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Mr. Barone’s advice was no criticism, since he fairly gushed with toasty sounds about the similarities between Wilson’s beliefs and Mr. Bush’s “vision of an America spreading freedom and democracy to new corners of the world.”

And in fact Mr. Barone was correct. Wilson is exactly who Mr. Bush sounded like in his speech yesterday.

Woodrow Wilson of course was the president who not only launched America into World War I to “make the world safe for democracy”but also helped forge the disastrous Treaty of Versailles, which helped spawn the chaos that led to Nazism in Germany and World War II.

Among Wilson’s other dubious accomplishments were the creation of the Federal Reserve System, a massive expansion of federal regulations, the federal income tax and the rise of what he called “presidential government” to “get around” the “obstructions” of “congressional government.” Why anyone purporting to represent conservatism of any kind would invoke Wilson as a positive icon is beyond comprehension.

Wilson also resembles Mr. Bush in that he campaigned in the 1916 election on the slogan, “He kept us out of war.” Then, a few months later, he helped bring us into war. Like Wilson, Mr. Bush is rapidly acquiring a reputation for violating the commitments of his last presidential campaign. That, perhaps, is his most notable contribution to American political history so far.

While not exactly a violation of a campaign promise, Mr. Bush’s renewed enthusiasm for amnesty for illegal aliens can fairly count as a betrayal. Though he proposed the amnesty early last year, before the campaign really started, he dropped it after a less than rousing response from Congress. He may have mentioned it once or twice during the campaign, but he has never described it as the amnesty it actually is.

Only after the election did Secretary of State Colin Powell, while on a visit to Mexico, say the plan would be revived .

“In light of the campaign and other things that were going on, we weren’t able to engage the Congress on it,” Mr. Powell said . “But now that the election is behind us and the president is looking to his second term, the president intends to engage Congress on it.”

In other words, we couldn’t tell voters what we were going to do because we would have lost. Now that we don’t have to pay attention to them any more, we can speak plainly. Ever since the election Mr. Bush has repeatedly promised to push his plan through Congress.

Plain Speaking Event Number Two is the proposed constitutional amendment banning homosexual marriage. Personally, I am not in favor of it and have written against it in the past, but many conservatives, especially those who supported the president, are, and one major reason they did support him is because he said he was in favor of it too. Now he’s not.

Interviewed in the Washington Post last week, Mr. Bush said he is advised by Republican senators that the amendment can’t possibly pass. Actually, it didn’t pass last year when it came up in Congress, but the religious right and its allies want to push it again.

As the Washington Post noted this week, social conservatives are already grousing about the president’s apparent lack of interest in pushing it . “Clearly there is concern,” said a spokesman for the Family Research Council.

Add to concern about the amendment the president’s appointment of an “abortion rights supporter,” Kenneth Mehlman, as head of the Republican National Committee, and Mr. Bush may start having problems with a large part of his political base. [Bush Upsets Some Supporters, By Jim VandeHei and Michael A. Fletcher, January 19, 2005]

Plain Speaking Event Number Three, assuming we don’t count the appointment of Alberto Gonzales as attorney general and his positions on abortion and immigration, is Mr. Gonzales’ most recent statement before the Senate Judiciary Committee that he “he will support reinstating the federal ban on assault weapons, which Congress allowed to expire in September.”

Since voting blocs like gun owners were at least as vital to Mr. Bush’s re-election as the religious right and since the expiration occurred because the president didn’t oppose it, this too can fairly be counted as a betrayal of the president’s conservative base.

Is it surprising that Mr. Bush, even before he was inaugurated for a second term, started betraying the conservative positions he took during the campaign and the conservative image he and his handlers so carefully cultivated? No, it’s not. Some of us knew, even before he became president at all, that he is a phony-con.

Those who elected and re-elected him have yet to learn that, but in the next few years, they will—again—have ample opportunity to do so.

• Category: Ideology • Tags: Conservative Movement 
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What will happen to American conservatism as a result of the 2004 election? Obviously, the answer depends largely on what happens in the election, and we won’t know that until tomorrow (or later). But that doesn’t stop pundits from telling us anyway.

Pat Buchanan believes a “civil war” will break out inside the Republican Party over its ideological future, a war between the Bush partisans and their neoconservative allies on the one hand and, on the other, paleoconservatives like Mr. Buchanan, advocates of an “America First,” national interest-based foreign policy, economic nationalism and traditional conservatism—small government, constitutionalism and cultural traditionalism.

The New Republic’s Franklin Foer also thinks the paleos may have a future after the election.

The most recent contribution to this discussion comes from two British observers with The Economist, John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge. Writing in the Wall Street Journal last week, they suggest that whatever happens in the election, what President Bush has done to American conservatism is here to stay. [“‘Bushism’ Win or lose, the president has remade the politics of the right. October 27, 2004

What Mr. Bush has done to conservatism, they argue, is to revolutionize it. He has embraced what they call “big government conservatism,” reversing what both Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan supported. “The massive growth in the state during this presidency (faster than under Bill Clinton, even if you exclude the spending on the war on terror)” is at heart “a deliberate strategy.”

