Bush’s Bastardized Conservatism

Ilana Mercer, October 21, 2005

Call it hope against hope, but I’ve been hoping the President’s new Supreme-Court nomination would prove to be the cathartic event to push his loyalists over the edge. Finally they’d see him for the radical he is. The revolutionary foreign policy, the dangerous LBJ-like profligacy, the laissez faire about immigration (but not free trade), the contempt for civil liberties, and the love affair with Islam and big government—these would all coalesce in the minds of conservatives into a composite of a fanatic, faithless to tradition, Judeo-Christian or constitutional.  


Indeed, something is changing and it’s not George Bush. A rebellion appears to be brewing among conservatives. Not unpredictably, George Bush has hit them where it hurts—the Supreme Court—and, thankfully, this has been “the final straw,” the title of a column by the brave Bruce Bartlett.


Bartlett has aimed a shot across the bows of Bush’s bastardized “conservatism,” just as libertarians have been doing since the absolute ruler ascended to the thrown. The unconstitutional campaign finance-reform bill and “Sarbanes-Oxley Act” (a preemptive assault on CEOs and CFOs, prior to the fact of a crime); the various trade tariffs and barriers; the Clintonian triumph of triangulation on affirmative-action; the collusion with Kennedy on education; the welfare wantonness that began with a prescription-drug benefit that would add trillions to the Medicare shortfall, and culminated in the Kennedy-countenanced “New New Deal” for New Orleans, for which there is no constitutional authority; the gold-embossed invitation to illegals to invade, and the “camouflaged amnesty” (where illegals are born-again as “guest workers” and then placed on a fast track to permanent residence)—you name them, sensible libertarians have protested them.


For our troubles, we were ousted from polite company, as Bartlett has been. His courageous column was only part of the fusillade he intends to let fly. To preempt his forthcoming book, “The Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy,” the former Reagan aid was dismissed from the National Center for Policy Analysis. My hopes for a conservative coup may have been premature.


Bartlett has deviated from the party line on matters upon which the GOP High Priests have pronounced. His dismissal tracks perfectly with the current anti-intellectual, “You-are-either-with-us-or-against-us,” tribalism. Adherents of this tradition judge ideas and opinions not on their merit—wrestling with substantive arguments is not an option—but in accordance with whether they comport with preordained positions. Or according to who originates them. (If Nancy Pelosi seriously supported balancing the budget, Republicans would reject it as a liberal idea.)  


In David Brooks’ estimation, “establishment Republicans,” which he distinguishes from conservatives, are suspicious of intellectuals and ideas. This claque, now gunning for Bartlett and other conservative rebels, is “more likely to believe that politics is about deal-making, loyalty and power” (sound familiar?), a stance that has crystallized in the clash over Harriet Miers. Roused by the president’s “Trust Me,” and “I-know-Harriet’s-Heart,” establishment attack dogs charged snarling at the rejectionists, in defense of their man and his crony candidate.


In conformity to the clan (not the truth), these loyalists have framed Miers’ manifest lack of qualifications, experience, and mental prowess as assets. It takes “Chauncey Gardiner’s”  uncluttered mind to see the lost Constitution, or so they claimed. Never mind that the thing is buried, and needs to be deftly pried from under decades of legal debris. Forgotten too (or never remembered) were Thomas Jefferson’s laudable reflections on the virtues of a natural aristocracy. Or Sir William Berkeley’s concept of a society governed by “gentlemen of honor, courage and breeding.” The ever-so American idea of excellence was branded as elitist.


The problems of cronyism and Miers’ lack of a discernable judicial philosophy notwithstanding, a cursory perusal of her “oeuvre” demonstrates beyond a doubt that, unless genuflecting to George Bush is a professional prerequisite, she is uniquely unqualified to sit on the Supreme Court. I’ve waded through some of this pedestrian piffle, but cannot best David Brooks’ appraisal:


“I don’t know if by mere quotation I can fully convey the relentless march of vapid abstractions that mark Miers’s prose. Nearly every idea is vague and depersonalized. Nearly every debatable point is elided.”


(Still no eureka moment?) Brooks is sufficiently perceptive to detect that Miers’ work “presents no arguments or ideas, except the repetition of the bromide that bad things can be eliminated if people of good will come together to eliminate bad things.” If he concentrated a little longer, he’d have to concede Miers sounds remarkably like Bush. Yet Brooks persists in believing the fault lies with her, rather than with her handler, whom he credits with healing “the division between Republicans and conservatives by pursuing big conservative goals with ruthless Republican discipline.”


Brooks has Miers pegged; her “mental style,” he says, is “Republican on stilts.” But so is Bush’s. President Bush didn’t “flinch from a fight on constitutional philosophy,” as William Kristol carped; he flouts the Constitution almost daily. Frankly, Bush doesn’t care whether Miers can tell Blackstone from Bentham because he can’t.


Whether Bartlett’s colleagues will cross the Rubicon and join him in reclaiming conservatism remains to be seen. As much as I’d like to believe Bartlett is a bellwether, I suspect party Republicans will bury him, and crush the mutiny over Miers. 



©2005 By Ilana Mercer


   October 21

CATEGORIES: Bush, Conservatism, Constitution

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