Wednesday, August 11, 2004

The Conservative Case Against the Conservative Case Against George Bush
By someone who is not a Bryk

We live in some heady times and it is natural that after three years of war people would want a break in the action. Sadly, though, such a break would not play to our advantage. Instead, perseverance is the order of the day. What is needed is a president that is decisive and bold. Fifteen shades of nuance and self-doubt are not going to defeat the terrorists because they feed off that sort of uncertainty. That is why a conservative argument to elect John Kerry over George Bush is tantamount to suicide for the party and a detriment to the republic. On the whole it is utterly ridiculous. If Bush has been such a violation to party principles, then the time to throw him out of office would have been during the party’s nomination. Every point that Mr. Bryk uses for his argument would be made worse with a Bush defeat and the long-term goal of righting the conservative course would be hopelessly derailed.

Bryk does not bother acknowledging the natural shifts in the economy or the potentially disastrous impact of terrorism on our economy and way of life. He does not even recognize the long-term internal debates among conservatives, which are at the very core of allowing the conservative movement adapt to the times and remain a viable political force. Instead, Bryk chooses to paint the president as an incompetent cheat, harping on deficit spending and preemptive war to suggest the he has recklessly discarded conservative principles wholesale.

But first things first: nobody has announced that there should be no criticism of this president. But, in the same way that Texans in the Alamo probably didn’t spend too much time criticizing their commanders while Santa Ana’s forces stormed the walls, Bush supporters, like me, are a bit busy defending the man from the onslaught of strident condemnation to offer much in the way of criticism. Still, you don’t have to search too far to see conservative criticism of Bush. Several of the points that Bryk cites are discussed on a daily basis in the blogosphere. These are not the shrill “you stepped on my rights” outcries that you are used to hearing on the left, but real and sober discussions defining conservatism and what direction it should be going. Conservative critics of Bush, most of whom I believe will still vote for the man, have taken the president to task on his proposed amnesty for illegal immigrants, his treatment of Saudi Arabia in our war strategy, his position on gay marriage & the wisdom of a marriage amendment, etc. etc. In fact, back in 2002 and 2003 while many liberals were crying for a “real” debate over the proposed war in Iraq, a real debate was already going on, mainly in conservative circles. It was at that time that the preemption doctrine was created and the rationale for invading a country that did not pose and “imminent” threat was hammered into shape. That 18-month period was a phase for the gradual lead up to the war that most of the democratic presidential candidates chose to characterize as a “rush” to war. If Bryk thinks that the pro-Bush position is to submissively fall in line, then he simply has not been awake. And Bush has been very open to differing views. Time and again he chose to follow the advice of others in the spirit of concession: whether it was in going to congress or the U.N. for support or in supporting steel tariffs to help an ailing industry. The fact is that no democratically elected leader can survive if they are as dense and thick skulled at critics charge Bush as being.

Bryk defines the conservative doctrine to suggest that it is some sort of unchangeable law. The idea that conservative values cannot or do not change over time is a fallacy. As a writer with a history background, Bryk should be aware that the Republican party of TR’s time, whom he quotes, has shed a few skins between then and now. TR’s predecessor, McKinley, sponsored an unprecedented large tariff and led a party that supported world intervention. Indeed, TR was a major interventionist himself. That was before the party shifted to isolationism. That interventionist tendency has returned. The conservative isolationists are an increasingly shrinking group forced to rally around the likes of Pat Buchanan and the American Conservative. But to listen to Bryk, one would assume that the neo/paleo con rift is something that Bush initiated in an unprincipled fashion. Bryk blurs the distinction between libertarianism and conservatism. When he does make the distinction, he fails to credit Bush for upholding the conservative values. For example, he says conservatives believe “that political and economic liberty were indivisible” but fails to mention that this very notion drives the Bush doctrine in foreign policy. He says, “that government's purpose was protecting those liberties” but does not acknowledge that the Bush administration believes that by fighting the war on terror they are protecting those liberties. On this point, it should be noted that many conservatives (and some 9/11 democrats) have criticized the president for not allowing racial profiling in airport security so that the government might fight the war more effectively and be less intrusive on the rest of us. Bush is also heavily criticized for not funding state police or beefing up border patrols – things some of us conservatives equate with a “police state”