Moreover, they claim that Mr. Bush’s use of the state is conservative in that in his intention was “to turn government into an agent of conservatism,” using federal power to impose moral values in ways traditional conservatives rejected (not because they rejected the values but because they rejected the scale of federal power to impose them).

Finally, “Mr. Bush’s boldest contribution to reinventing conservatism” lies in his foreign policy, which centers on spreading democracy across the planet as a moralistic crusade.

Like a lot of foreign observers of America since Alexis de Tocqueville, these two don’t get everything right, but they do spy trends many Americans tend to miss, and they are largely right about the impact of the Bush administration on the body of American conservatism.

To put it another way, the impact of Mr. Bush on American conservatism has been a disaster.

It has been a disaster because every “contribution” the authors cite is not simply a modification or an adjustment but an abandonment of what traditional conservatism means and has meant.

It is, in short, “neoconservatism”—and in a way that has nothing to do with “neoconservative” as a codeword for “Jews.”

The main neoconservative writers—Norman Podhoretz, Irving Kristol, and most others—have long insisted that they don’t share traditional conservative distrust of the centralized state—a distrust that was shared by traditional Jeffersonian conservatives, constitutionalists and libertarians.

What the neocons wanted, wrote their “godfather” Irving Kristol, was “a conservative welfare state,” while Mr. Podhoretz has written that from its beginnings “the neoconservatives dissociated themselves from the wholesale opposition to the welfare state which had marked American conservatism since the days of the New Deal.”

Today, thanks to the Bush administration, they have succeeded in disassociating American conservatism from American conservatism.

Mr. Bush’s use of expanded state power for “moralistic” ends is consistent with neoconservatism as well, though it mainly comes from his alliance with the religious right, a movement that has close ties to the neo-cons.

But Mr. Micklethwait and Mr. Wooldridge may exaggerate the degree to which the president has actually embraced the religious right’s agenda. Most I know in that movement are less than pleased with what he’s done to advance it.

Most obviously, as the authors acknowledge, Mr. Bush’s foreign policy is largely the creature of the neoconservatives all by themselves. The crusade to spread democracy, especially in the Middle East, has been a neoconservative obsession since at least the Reagan administration. Only under Mr. Bush did they have a green light to make it the central purpose of American policy abroad.

The trouble with Mr. Bush’s adaptations of conservatism to fit the neocon mold is that they are fundamentally inconsistent with what most American conservatives have always believed and believe today.

Only by masking them with conventional conservative rhetoric—and by dwelling on how awful the liberal alternatives are—can a Republican Party dominated by neoconservatism expect to keep grassroots conservative support and remain in office.

And maybe it can and will. As neoconservatism entrenches itself as the dominant and defining expression of conservatism, there will be fewer and fewer Americans who even remember what real conservatism is.

Maybe they can still wage a civil war to take back their party and their nation, but the result of that civil war could be as much of a disaster as the last one.

• Category: Ideology • Tags: 2004 Election, Conservative Movement 
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If neither of the two major presidential candidates excites you very much, maybe you should consider staying home on Election Day and reading a good book. A good book to read on that day or others is Chilton Williamson Jr.‘s just-published The Conservative Bookshelf.Even if you don’t like it, it will tell you about a lot of other books you might like better.

The Conservative Bookshelf is a collection of fairly brief chapters about some 50 classic works of conservatism. “Classic works” does not include Rush Limbaugh or David Frum but real classics by real writers. Mr. Williamson, the former book review editor at National Review and current senior editor for books at Chronicles and the author of several novels and non-fiction books himself, knows the difference between a real classic and the mental belches that today often masquerade as “conservatism.”

Hence, what The Conservative Bookshelf tells us about is what real conservatism is, and it’s definitely not what the Republican Party is selling. “High-powered, high-pressured modern society has largely succeeded in reducing conservatism from a broadly informed religious, intellectual, moral, and aesthetic tradition to a narrow and shallow party politics that often amounts to nothing more than a party line,” Mr. Williamson writes in his introduction. “The Republican Party is the present embodiment of this politics in the United States; yet it has not always been so.”

He readily acknowledges that a Republican political leader like Robert A. Taft—a strong constitutionalist and anti-internationalist—was “the greatest congressional spokesman in his time for the conservative political tradition.”

But Taft’s days are long gone, as are those when conservatism was defined by either the GOP’s “Taft wing” or its intellectual mentors, most of whose books Mr. Williamson discusses knowledgeably.

The conservative classics range from St. Augustine, Cicero and Edmund Burke to C.S. Lewis and British political theorist Michael Oakeshott, with chapters on contemporary figures like Pat Buchanan,Peter Brimelow and others thrown in (purely in the interests of full disclosure, I have to admit I’m one of them). Conspicuous by their absence are the neo-conservatives who today have come to dominate what the media define as “conservatism.” Mr. Williamson has reasons for not including them.

“Neoconservatives are distinguished from traditional conservatives,” he writes, “not least by their determination to deny notions of peculiar national and cultural identities, which they seek to replace with the fantastical one of the First Universal Nation. Most important, neoconservatives have relentlessly promoted the secularization of government and of society to an extent that is wholly at odds with the explicitly Christian character of the Western tradition.”

He acknowledges that neo-cons have held some ideas in common with traditional conservatives and have come up with some interesting policy discussions, but there’s not much to include from them in a book like this. At their best, the neo-cons may know all about the shortcomings of federal urban policy, but most are neither very conservative nor very deep.

