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.
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. 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?