And then there is this: “Thus American conservative politics championed private property, an institution sacred in itself and vital to the well-being of society.” This idea of a private property is the core of Bush’s 2004 platform about an ownership society. The recognition of private property is nothing new to the way Bush thinks or acts. His view of taxes is that money belongs to the people who earned it and not as government property to be doled out like an entitlement. With limited success, Bush pushed for the elimination of the dividend tax, which is very much in line with the way conservatives view tax dollars.

Bryk’s arguments are most effective on the domestic front. Conservatives have a reason to be on edge about record deficits and increased government spending. Bryk’s argument about agricultural subsidies will stick to conservatives most of all. But woe to the president that gets between congress and its pork-barrel spending, especially if that president didn’t win in a landslide and there can’t bludgeon the congress with the people’s mandate. No doubt, if Bush had decided to use his veto powers even once during his first term, legislators would label him as a divider and not a uniter. Fiscal conservatives have been complaining to Bush about his spending and he has indicated that fiscal prudence will play a larger role in his policies. Since he’s already passed the tax cuts, the drug benefit and No Child Left Behind, it is likely that a second term will see more cuts and less entitlement expansions. Even with all that, non-homeland security and defense spending increase 1% under Bush, compared to 15% under Clinton. That stat is nothing to base a platform on, but it does suggest some fiscal frugality somewhere in the mix. In contrast, his opponent, in the spirit of trying to have it both ways, criticizes Bush for recklessly spending too much and yet dreadfully under-funding every program. He is likely to increase spending and increase taxes more than Bush.

Bush’s energy bill is a different matter. Congress hasn’t passed an energy bill since Bush is in office and considering the energy crisis we are going through now, it is high time they did. Bush would be well served to make his energy plan a focal point for his campaign.

The deficit argument will not resonate during a time of war. It is curious that Bryk would cite the growth of our debt from now to 2040 when the previously cited 10-year estimate missed the mark. Conclusion: such projections are not accurate. But, since Bryk likes to use him, why not use Bush’s projection that he will cut the deficit in half within five years?

Of course, what condemnation of Bush is complete without howling about the PATRIOT Act? It is easy to say that it grants law enforcement unprecedented powers because it largely deals with newer technologies. Any law about that would be unprecedented. Should not law enforcement keep up with technology? Would it be better for cops to fight crime with loincloths and clubs? By reading Bryk’s interpretation of the PATRIOT Act, one would think that the idea of warrants was chucked out the window. In fact, the PATRIOT Act sets up a speedier way for law enforcement to obtain warrants. And how many times has Ashcroft obtained library records? If you listened to the screaming, you would think it was done on a regular basis. In reality, the answer is zero. How is it that critics insinuate that Ashcroft abused his powers. So a few drug dealers were nabbed through laws designed for terrorist. Big deal. We are a long way off from the gulags and concentration camps, let along the Japanese internment camps. This president has been careful with our rights and he should be commended. Is the PATRIOT Act perfect? No? Is it necessary? Yes, according to many experts that testified to the 9/11 commission, including Clinton officials.

On the social front, conservatives should be well pleased with Bush. He’s passed a ban on late term abortions, made faith based organizations eligible for federal money and has come out against the use of quotas for affirmative action. His anti-AIDS programs reject passing out condoms and promote abstanance.

Ultimately, most disgruntled conservatives will think it better to swallow their fiscal qualms and wait four more years when there will be an open nomination and then they can try to nominate a deficit hawk, instead of voting for a democrat that will raise their taxes and increase spending.

Bryk’s foreign policy arguments are much weaker because they are based on false footing.

It is funny how Bryk doesn’t mention al Qaeda, terrorism, terrorists, or the War on Terror one single time. He mentions 9/11 once, only to indicate that there is not conclusive evidence linking Iraq to 9/11. Go figure. In criticizing the president, he chose to leave out the main focus of the administration. He chose to leave out the reason why WMDs in Iraq became important all of a sudden. He chose to ignore the whole reason why Bush’s supporters “joyously anticipate a succession of wars without visible end.” For shame, Bryk, for shame!