By now you’re probably catching the drift of what Mr. Williamson means by “conservatism.” What he means is what is today called paleo-conservatism,” and it is called that because what is called “neo-conservatism” has largely displaced it. Mr. Williamson’s description of “paleo-conservatism” is clear enough:

Christian faith, national sovereignty and cultural identity, federalism, republicanism, restraint of capitalism, community,agrarianism, and homocentric environmentalism.” Traditional, paleo or “old conservatism” is therefore not identical with libertarianism (which is for unrestrained capitalism and cares little for community and cultural identity) or “isolationism.”

Several of the authors Mr. Williamson includes are or were militant anti-communist interventionists during the Cold War—Whittaker Chambers, James Burnham and Pat Buchanan, among others.

Indeed, Mr. Williamson suggests that the very word “conservatism”no longer very well applies to what he’s talking about. “The primary distinction within the conservative tradition,” he writes, is “the difference between a conservatism founded uncompromisingly on eternal principles and the conservatism that appeals to historical context and the status quo, prudence and pragmatism.”

The first group, which is where Mr. Williamson and his paleo allies are coming from, he prefers to call “Rightists.” Only the second is “conservative” in the sense that it “seeks to conserve what exists in the present.”

The great dilemma that conservatives who are “Rightists” are coming to face is how they can retain loyalty to what prevails in this country today and remain wedded to their vision of eternal principles.

They are by no means the first generation of the real right to face that dilemma. Many of the thinkers whom Mr. Williamson discusses in his book faced it also in their own times. Reading his account of how they resolved it just might help real conservatives today deal with the same problem.

If you face that dilemma yourself, maybe you should read the book.

• Category: Ideology • Tags: Conservative Movement, Neocons 
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With all the chest-thumping and flag-waving the Republican Convention contributed to Western civilization last month, President Bush finally got the bounce in the polls that may well keep him in the White House for the next four years. If so, what will he and his party do and where will they move?

In the New York Times Magazine of Aug. 29, just before the convention gathered, columnist David Brooks tells us what he and his neoconservative colleagues have in mind. If you think it’s what most conservatives want, take a closer look.

“Should Bush lose,” Mr. Brooks warns, the party “will be like a pack of wolves that suddenly turns on itself. The civil war over the future of the party will be ruthless and bloody,” with civil wars between foreign policy realists and “democracy-promoting Reaganites” (apparently not the “foreign policy-realist Reaganites”),“the immigrant-bashing nativists vs. the free marketeers,”(apparently not the immigration-controlling free marketeers“), etc.

You begin to get the picture. Every dog would get to bark except those Mr. Brooks wants to muzzle, and those just happen to be—well—the conservatives. [How to Reinvent the G.O.P. By David Brooks, August 29, 2004 ]

That’s because Mr. Brooks believes that “conservatism” in the sense the term has been used for the last several decades is defunct, and in this he and Pat Buchanan, who says the same thing in his new book Where the Right Went Wrong, are in agreement.

Mr. Buchanan, however, believes the right—and with it the GOP—should resurrect something like old conservatism. Mr. Brooks doesn’t.

The great virtue of Mr. Brooks’ article is that it pretty much settles once and for all whether the neoconservatism he represents is really conservatism in the traditional sense or not.

Many neocons, especially when attacking real conservatives or claiming the conservative mantle for themselves, say it is. But it isn’t, as Mr. Brooks is honest enough to make clear.

What then should the Republican Party do? In Mr. Brooks’ view, it should announce, as the front cover of the magazine proclaims in displaying his article, “The Era of Small Government is Over.” The future of the Republican Party, Mr. Brooks tells us, lies in “progressive conservatism,” which gets us back to the “Republican tradition” of “strong government.”

“Long before it was the party of Tom DeLay,” he writes, using Mr. DeLay as a kind of metaphor for “small government conservatism,”

“the G.O.P. was a strong government/progressive conservative party. It was the party of Lincoln, and thus of Hamilton. Today, in other words, the Republican Party doesn’t need another revolution. It just needs a revival. It needs to learn from the ideas that shaped the party when it was born.”

Well, actually, it wasn’t Mr. DeLay who made the GOP “small government.” It was people like Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan and the conservatism to which they adhered.

The reason they did and the reason they succeeded is that there was a large constituency in the country for resisting the leviathan state that liberalism created and championed.

What Mr. Brooks and his “progressive conservatism” are proposing is to dump that kind of conservatism and those who favored it.

Among the “tasks that strong government conservatism will champion” are fighting the “war on Islamic Extremism and promoting “social mobility.”

We know what the former means—perpetual war with the Muslim world. Mr. Brooks is a bit vague as to exactly what the latter means, but you can figure it out.

“Progressive conservatives understand that while culture matters most, government can alter culture. It has done it in bad ways, and it can do it in good ways.”

Maybe so, but unprogressive conservatives believe government has no business altering culture at all. The culture—the way of life of a people—is what creates and disciplines government, not the other way around.

Mr. Brooks has a small raft of nifty ideas about how the leviathan state can change the culture in “good ways”—”design programs to encourage and strengthen marriages,” “wage subsidies,” federal education policy, etc.

