Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Vision Thing

By Mitchell

My friend Hadleyblogger Gary was complaining about George Bush yesterday. Now, this is nothing new for Gary. As I’ve commented before, Gary would only be completely satisfied belong to a political party named after himself.

What I think is worth mentioning about Gary, and the reason I bring this up, is that until a few years ago most people would have called Gary a staunch Republican type (he eschewed party affiliations himself, but it would have been one of those “if the shoe fits” cases), and he remains a staunch conservative. He supported George Bush in 2000 - he was truly convinced that the younger Bush was different, more conservative, than his father. Perhaps even the heir to Ronald Reagan.

This feeling had, for the most part, dissipated by 2004. I can’t remember if he voted for Bush then, but the ardor had clearly worn off. Today, it’s totally gone – replaced by a withering contempt. In his mind, and in the minds of many like Gary, George Bush has betrayed not only the principles of the Republican party, but those of conservatism as well – the growing federal bureaucracy, the runaway spending, the increasing intrusiveness of the government, the continual erosion of national sovereignty, the war.

Gary is by no means a lone voice in this. What makes it so difficult for many in the conservative movement is that George Bush’s presidency has created such a distorted image, a totally inaccurate picture of what conservatives stand for. Bush isn’t a conservative – at best, he’s a moderate Republican, a return to the party’s pre-Reagan country club roots – but many people, trained over time to link “Republican” and “conservative” are presented with a grossly unfair depiction of what many would think of a “conservative” presidency. The best one can do when discussing politics with others is to stress to them that George Bush isn’t a conservative at all, that he’s not representative of how many conservatives really feel. Don’t judge us by what you see in him, we plead. There is an intelligent, comprehensive, logical ideology out there called “conservatism.” Trust us. We aren’t that bad, we aren’t that stupid.

George Bush has done incalculable damage to the conservative movement, creating stress points, confusion, co-opting the Republican party in the process by forcing many conservative Republicans to choose between party loyalty and ideological belief. Perhaps the worst aspect of this is the seeming tin-ear with which Bush and his administration have gone about alienating the very people to whom they should be looking for support.

The latest fiasco, the immigration “compromise,” just adds fuel to the fire, and in fact it may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Many wonder if Bush really cares about this country at all, about its history, its heritage, its common culture – all of which have been diminished during the past 6+ years. David Frum, at NRO, makes the following prediction as to the battle:

As we have seen in both the Harriet Miers fight and the Dubai ports deal, this White House's first instinct when faced with dissent in the ranks is to insult and abuse its strongest supporters. "Sexist"; "elitist"; "registered bigots" were some of the terms cast during the previous fights. Brace yourselves for much, much worse. This is no way to win friends and influence people. And triggering an internecine party conflict on the eve of a difficult and dangerous election is no way to re-elect a damaged incumbent party.
When I spoke with Gary about this, he threatened to become unintelligible altogether, so choked with fury was he. Gary sees in this president a man who has sold out his party, conservative principles, and ultimately his country – and from here, it’s hard to say anything other than that Gary has 20/20 vision.


  1. If you conservative Republicans think that you have it bad under GWB, think how it must be for me, a DFL'r who finally has put the Pro-Life cause first in his priorities.

    Since I have left the DFL, many other of the new "coalition platform planks" cease to have any hold on me either.

    But I've always been a "strict constructionist" with respect to constitutional law. And my heart still sympathizes with the plight of workers and farmers and societies weaker members.

    But off hand, I can't think of anything, besides free access to air (of dubious quality in some areas) that I would support this Bush on.

  2. I think that when people vote they need to forget the political party labels and such titles as neo-con, conservative, liberal, etc. You just need to vote for the person based upon their record and their personality. The labels and the lame attempts at characterization are as meaningless in politics as they are in popular music.

    GWB frequently advocates what benefits big business because they are his huge financial base. Business wants the immigration reform he's touting because they will now have access to cheap labor without having to go overseas or worry about immigration raids, fines and bad press.

    The only things I'm grateful to him for is his opposition to embryonic stem cell research and stepping in to try and save Terri Schiavo. I have to say that after 9/11 I was really glad he was President and not Al Gore. But, my gratitude over that was shortlived based upon his wrongheaded invasion of Iraq. Frankly, I think we should have invaded Pakistan or the Arabian peninsula.

  3. Ray & Cathy,

    Great comments. It brings up the larger issue of the role of conservative thought in politics, which is the point behind conservative discontent with Bush.

    There is, or ought to be, a synergy within conservatism that links various positions into a cohesive philosophy – the problem today is that it is seen more as an ideology, which adapts itself to various situations, personalities, and dynamics without necessarily applying consistent reasoning or logic.

    For example, the very nature of political conservatism as a philosophy suggests the advantages of small government and respect for individual rights such as personal property – ideas that are predominant in the thought of Chesterton. Economic conservatism, in the form of low taxes (which in turn act to control the size and intrusiveness of government), maximizes the earnings potential of the individual. This not only prevents a worker from becoming a “wage slave” of the government, it also provides a greater ability to support the family on a single income, and allows for disposable income for charitable work. (Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker movement, was a strong opponent of government social programs, saying that they were a convenient surrogate for the individual’s moral duty to give charitably.) A smaller government, with less spending, also becomes a more effective steward of the tax money it collects from the public, rather than using it for purposes of social experimentation. I often argued when I was running for office that one could not be an economic conservative and a social moderate, insofar as there was a necessary symbiotic relationship between the two that, if severed, would weaken the structural integrity of each.

    In turn, we have seen how misguided social programs, an outgrowth of the New Deal and the Great Society, have often become surrogates for individual responsibility within the family. We have seen how judicial activism has subjugated the democratic will of the people in the name of judicial lawmaking. We have seen how people, when allowed to vote in their own self-interests, often sacrifice the greater good of the nation as a whole. And we have seen how labor unions, by becoming a component of the Democratic consistency, have often subsumed the interests of their members in favor of political power. Liberal Republicans such as Rudy, through their support of pro-abortion policies, weaken the very family and social structure that their conservative economic policies are intended to benefit; they also, in the long-term sense, weaken the social structures they claim to support (Social Security, the labor force, an inversion in demographic ratios can all be seen as consequences of abortion).

    On the flip side, when conservatism becomes merely a political ideology, it becomes subject to bartering, deal making, and compromise in a way that goes beyond the necessity to get things done consistently and efficiently (not that government operates that way anyway). By its alliance with big business, conservatism has sacrificed the inherent dignity of the worker in return for political donations. The immigration battle can be seen as a particularly cynical attempt by the Republicans to broaden the party’s appeal to Hispanic voters at the expense of the American people and culture as a whole, hoping that continued low prices on consumer goods will mollify the public. (The Democrats, too, are guilty of using the immigration issue, in that they seek to produce a permanent underclass that will be dependent on the special interest groups that are a core component of the liberal Democratic constituency.)

    The bottom line to these lengthy comments is that the conservative political philosophy by definition is, to a great extent, compatible with much of Catholic social and political understanding. In fact, I would suggest that true conservatism is inherent in Catholic teaching. It’s just that we haven’t seen that conservatism in a fully understood synergy. Bush’s betrayal of larger conservative philosophy (increased spending, international involvement, weakened borders, larger government, loss of national sovereignty) is also a betrayal of the moral foundation upon which conservatism must be built to have any legitimacy at all. It is a mistake to any longer automatically equate conservatism with the Republican party, and those who do so fail to understand the true nature of conservatism.



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