quickly figured out Bush's weaknesses and came to see his Presidency in a negative light? These are the people to pay attention to on other subjects. They have better track records in figuring out what really is. Of course, you can find people on the Left who saw Bush as terrible. But most of them would have done so regardless just based on a President's being a Republican. It is more useful to look at which commentators see someone clearly when they do not have partisan motives. So who saw Bush clearly? I'm thinking Greg Cochran, Lawrence Auster, Steve Sailer and some of the VDare writers.

Daniel Larison observes that the rhetoric that the Bush Administration is using against conservative opponents of immigration amnesty is very similar to the rhetoric Bush has used for years against liberals and anti-war conservatives.

In fact, this tendency in casting political disagreement as the result of the moral deficiency of the opponent dates back to the beginning of Mr. Bush’s first presidential campaign when he accused Congress of “balancing the budget on the backs of the poor.” The tendentiousness, the dishonesty, and the preference for liberal rhetorical tropes (”racist,” “sexist,” “elitist” are some of the favoured terms of abuse hurled by the administration and its lackeys) were all there from the start. They re-emerged on a regular basis: those who were against democratisation in Iraq were racists who believed Arabs were not fully human, or something of the sort; those against the appallingly bad Harriet Miers nomination were sexist elitist chauvinist pigs, and so on. In smearing antiwar conservatives, of course, Mr. Bush had, still has, many willing helpers in the movement. Then there were all those in positions of some influence who saw what was happening, knew it was wrong and said nothing. The betrayals and compromises of the previous five years were no less horrible, no less significant and no less damaging in their different ways to this country than this amnesty bill, but those things were all bearable so long as they greased the wheels and kept the GOP in power in Congress. That seems to be the thinking of more than a few pundits who are now outraged at the treatment of Bush’s immigration critics. Now, having lost Congress, there is a sudden discovery among Republicans that Mr. Bush and his loyalists are dishonest, obnoxious and buffoonish. It took them long enough to admit this.

So the conservatives who only now are finally outraged at Bush didn't object to those tactics until those tactics were directed at them. Well, we are lucky that Bush has so mistreated them. Else they'd still be defending him and we need their support against this immigration amnesty monstrosity.

As myriad liberals have been pointing out this week as conservative complaints about the rough treatment Bush and his allies have meted out to opponents of the amnesty bill, there is absolutely nothing  new in the methods that the administration is using.  Mr. Bush has a long record of attacking his enemies by disparaging their patriotism, decency and common sense.  He has learned well from the example of the masters of deceit and chutzpah–Wilson, FDR, Clinton–who were always sure to accuse their political opponents of the very things of which they were far more likely to be guilty.  Opponents of amnesty on the right, who have mostly been more tolerant of Mr. Bush’s other projects (and some of whom have actively joined in with Mr. Bush in his past attacks or have made the attacks on his behalf), have now discovered that vilifying political opponents, denigrating their good faith and intimating that they are possessed of hateful prejudices are undesirable and unacceptable methods of debating policy.

Again, I sympathise in this case, since I also find the amnesty bill appalling. A great many conservatives, be they enforcement-first or restrictionist or some mix of the two, are finally in agreement that the administration has gone mad. Of course, he has been intent on doing this since 2001. There are no surprises here. From the day Mr. Bush signed No Child Left Behind, he had declared his hostility to the beliefs and interests of large numbers of people in his coalition. Everything that followed was merely a continuation of this. Now Mr. Bush and his allies in the GOP leadership declare their own constituents bigots, and apparently, finally, those constituents have started losing patience with these frauds. It’s about time.

It was as if the conservatives didn't want to believe that a tough sounding hawkish fundamentalist Christian Texas Republican could possibly be their enemy. He sure fooled them.

Both Dreher's and Larison's posts are worth reading in full.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2007 June 03 06:05 PM  Immigration Politics

Roland Dobbins said at June 3, 2007 8:18 PM:

Don't forget Dr. Jerry Pournelle (http://www.jerrypournelle.com). He's never criticized the President by name - nor would he - but he pointed out the folly of the first Gulf War, as well as the current Mesopotamian Expedition, the No Child Gets Ahead act, et. al. He also pointed out the amazing arrogance of David Frum, who somehow felt qualified to read those opposed to the 2003 invasion out of the conservative movement (http://www.nationalreview.com/frum/frum031903.asp); Dr. Pournelle refers to the man as "the egregious David Frum", and rightly so, in my opinion.