“More and more conservatives understand that local control [of schools] means local monopolies and local mediocrity. Most Republicans, happily or not, have embraced a significant federal role in education.”

So they have, oblivious, as perhaps is Mr. Brooks, that a larger c role will mean federal monopolies and federal mediocrity.

Mr. Brooks, like Mr. Buchanan, is probably right that the old conservatism is defunct, and maybe he’s right it can’t be brought back to life.

But there’s another term for the sort of progressive conservatismhe’s proposing, and that is just plain old vanilla liberalism.

In more recent years it’s been called “neoconservatism,” which is where we came in.

If anyone still in the Republican Party wants something different, I couldn’t tell you who it is.

• Category: Ideology • Tags: Conservative Movement, David Brooks, Neocons 
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Right Wing Sees Betrayals,” the headline in the Washington Timesshouted last week, and it’s about time the right wing did. This particular headline referred to what had been going on inside the Republican Convention’s platform committee, where conservatives were given the run-around by the party establishment on several issues dear to them.

One such issue is the social-moral issue, specifically abortion and same-sex marriage.Probably no other cause fetches in the conservative herds like the GOP’s traditional platform plank denouncing abortion (leave aside the curious fact that apart from occasional rhetoric, no Republican president has ever done boo about abortion as a practical matter).

The platform this year keeps the plank and thumps for a constitutional amendment to ban homosexual marriages. And why not? Since neither position will have any practical impact and each seems to make conservatives happy, the party establishment has no reason to dump them. The “gay marriage” amendment in fact has already been defeated in Congress, as I predicted some months ago it would be.

But many conservatives seemed upset about Vice President Cheney’s recent backing away from the amendment, so their pleasure at receiving the rhetorical stroking in the platform they have come to expect is somewhat diminished. Social-religious conservative Gary Bauer of American Values says the platform is a “fairly solid document” but worries that “simmering discontent” on these social issues “will cause us to be surprised on Election Day about where our voters went.”

Yet social conservatives have at least enough rhetoric to keep many of them inside the tent. Such is hardly the case on the other big issue before the platform people: immigration.

As the Times reports, the platform endorses President Bush’s foolish “guest worker plan” of last January and at the same time renounces amnesty for illegal aliens. But of course the president’s plan is an amnesty plan, as even most of its defenders admit. How then can the platform say what it says?

Rep. Tom Tancredo has the solution to this enigma . “It’s Clintonlike doublespeak in a Republican platform,” says the man who has done more than anyone else in Congress on the immigration issue.“I’m against amnesty, but let me define what amnesty is,” he says, mocking the weasel words with which the platform smuggles amnesty into its language and covertly commits the party to it. I suppose Mr. Bush would reply, “It depends on what you mean by‘amnesty’.”

Like Mr. Bauer, Mr. Tancredo worries about what will happen on Election Day as a result.

“The president is wrong not to reach out to his base, which opposes amnesty. This pandering to Hispanic voters is going to get the president into more trouble than if he dealt with illegal immigration forthrightly.”

Both Mr. Bauer and Mr. Tancredo are right to be concerned that the platform’s de-emphasis of conservative values or its actual importation of anti-conservative language will cause problems in cranking out the rank-and-file conservative vote in November, but on the other hand, the administration and its strategists have a little secret weapon of their own. Its name is John Kerry.

The administration strategy is that while it may be necessary (still) to stroke the right-wing of the party with rhetoric and knee-bends to anti-abortion and immigration control measures, the blunt reality is that those who demand the rhetoric and knee bends have nowhere else to go, and if they don’t support the Republicans, they will get Mr. Kerry.

The rank-and-file conservatives have been trained in much the same way as the Russian psychologist Pavlov trained his dogs—to salivate on cue. The cue this year is Mr. Kerry and the specter of a Democratic victory. As long as the strategists for Mr. Bush can wiggle that flag in front of conservative noses, they need not worry too much about what will happen on Election Day to the party’s base.

Yet sooner or later it may occur to that base that this is a game the party establishment has been playing for decades and that the longer they play it, the less reason the conservative base has to expect that it will ever get what it wants—not just language in the platform and the rhetoric of occasional presidential oratory but actual policies and legislation that, with serious presidential and party support, can bring what conservatives believe into reality.

As long as rank and file conservatives are content to allow themselves to be stampeded into the Republican corral by the red flag of a Democratic victory, they can expect the Republicans they elect and re-elect to betray them. If the right wing now finally sees betrayal, as the headline reported, it really has no one to blame but its own willingness to support those who perpetrate betrayal year after year, election after election.

• Category: Race/Ethnicity • Tags: 2004 Election, Conservative Movement 
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Ideas Have Consequences is the title of a 1948 book by conservative thinker Richard Weaver that in recent years has become a kind of slogan for movement conservatives trying to convince themselves and their financial angels that their beliefs have triumphed at last.

The lesson we learn from a recent New York Times article on the “post-Buckley” right is that Professor Weaver was quite wrong: Ideas—his, at least—have no consequences.

That has to be the conclusion of anyone familiar with the ideas Weaver and similar conservative heavies emitted in the years after World War II down through the 1970s. The survival of these thinkers’ and writers’ legacy has been open to doubt ever since the neoconservatives arrived to share the benefits of their wisdom with real conservatives, but today, when even the elder neocons are fading, the situation is bleaker still.

