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Monday, November 28, 2005
 
Hating Bush, Fisking McCain

After the failures of the Bush Administration, conservatives are lining up for a home-run hero; they don't want any more false conservatives. Bush, who was thought to have arguably remade the Republican Party until the Miers revolt, has betrayed "conservatism" on every account, particularly when it comes to fiscal issues. For the more snobbish and intellectually-inclined conservatives, references to Edmund Burke or Russel Kirk are obligatory.

Jeffery Hart, professor emeritus of English at Dartmouth, presents an excellent example "conservative" anti-Bush vitriol in his latest op/ed entitled, "George W. Bush, Bogus conservative."
George W. Bush is not a conservative, but a right-wing ideologue who steers by abstractions in both foreign and domestic policy. Inevitably a perilous gap opens between his abstractions and concrete realities.

A conservative steers by prudence, uses history as evidence for the behavior of nations and individuals. A conservative is aware of the complexity and resistance of cultures, and of course considers abstractions and utopian schemes to be dangerous. A conservative matches means to ends as a practical necessity.

In a very important but widely overlooked speech at the American Enterprise Institute on Feb. 26, 2003, Mr. Bush makes it clear that he has a Wilsonian view of human behavior:

"Human cultures can be vastly different. Yet the human heart desires the same good things everywhere on Earth [italics added]. ... Freedom and democracy will always and everywhere have greater appeal than slogans of hatred and tactics of terror."

But that happy thought is flatly untrue. Do human beings really desire the same good things everywhere on earth? Don't human beings desire power, conquest, empire, do not adherents of rival religions and secular dogmas slaughter one another? Did the 9/11 suicide bombers desire, in their hearts or otherwise, the same good things as the people who went to work that morning in the World Trade Center? Mr. Bush was talking idealistic nonsense, deadly nonsense, while believing it to be reality.

Now, to Woodrow Wilson's goal of "making the world safe for democracy," President Bush, and his theoreticians, added two improvements. In his syndicated column of Feb. 23, 2004, National Review Editor Rich Lowry offered this analysis:

"The reinvigorated Wilsonian foreign policy championed by Mr. Bush -- and motivated less by Woodrow Wilson's secular values (international law, etc.) and more by religious beliefs (the God-given rights of all people) -- is a reflection of President Bush's Christian base."

But, now, wait a minute. Since when has Woodrow Wilson been a conservative hero? He has always been a liberal icon. And Mr. Bush's theory that "the human heart desires the same good things everywhere on earth," derives from John Locke's optimistic assumption that human interests converge (they often do not, even "in their hearts"), and from Rousseau's belief in the natural goodness of human beings. With history in mind, if you believe that human beings are naturally good, then you will believe anything. Locke, Rousseau -- these are not conservative guides.

Tom DeLay, the most powerful Republican in the House, and now, among many others, under indictment, provided this diagnosis of Terri Schiavo, whose cerebral cortex had been destroyed and so was entirely oblivious: "Terri Schiavo is not dead; she talks and she laughs, and she expresses happiness and discomfort. Terri Schiavo is not on life support." Wheeeee! Did Tom DeLay have a hand in Iraq planning?

Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan were successful presidents. All were re-elected by landslides. All were conservative in the context of their times. All, somewhere, are glaring angrily at the messes that President Bush's folly has made.

Hart's analysis was precious, right down to the "wheeee" at the end of a paragraph about Tom Delay. What is most amusing, and instructive about this retrospective, ad hoc conservatism is that Locke doesn't get to make the cut whereas FDR does. When did FDR become a conservative? I think another "wheeee" is in order.

More importantly, when was Locke kicked out of the conservative pantheon of saints? Stephen Bainbridge, law professor, whom I will upbraid in a moment, quotes Russell Kirk who wrote, "... the true conservative does stoutly defend private property and a free economy, both for their own sake and because these are means to great ends." Locke, particularly as he was invoked by Robert Nozick in Anarchy, State, and Utopia, the bible of libertarian conservatism, was one of the first theorists to defend the right to property at almost all costs. In fact, for Locke, the beginning of liberty was the ability to input value into property. Locke so thoroughly believed in the right of property that he even defended British colonialism in America on the contention that British settlers would add value to the land, and that this right of property transcended any government's ability to interdict or interfere. Locke was definitely a conservative.

Conservative fury over Bush, moreover, has also led to the beginnings of the campaigns pre-2008 against Senator John McCain. Stephen Bainbridge on that point wrote:
I get all schizo when I think about John McCain. I admire his life story and I think his "national greatness" version of conservatism is an interesting take on the problems of the day. But there's so much about him that drives me nuts. Ultimately, I can't imagine supporting him in light of:

He basically gutted the first amendment in the guise of campaign finance "reform"
He and his allies consistently smeared former FEC chairman Brad Smith for defending the first amendment
He's inconsistent on influence peddling
He gave Dick Durbin cover fire when the latter made some incredibly stupid comments about Iraq and our troops
And most important of all: He seems to have no notion of what the phrase "limited government" means
John McCain should not be the GOP nominee in 2008. Accordingly, I hereby expressly disavow any prior suggestion to the contrary.
After reading Stephen Moore's report on interviewing McCain, I would add to that list the following:

McCain can't be trusted with running the American economy

Stephen Moore's piece can be summed up in this paragraph:
[McCain] views himself, I believe, as a kind of modern-day Robin Hood, a defender of the downtrodden and tormentor of the bullying special interests, which is endearing and unquestionably a big part of his broad political appeal, but often leads to populist and parasitic economic policy conclusions like higher taxes on the rich and attacks on "huge oil profits." He wants to be the caped crusader against corruption. The buzzword for the McCain Straight Talk Express in 2008 will be reform: "I want to reform education, reform Medicare and Social Security, reform lobbying and campaigns. Reform immigration. Reform. Reform. Reform."

Bainbridge then, after trotting out a quote by Russel Kirk, concludes that McCain's reformist tendencies aren't truly conservative--I'm wondering how that squares with his statement at the beginning of post "his "national greatness" version of conservatism is an interesting"--and that ultimately we should avoid McCain if we want a "real" conservative in the White House.

Now McCain's conservatism, and I'll prove that it's conservative in another post some other time, is summed up his view about immigration: "America must remain a beacon of hope and opportunity. The most wonderful thing about our country is that this is the one place in the world that anyone--through ambition and hard work--can get as far as their ambition will take them." All of the evils Bainbridge attributes to McCain come from the senator's basic willingness to prevent the uncaring titans of capitalism and government from choking out the ambition of drive of individual Americans. And it is this ability of individuals to make a fate and a living for themselves that makes America great in the McCain vision. For McCain, the malefactors of great wealth, a ballooning national deficit, and a badly managed war in Iraq all limit the ability of this country to be great. And I can't see why conservatives should disagree with that.