Hal K said at June 3, 2007 8:49 PM:

I was disappointed in the American Conservative when, right before the 2006 election, they advised their readers to vote against the Republicans in Congress (over the Iraq War). Anyone who was closely following the immigration debate at that time would have realized that the Republican majority in the House was our only firewall against amnesty, and American Conservative made the flawed argument that Democrats wouldn't dare pass amnesty because it would make it impossible for them to retain power. I hope this turns out to be true, but I certainly don't and didn't agree that expressing disapproval over Iraq in 2006 was more important than preventing amnesty. The time to vote against the Iraq War was in 2004, and too many voters were behind the curve both in 2004 and 2006.

Matt@occidentalism said at June 4, 2007 12:17 AM:

Hal, it is hard to say what would have happened if the republicans had won congress again. In all likelihood it would have emboldened them to go ahead with the amnesty. If you are saying the voters are stupid, well yes, they probably are.

John S Bolton said at June 4, 2007 12:29 AM:

Everyone should notice that the use of smears indicates a very serious failure to find rational arguments,
for a position such as the mass legalization of foreign criminals.
The administration apparently does not care if the president's approval rating drops to the lowest level ever recorded,
since they're smearing and antagonizing their last, most loyalistic part of their base.
This shows a lot of respect for democracy, doesn't it, as if there were more 'courage' in turning 80 than 70%, and 90 than 80%, against you.
Bush may hope to get historical credit from a new left crowd,
but history is written almost entirely by those who will find every occasion to vilify him,
and never be tempted to acknowledge any concession he threw their way.

Alex said at June 4, 2007 2:41 AM:

Indeed. In fact, I can't quite see how Bush has "betrayed" conservatives recently. He said he was for unchecked, unassimilated immigration when running for president in 2000. (And I’m guessing there was more information about his position in his ‘90s record) On that alone conservatives should have known what they were getting but they didn’t want to face it. Many of them, of course, didn’t mind because they are for mass immigration themselves (I’ll continue to refer to them as “conservatives” here for the sake of convenience), and that includes even some who are objecting to the more egregious aspects of the current bill. But virtually none beyond those you name wanted to face the implications of his immigration position. And he has only added to the clarity of the picture ever since: from Rove telling JD Hayworth he “just doesn’t want to help brown people” to Bush’s repeated proposals for amnesty and mass helot-importation going back to Aug ’01, this showdown was always easily foretold. Mainstream conservatives told themselves that extremists like Tancredo had it coming or else they just wanted to wish it away so they could keep focusing on the issues that made them happy, namely the War on Terror in its earlier, headier days.

But that’s just one issue. Bush told us early on that if someone is hurting the government has to move and that the Congress was balancing the budget on the backs of the poor. He let it be known that Gonzalez would please him as SCOTUS and let Gonzalez protect race-based considerations in the White House brief for the Michigan quotas case. He and his surrogates told conservatives they were sexist if they opposed Miers. Etc. etc.

Which brings us to Iraq. Which conservatives among those now in revolt are also about to abandon the basic premises of the democracy-exporting strategy? Of the idea that our only hope against Islam is to effect some sort of liberal reform? Who is now about to say that we must separate ourselves as much as possible from the Muslim world, and that that, whatever challenges it brings, is far more realistic than forcing reform?

Hell, who among the “we must have the will to stay and defeat the bad guys” crowd is now going to admit that that isn’t even the correct framing of the situation?

Pretty much none I’m going to guess. So Bush hasn’t betrayed them there either. They’re still with him on that, no matter how much they snipe at the edges of the strategy by picking out instances of his incompetence.

The only point on which I think conservatives can justly claim Bush betrayed them was in nominating Miers (and perhaps even the vanilla Roberts) for SCOTUS after having told them he wanted Scalia-esque judges. Notwithstanding the hints early on that Gonzalez would be someone he could appoint too, that was a fairly clear betrayal of they way he had campaigned. But that was a year and a half ago. Conservatives have been endlessly let down by this president because they have endlessly supported him on what they have made the central issue, his pro-democracy, forced-reform strategy against Islamic terror. They agree with that strategy and they still do. They have not been betrayed.

stilicho said at June 4, 2007 2:11 PM:

"they have made the central issue, his pro-democracy, forced-reform strategy against Islamic terror. They agree with that strategy and they still do."

They might still be mouthing the platitudes, but expect some serious dissent to start appearing at the end of september.

stilichio said at June 4, 2007 2:17 PM:

Re: Frum.

To Frum's credit he started breaking off from the Bush orthodoxy rather early - especially so on immigration, where he has been a clear and forceful proponent of common-sense immigration policy. I find the new, somewhat humbled Frum a decent read.

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