“Conservative is a word that is almost meaningless these days,”one young rightist, Caleb Stegall, interviewed by the Times, announces. He’s entirely correct, but to judge from the article, he and his comrades are helping to keep it that way. Mr. Stegall is part of a new web site called, which the Times describes as “conservative but irreverent” (I guess the two don’t usually mix) and “about religion and politics.” Later we learn from Mr. Stegall that “If I could sum up what we stand for in one word, it would be sustainability.” [Young Right Tries to Define Post-Buckley Future,By David D. Kirkpatrick, July 17, 2004]


The Times feels the need to clarify that “he meant theologically conservative views on sustaining family life, as well as typically liberal views on sustaining the environment and local communities and helping the poor.”

Noble causes all, no doubt, but exactly why they are conservative is never clear.

Yet another post-Buckleyite pops up at the Weekly Standard, the official voice of Bill Kristol and the neocons. Eric Cohen, at the hoary age of 26, is not only a Standard contributor but, among other achievements, also “director of the biotechnology and American democracy program at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington,” an establishment neocon outfit that has been around for years.

Mr. Cohen’s deathless contribution to post-Buckleyism is that “conservatives needed to accept an active role for government in dealing with advancing technology, whether in the form of terrorists’ weapons abroad [we tried that, if you recall] or attempts to change the nature of life at home.”

Mr. Stegall then assured the Times “he shared Mr. Cohen’s support for government social programs, but for religious reasons.”

One idea of real conservatism is that post-New Deal government was far too big and needed to be reduced. That idea seems to have been dropped into File 13 by the post-Buckley geniuses. No consequences there.

The article continues, discovering unsung young post-Buckleyites thither and yon, and virtually nowhere does a single one offer any idea that bears much resemblance to what has been called “conservatism” in this country for the last 50 years.

Only Daniel McCarthy of the American Conservative utters anything like such a brainstorm.

Calling for a return to the “so-called isolationist and noninterventionist right,” Mr. McCarthy affirms forthrightly,“America is a nation state. It is not meant to be a sort of world government in embryo, not meant to be a last provider of justice or security for the entire world.”

As for the war in Iraq, only Mr. McCarthy openly expresses opposition to it. Mr. Cohen, as you might for some reason guess, is all for the war and is among those who “argue that the United States may need to become more active, not less.”

Nor do the post-Buckleyites seem to have much to say about the “culture war,” nor most any other real problem that confronts the real world today and which most pre-Buckley conservatives have traced to liberalism and pseudo-conservatism: cultural collapse, mass immigration, racial revolution, the war on the middle class, the future of the nation state, and the emergence of democratic totalitarianism in our own societies.

The Times of course is delighted to uncover a crowd of “conservatives” who offer no threat whatsoever to the dominant liberalism it regurgitates in its pages every day, but if it wanted to find them, there’s a real post-Buckley—we might even say a post-conservative—right out there.

What the real new right is talking about is not making government bigger or cryptic catchwords like “sustainability” but the problems the Times’ favorite conservatives won’t mention.

You can find them not only in the American Conservative but also at Chronicles, the Occidental Quarterly, American Renaissance, the Citizens Informer, Middle American News, and

Not all their writers and editors agree with each other, and neither the Times nor the post-Buckley kids it’s pushing would care for them, but the ideas you find there might actually some day have some consequences.

• Category: Ideology • Tags: Conservative Movement, Neocons 
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By no means the least of Ronald Reagan’s achievements as man and president was that he may well have been the first chief executive since Herbert Hoover who did not deserve a prison term for his crimes.

He also managed to hold the presidency twice, hand his office over to a designated successor and remain a popular and even a beloved figure for the rest of his life.

But aside from these not inestimable accomplishments, his enduring legacy as a conservative statesman is pretty thin.

Unlike Franklin Roosevelt, Reagan did not deceive and manipulate his country into war through outright and covert aggression against foreign nations.

Unlike Harry Truman, Reagan did not cover up for known Soviet agents like Alger Hiss and then vilify patriots who tried to expose them and bring them to justice.

Unlike Dwight Eisenhower, he did not engineer the deliberate starvation of thousands of German civilians after World War II nor contrive to send thousands of Soviet POWs back to be massacred by Stalin in “Operation Keelhaul.”

Unlike John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, Reagan did not steal the presidential election outright, use the government to spy on and harass his political rivals, or cover up criminal conduct within his own administration.

It may be that Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter did not commit such crimes either, but in the case of these two mediocrities, their innocence may have been due simply to lack of imagination rather than character.

Reagan was by far the most principled man to serve as president in half a century.

And yet, given the expectations of the Reagan presidency that virtually all American conservatives had, he was a disappointment. It is simply a myth that he won the Cold War or destroyed the Soviet Union, and every serious anti-communist at the time knew that.

In 1987 Rep. Jim Courter, a strong anti-communist congressman of the era, wrote in the Heritage Foundation’s Policy Review that “pronouncements by the administration about ‘having the Soviets on the run’ are totally unwarranted,” and when Reagan left office in 1989, George Will remarked, “Reagan has accelerated the moral disarmament of the West … by elevating wishful thinking to the status of political philosophy.” The Soviets collapsed shortly afterwards mainly because of their own internal economic and political incoherence, not because Reagan defeated them.