His second point is some sort of half-hearted accusation that Bush has usurped the power of war making from congress. In the same breathe, Bryk admits that this was a power that congress ceded way back during the Korean War. Still, in the same vein that he believes the PATRIOT Act is the doomsday of our civil liberties, Bryk pretends that Bush somehow defied the intent of our Four Fathers and stripped congress of it’s war making powers, never-mind that it was a bipartisan trend over the past 50 years. That accounts for little in Bryk’s book. My question: why blame a president for using every tool in his arsenal? I suspect Joe Conservative will say that Bryk’s fish is three days old and he ain’t buying it.

Third is an inane fixation on behalf of the anti-war crowd that the administration was promising a cakewalk where we would be greeted with flowers and our men could set down their M-16s and everyone would sing about peace, love and understand. Granted, Wolfowitz said we would be greeted with flowers, and, as it turned out, many Iraqis were too busy trying to hit a portrait of Saddam with their shoes to throw flowers on our troops. Personally, I remember the celebrations when the Saddam statue fell. Even Chris Matthews stopped saying that Bush was liar for a moment. Was that celebration supposed to last forever? It’s time to grow up and Bush always said it would be tough. Somewhere along the way his confidence in victory was wrongly taken to be cockiness and arrogance. Perhaps he has a swagger. Perhaps he’s a cowboy. But all that merely compliments his humility (something lacking in his campaign opponent). And because the pro Bush neo-cons share his confidence does not mean that the horrors of war are lost on them or that they do not appreciate the sacrifice paid by the coalition troops, regardless what Bush-haters think. Who in their right mind would gleefully anticipate perpetual war? Certainly not the president, who quietly visits the wounded on a periodic basis and has the weight of the 1,000+ coalition casualties and unknown Iraqi dead on his shoulders.

Bryk’s fourth point is that there is nothing conservative about war and thus quoting Madison:

"Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. [There is an] inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and…degeneracy of manners and of morals…No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare."

True, true: but this line of thinking as a criticism of the war neglects the change that happened on September 11th. It neglects the map of the Middle East and the grave and gathering threat that it produces. It ignores that al Qaeda has been at war with the U.S. for years and in 2001 we just realized it. It ignores the fact that inaction would produce a state of perpetual violence on our shores. It neglects that the way to peace and stability – sweet peace and stability – is through the sword.

Which brings us to the fifth point: that Bush rejected Wilsonian diplomacy in 2000 and then reversed course after September 2001. That is a flip-flop that anyone should be able to understand. Still, it’s noteworthy to point out that Bush still rejected Clintonian policy: that is, he still refrained from involving us in some place that didn’t serve our national security interests.

Some would argue that by invading the Middle East we’ve encouraged the terrorists and inspired their ranks. Well, the same thing happens to bees when you destroy their hive. But, when their hives are gone, eventually they follow. Bush is right. The time has come that we drag the Middle East, kicking and screaming, into the modern age. Otherwise, al Qaeda and affiliated terrorists add to the American dead accumulated over a decade of terror attack and we will have the perpetual conflict of which Madison speaks.

Some would also argue that it was foolhardy to declare war on terrorism. How can you defeat a stateless institution? But the free world has done it before. We defeated piracy and slavery in the 19th century. Both are not completely gone, but neither threatens us like it once did. We can defeat terrorism.

Bush has done much to uphold conservative values. He has also done much to put us on the course to success on the war on terror. To vote against him is to throw all of his accomplishments in the wind. A vote for Kerry may not make the war un-winnable but it will drag it out and send the message to the terrorists that Americans don’t have the stomach for a hot war. Better for the party, the nation and the free world that Bush is reelected. American conservatives will reelect Bush because, as Bryk says, the “seek what Lord Acton called the highest political good: to secure liberty, which is the freedom to obey one's own will and conscience rather than the will and conscience of others.”

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