The Price of Bush
A year ago, John Kerry caused conservatives to rally behind President Bush; even I, no fan of the president, softened on him, given the alternative, when the 2004 election seemed likely to be almost as close as the one in 2000. I was relieved to the point of elation when Bush won a clear victory.
Today things are very different. Bush is on the verge of losing his conservative base. His nomination of Harriet Miers to replace Sandra Day OConnor on the U.S. Supreme Court has enraged those who feel, with good reason, that recent Republican presidents have betrayed their trust with lousy judicial appointments: chiefly OConnor herself, Anthony Kennedy, and David Souter, all of whom have upheld the Courts worst ruling ever, Roe v. Wade. We have only Bushs word that Miers would be a reliable defender of the Constitution.
And why should anyone trust his judgment about that? The same conservatives are beginning to notice, belatedly, that Bush himself shows no great awareness of, or respect for, constitutional principle. He has yet to veto an act of Congress, has violently expanded Federal power, and takes a Buzz Lightyear approach to government spending: To infinity and beyond! The list could easily be lengthened, and it makes a grim joke of Bushs claim to be a strict constructionist.
Until lately, Bush could count on conservative support for his Iraq war, which he sold as vital to his larger war on terror. This too was constitutionally questionable, but war is the one huge Federal spending program conservatives usually believe in. As long as Bush could plausibly claim the war was succeeding, they were willing to overlook most of his sins and ignore the qualms of the stern conservatives who were shouted down and slandered by the warlike neoconservatives egging him on.
Now, however, the war has failed. Bush still clings to his absurd optimism about democratizing the Middle East, but the American public no longer believes him and wants to bring the troops home pronto. Even the neocons who urged him to wage World War IV are slinking away, leaving him to fend for himself.
The unexpected disaster of Hurricane Katrina has further damaged Bushs popularity. Trying to respond to popular demand, he has promised virtually limitless new spending to rebuild New Orleans.
Compounding his woes is the aura of corruption that now surrounds the Republican Party, with the arrogant House majority leader, Tom DeLay, under indictment and Bushs indispensable advisor, Karl Rove, also facing grave legal and ethical questions. Other Republicans are understandably trying to distance themselves from their partys leader, who has abruptly become a liability to his loyalists.
No president since Richard Nixon has faced such a welter of problems, and even Nixon, until his final days in office, never faced such rapidly dissolving support. No single smoking gun like the Watergate tapes is likely to finish Bush off, but he looks unexpectedly desperate, confused, ineffectual.
What does he stand for? Only one thing: the failed war he has already staked his reputation on. He has subordinated everything to that, and in its absence it would be impossible to name any philosophy, conservative or otherwise, he could be identified with.
So conservatives are now afraid that when the dust has settled, their philosophy will be identified with Bushs failure. That would be unjust to their philosophy, but theyve asked for it. Its too late for them to repudiate him now. He hasnt betrayed them as badly as theyve betrayed their philosophy by supporting him all these years.
The president Bush most resembles is not Nixon, but Lyndon Johnson, who also tried to expand the Federal Government in every direction and fatally split his base. Democrats paid a heavy price for supporting his war in Vietnam along with his multifarious social programs. They tried to recoup by pretending he hadnt happened and moving leftward, but liberalism got a bad name and by 1994 theyd lost the electoral majority theyd taken for granted since the New Deal.
Now Bush has given conservatism a bad name with a lot of help from conservatives who should have known better. Was keeping John Kerry out of the White House worth the price of backing Bushs war?
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