Reagan’s most successful policies were economic, which is why the economic determinists who today dominate conservatism gush over him so much, and he did meet the challenges of an eroding economic base misguided by economic illiteracies and political demagoguery.

But the federal leviathan by the time he left office was even larger and more powerful than when he entered, with bigger budgets, one more federal department, and unfulfilled promises of abolishing two existing departments.

What the American right of that era wanted from Ronald Reagan more than anything else was a counter-revolution against the cultural domination of liberalism. In that respect Reagan was a miserable failure.

Throughout his administration the poison of “political correctness”and its grim sisters of multiculturalism took over the nation’s universities and media, aided by the mass immigration that began to take off in the Reagan years and to which he and his administration were largely oblivious. (In 1986 administration-backed legislation delivered an amnesty for illegal aliens.)

He did little to stop or push back affirmative action; the Voting Rights Act was extended (with the help of Newt Gingrich), and the Martin Luther King federal holiday became law.

The Reagan years were critical to the racial and cultural revolution that has now enthroned itself.

Neo-conservatives today like to claim Ronald Reagan as one of their own and to wrap themselves in his mantle, but he was never what we today call a “neo-con.” Unlike them, he was a Goldwater conservative who first came to public political attention by his rousing endorsement of Goldwater on the very eve of his 1964 defeat. From that moment until 1980, the American right defined itself around a Reagan candidacy and the promise of what he would do when he took office.

Reagan was a “neo-conservative” only in the sense that he was a liberal who became a conservative. The conservatism he embraced was not simply a watered down version of liberalism purporting to be something else.

Therefore, you can’t really blame Reagan’s inadequacies as a conservative on neo-conservatism, nor can you blame him as a man. You probably have to blame the ideology itself—which insisted that it really was “morning in America” when in fact it was far closer to the eleventh hour.

Only a Right willing and able to tell the time correctly and explain it to Americans will be able to perceive and confront the challenges Ronald Reagan missed.

The Right he represented and led couldn’t do that.

• Category: Ideology • Tags: Conservative Movement, Ronald Reagan 
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Is the American conservative movement as totally bankrupt as it appears to be?

For the last four years, conservatives have whimpered and whined about the insufficient conservative principles of George W. Bush, and properly so.

What they don’t want to remember, of course, is that they’re the ones who picked Mr. Bush in the first place—and at the expense of alternatives who tried to tell them he was no conservative.

Even liberals are noticing that the American right, or what remains of it,isn’t happy with the White House incumbent. In the Washington Postlast week, liberal columnist E.J. Dionne expounded on the “conservative crack-up” and mentioned several of the problems conservatives are having with the president.

As usually happens when the left pontificates about the right, Mr. Dionne got a lot of it wrong, but he does have a point. [Iraq and the Conservative Crackup By E. J. Dionne Jr., June 1, 2004]

That point is that “solidarity—a characteristic of the conservative movement for the past three decades except for interludes under Richard Nixon and the first George Bush—is fraying. Lacking unity, conservatism is expressing its variety.”

Conservatives themselves know the “solidarity” Mr. Dionne is talking about was never all that solid, but Mr. Dionne is correct that many conservatives are now leaving the ship or muttering about it, and frankly it’s about time.

The Iraq boondoggle fulfills all that anti-war conservatives warned against; the president’s amnesty for illegal aliens is a disaster, as are the vast increase of government power in the Patriot Act, the swelling of the federal budget, and the president’s lackluster embrace of social issues like the pro-life and anti-homosexual marriage causes.

The fraying Mr. Dionne has noticed became newsworthy last month when conservative columnist Robert Novak covered a recent dinner of the American Conservative Union at which President Bush was the speaker.

Mr. Novak reported that conservative movement leader (and ACU vice chairman) Don Devine “stayed seated … when everybody else was standing and clapping.” [Bush's Shaky Base]

Mr. Devine stayed in his seat as a deliberate protest of Mr. Bush’s defections from the true faith of conservatism.

When a lifelong pillar of conservative Republicanism like Don Devine is disenchanted, Mr. Novak wrote, “it signifies that the president’s record does not please all conservatives.”

Well, if Mr. Devine wasn’t too happy with Mr. Bush, his fellow pillars at the ACU were none too happy with Mr. Devine. Principle is all well and good, you see, but having the president speak to the ACU dinner was a real feather in the conservative bonnet. It makes the ACU look like it’s really important, and when the head of the ACU realized what Mr. Devine had done and had even talked to Mr. Novak about it, he told him to hoof it.

Mr. Bush delivered a wonderful speech, ACU chairman David Keene wrote in a public letter to Mr. Devine, and “you have done incalculable damage to ACU and I hope you will have the good grace to resign your position as Vice-Chairman. If you don’t, I can assure you that I will ask the Board to consider removing you at our June meeting.”

And on top of that, Mr. Keene says he and Mr. Devine are no longer friends at all.

Well, maybe they’ll make up eventually, and Mr. Devine forthwith sniveled his own apology to the president.

In the meantime, why is any of this important? There are two reasons.

