As the Bush Administration enters its final phase, increasing numbers
of conservatives are expressing growing dismay about its legacy.
Alan Greenspan, Federal Reserve chairman for l8 years and the leading
Republican economist for the last three decades, levels harsh criticism
at President Bush and the Republican Party in his memoir, THE AGE OF
TURBULENCE: ADVENTURES IN A NEW WORLD. He argues that Bush abandoned
the central conservative principle of fiscal restraint: "My biggest
frustration remained the president's unwillingness to wield his veto
against out-of-control spending. Not exercising the veto power became
a hallmark of the Bush presidency.... To my mind, Bush's collaborate-don't-confront
approach was a major mistake."
In Greenspan's view, " Smaller government, lower spending, lower
taxes, less regulation -- they had the resources to do it, they had
the knowledge to do it. They had the political majorities to do it,
and they didn't. In the end, political control trumped policy, and
they achieved neither political control nor policy."
Burke Wisdom Disregarded
In his column entitled "The Republican Collapse," conservative NEW
YORK TIMES columnist David Brooks explains how philosophical drift has led to
political decline: "The modern conservatism begins with Edmund Burke. What
Burke articulated was not an ideology or a creed, but a disposition, a reverence
for tradition, a suspicion of radical change.... Over the past six years, the
Republican Party has championed the spread of democracy in the Middle East."
Brooks points out that "the temperamental conservative is suspicious
of rapid reform, believing that efforts to quickly transform anything
will have, as Burke wrote, 'pleasing commencements' but 'lamentable
conclusions'.... The Bush administration has operated on the assumption
that if you change the political institutions in Iraq, the society
will follow. But the Burkean conservative believes that society is
an organism; that custom, tradition, and habit are the prime movers
of that organism; and that successful government institutions grow
gradually from each nation's unique network of moral and social restraints."
Executive Power Expanded
Traditionally, conservatives have expressed fear of the growth of
executive power. This administration has sought dramatic expansion
of such power in the name of protecting Americans from terrorism.
Many Republicans have acquiesced in this expansion of government
power, but a few have been critical.
Former Rep. Mickey Edwards (R-OK), author of RECLAIMING CONSERVATISM
and a lecturer at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School, notes
one certitude in today's political arena, " Neither Barry Goldwater,
who gave birth to the modern conservative movement, nor Ronald Reagan,
the man most of this year's (Republican) candidates claim to be most
like, would have much of a chance. A Goldwater candidacy would be a
nonstarter. In Goldwater's mind, what 'conservatism' was trying to
conserve was the U.S. Constitution, with its firm lines between state
and citizen.... Had either party limited the right of habeas corpus,
conducted wiretaps on American citizens without a warrant.... Goldwater
would have led a popular uprising in opposition."
In October 2003, Jack Goldsmith, a legal scholar with strong conservative
credentials, was hired to head the Justice Department's Office of Legal
Counsel, which advises the president and the attorney general about
the legality of presidential actions. As he was briefed on counterterrorism
measures the Bush administration had adopted in the wake of September
11, Goldsmith says he was alarmed to discover that many of those policies "rested
on severely damaged legal foundations." In his view, the legal
opinions that supported these counterterrorism operations were "sloppily
reasoned, overbroad, and incautious in asserting extraordinary constitutional
authorities on behalf of the president."
In his book THE TERROR PRESIDENCY, Goldsmith states that central
priority of the administration was to maintain and expand the president's
formal legal powers. Goldsmith says that lawyers soon realized that
they "could gain traction for a particular course of action --
usually going it alone -- by arguing that alternative proposals would
diminish the president's power."
The combination of deficit spending, the growth of executive power, and the increasingly
unpopular war in Iraq has left many conservatives completely disillusioned. "I've
never seen conservatives so downright fed up," says long-time conservative
leader Richard Viguerie.
THE ECONOMIST notes that, "Mr. Bush has... presided over the
biggest expansion in government spending since his fellow Texan, Lyndon
Johnson, provoking fury on the right. His prescription-drug benefit
was the largest expansion of government entitlements in 40 years. He
has increased federal education spending by about 60 percent and added
some 7,000 pages of new regulations. Pat Toomey, the head of the Club
for Growth, says the conservative base feels 'disgust with what appears
to be a complete abandonment of limited government'.... The Republicans
have failed the most important test of any political movement -- wielding
power successfully. They have botched a war. They have splurged on
spending. And they have alienated a huge section of the population."
Jonathan Rauch, a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution, writes
in NATIONAL JOURNAL that, "Unexpectedly, George W. Bush, Reagan's
would-be heir, has divided the conservative movement.... In his obsession
with marginalizing the Democrats, and in his determination to be a
'transformational' president, Bush embraced an activism that unmoored
the party from its libertarian preference for small government and
its traditionalist preference for orderly incrementalism."
There is now, argues Professor George Carey of Georgetown University, "an
apparently unbridgeable divide between traditional conservatives and
the Bush administration on major policy matters."
Many conservatives are concerned that the Republican Party may no
longer be viewed as a vehicle through which to advance the program
of smaller and limited government, balanced budgets, and a prudent
foreign policy. Whatever happens, it is clear that the American political
landscape has been dramatically altered as conservatives ponder their
-- and the nation's -- future.
Back to The Conservative Curmudgeon archives
The Conservative Curmudgeon is copyright © 2008
by the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation, www.fgfBooks.com. All rights reserved.
Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which
is THE REVOLUTION LOBBY (Council for Inter-American Security). He has
been a staff aide to a U.S. Vice President, Members of Congress, and
the U.S. Senate Internal Subcommittee.
He is associate editor of THE LINCOLN REVIEW and a contributing editor
to such publications as HUMAN EVENTS, THE ST. CROIX REVIEW, and THE WASHINGTON
REPORT ON MIDDLE EAST AFFAIRS.
To sponsor the FGF E-Package:
please send a tax-deductible donation to the
Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation
P.O. Box 1383
or sponsor online.