The first is that, as Mr. Novak argued, if conservatives are not happy with President Bush, they may not turn out for him quite as much as he needs to stay in the White House, and he needs every vote he can muster to do that.

So the disenchantment of even a small fringe of activists like Mr. Devine may be enough to sink the Bush presidency.

The second reason is that conservatives like Mr. Devine and his friends (and ex-friends) in the conservative movement, instead of apologizing, really ought to learn something from their blunders with Mr. Bush.

In 2000 they were all so desperate to dump the Democrats that they ignored, if they didn’t actually denounce and undermine, any and every alternative on the right—mainly Pat Buchanan, but several other conservative candidates for the GOP nomination, and Howard Philips of the Constitution Party also.

The conservatives wanted to elect a Republican, and they didn’t much care who it was or what he believed.

Now they’re all upset and the “solidarity” of their movement is “fraying”—precisely because the Republican they insisted on supporting was never a conservative at all and such pillars of iron as Don Devine have nowhere else to go.

Is there any reason to think they are not so bankrupt today that they can learn what needs to be learned from this experience?

• Category: Race/Ethnicity • Tags: Conservative Movement 
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Somewhat breathlessly, the New York Times has discovered, as a headline this week informed us, that “Lack of Resolution In Iraq Finds Conservatives Divided.” [by David D. Kilpatrick, April 19, 2004].

Translated into American, that means many conservatives are less than enchanted with the quick and easy cakewalk to peace and democracy in Iraq on which the Bush administration has embarked the country and some may be suffering a few stomach cramps over what to do about it—namely, whether to support President Bush’s re-election.

It’s great the Times finally noticed that not all conservatives are marching in lockstep with the White House, but the news it finally found fit to print is just a little stale.

The truth is that many conservatives have long opposed the war and the whole globalist-imperialist thinking behind it—myself, as well as Pat Buchanan, Chronicles and The American Conservative magazines, columnists Paul Craig Roberts and Charley Reese and libertarians like Justin Raimondo and Doug Bandow, to name a few. The Timesmentions Mr. Buchanan, by far the most eminent of them, but never notices the others at all.

Long ago, when war with Iraq was merely a glitter in the beady little eyes of Paul Wolfowitz and his neoconservative mobsters, the anti-war conservatives raised questions and doubts about the whole project—the “weapons of mass destruction,” Iraq’s supposed ties to 9/11, Al Qaeda and terrorism in general, and whether Saddam Hussein, nasty as he was, was really much of a threat to us or anybody else outside his own borders.

Today, the answers are in—and the anti-war right was correct on virtually every one.

But not only does the Times miss the boat on who the conservative critics of the war were; it also misses it on who they are now. In a rather bizarre sentence, it offers as an example—National Review.

The Times article notes that a recent editorial in the Manhattan mag “adopted a newly skeptical tone toward the neoconservatives and toward the occupation.” Well, sort of.

The editorial, “An End to Illusion,” [May 3] commendably criticizes what it calls the “Wilsonian mistake” that lies at the heart of the current boondoggle in Iraq—”an underestimation in general of the difficulty of implanting democracy in alien soil, and an overestimation in particular of the sophistication of what is fundamentally still a tribal society. And one devastated by decades of tyranny.”

But it pulls back from the real implications of that criticism and insists that “Iraq was not a Wilsonian—or a ‘neoconservative’—war. It was broadly supported by the Right as a war of national interest.”

Yes, but as the current Wilsonian obsession suggests, the Right—and National Review in particular—was wrong.

Since the administration and the Right were generally in (shall we say) error over the reality of the threat Iraq posed, the only justification for the war they now have is Wilsonianism—that the war was justified as a means of liberating Iraq and creating the democracy and human rights that Saddam denied—and “Wilsonianism” is precisely what the administration and its spokesmen and apologists have spouted for the last several months.

The “war of national interest” that the pro-war right supported turned out to be a fraud—and some of us knew it was a fraud all along.

“Some of us” distinctly did not include National Review, which a year ago published a long and nasty article denouncing conservatives who opposed the war as “unpatriotic” (like me, Mr. Buchanan, Chronicles, and the rest of the anti-war right), even as it wrapped itself in Wilsonian sonorities to justify the war.

Now, with the American public starting to wonder whatever happened to the cakewalk, with more and more insiders testifying how the neoconservatives started instigating the war even before the 9/11 attacks, and with a bloody and bottomless pit yawning before us in the chaos we have created in Iraq, the patriotic conservatives at National Review are pleased to lecture us about the dangers of the “Wilsonian mistake.”

Wilsonians are still amongst us, of course. The Times also quotes Bill Kristol, editor of the neo-conservative Weekly Standard, who shows not even a trace of second thoughts about Iraq . “If we[neoconservatives] have to make common cause with the more hawkish liberals and fight the conservatives, that is fine with me,” he chirps.

It won’t surprise real conservatives like those who opposed the war before it started that phony-cons like Bill Kristol are ready to sign on with liberals.

Maybe, once the boys at NR have figured out what’s wrong with the “Wilsonian mistake” they swallowed themselves and explained it all to us lesser lights, they’ll start seeing through the other illusions and blunders their neoconservative pals have been peddling them for years.

• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Conservative Movement, Iraq 
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Saddam Hussein unintentionally gave President Bush a little bump in the polls last week, though it’s beginning to look like the president didn’t need his help anyway. The only people besides the Democratic presidential candidates who seem disgruntled with Mr. Bush are the almost-always unhappy sages and sagamores of the “Conservative Movement.”

But those gentlemen are not going to vote for any of the Democrats, and it may not matter anymore if they’re disgruntled or not. The truth is that conservatives are today pretty much irrelevant.

The reason the “Movement” bigwigs are displeased has little to do with Mr. Bush’s ill-advised and unnecessary war with Iraq, his refusal to enforce current immigration laws adequately and seek serious reform of the immigration system or the very questionable impact of his internal security policies on basic liberties.

No, the conservatives are upset about Medicare. It costs too much.

The high cost of government is of course a perfectly legitimate and important issue, as are the size, scale and power of the state, and conservatives ought to be burned at what the president and his party pushed into law this fall. The Medicare bill is supposed to cost more than a trillion dollars over the next 20 years, and former House Majority leader Dick Armey announced that “the conservative, free-market base in America is rightly in revolt over” it.

Well, maybe, but who’s really groused is the Beltway Right, that dwindling and never-merry band of direct mail scam artists, “think tank” czars, decrepit “youth leaders,” journalists with phony British accents, and professional Family Values activists who haven’t seen their own kids for 20 years.

Here’s what the Post quotes from a representative slice of them:

“The Wall Street Journal editorial page accuses Bush of a ‘Medicare fiasco’ and a ‘Medicare giveaway.’ Paul Weyrich, a coordinator of the conservative movement, sees ‘disappointment in a lot of quarters.’ Bruce Bartlett, a conservative economist with the National Center for Policy Analysis, pronounces himself ‘apoplectic.’ An article in the American Spectator calls Bush’s stewardship on spending ‘nonexistent,’ while Steve Moore of the Club for Growth labels Bush a ‘champion big-spending president.’

“‘The president isn’t showing leadership,’ laments Brian Riedl of the Heritage Foundation, who calculates that federal spending per household is at a 60-year high. ‘Conservatives are angry.’”

The reason conservatives are angry about the Medicare bill is that each and every one of them is an Economic Man, fixated on the idea that economic issues are really all that matters and that economic forces are all that really drives human beings.

It’s OK to wage unnecessary wars and let the country be invaded and colonized by Third World immigrants, but what really gets the Beltway Right out in the streets is spending money.

Yet it probably doesn’t much matter what these guys do. There is no challenge to the president in the forthcoming primaries, and nobody’s left in the party to run against him anyway.

Today there is not one single conservative leader in the Congress who has a national following—unlike famous pillars of yesteryear from Joe McCarthy to Barry Goldwater to Jesse Helms.

And even if there were such a leader and even if he did want to challenge the president in the primaries, the first people to line up to denounce him for it would be—the conservative leaders.

Throughout the 1990s, Pat Buchanan ran three presidential campaigns, two of them in GOP primaries, but not one of the Beltway Right panjandrums supported him or showed any interest, and not a few went out of their way to denounce him.

Nor did they support other right-of-center candidates. In 1996 and 2000, all these leaders and their ever-shrinking followings could offer was that we had to beat Bill Clinton or Al Gore and elect a Republican. Despite warnings from reliable conservatives that Mr. Bush wasn’t one and that his “compassionate conservatism” was a fake, the stalwarts hurt themselves trying to clamber onto his bandwagon.

Well, they got what they wanted—a Republican in the White House.

Today, the reason the Conservative Movement doesn’t matter politically is that its own leaders succeeded in consigning themselves and their Movement to oblivion.

Having sold their followers on the bill of goods that George W. Bush was a conservative, they are now amazed to find that many Americans regard Mr. Bush as a conservative.

There may or may not be a “conservative, free-market base in America,” as Mr. Armey claims, but if there is, there’s no special reason to think it’s upset with what Mr. Bush has done or that it’s interested in doing anything about it.

And even if it does exist, one thing is for sure: These characters don’t represent it, don’t speak for it and won’t lead it anywhere.

• Category: Ideology • Tags: Conservative Movement 
Sam Francis
About Sam Francis

Dr. Samuel T. Francis (1947-2005) was a leading paleoconservative columnist and intellectual theorist, serving as an adviser to the presidential campaigns of Patrick Buchanan and as an editorial writer, columnist, and editor at The Washington Times. He received the Distinguished Writing Award for Editorial Writing of the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) in both 1989 and 1990, while being a finalist for the National Journalism Award (Walker Stone Prize) for Editorial Writing of the Scripps Howard Foundation those same years. His undergraduate education was at Johns Hopkins and he later earned his Ph.D. in modern history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

His books include The Soviet Strategy of Terror(1981, rev.1985), Power and History: The Political Thought of James Burnham (1984); Beautiful Losers: Essays on the Failure of American Conservatism (1993); Revolution from the Middle: Essays and Articles from Chronicles, 1989–1996 (1997); and Thinkers of Our Time: James Burnham (1999). His published articles or reviews appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, National Review, The Spectator (London), The New American, The Occidental Quarterly, and Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, of which he was political editor and for which he wrote a monthly column, “Principalities and Powers.”