Seven months into the Bush administration, it is time to ask some hard questions, and speak some hard truths. I have made a few specific comments, and even a few criticisms of particular policies since Inauguration Day. But I have generally tried to avoid the “instant report card” mentality in order to give the president a chance to show with deeds what the character of his administration will be.
I write what follows with some reluctance, because I know that it will anger and disappoint many in the Republican party. But I believe there are things that need to be said, and that waiting will just make the situation worse.
Many conservatives believe that the Clinton presidency was the most dangerous time we have faced, as Americans and conservatives, in the history of the country. I do not share this belief. Rather, I believe that we are now entering that most dangerous era. For the bullet you hear is not the one that kills you. Organized and conscious advocacy of the principles that have made American liberty possible since the founding is unlikely to die at the hands of an explicit and avowed enemy like Bill Clinton. It is actually more likely that conservatives will passively accept political euthanasia for their cause at the hands of someone we have too readily believed could be entrusted with its wise care.
If moral conservatives understood and remembered this, they would not be as comfortable as many apparently are with the post-Clinton White House. Bill Clinton was traumatically bad for the country, but does that mean conservatives must shut their eyes to the real and unnecessary defects in the policies of his replacement? Are we justified, because we have gone through a bad time under Clinton, in lowering our standards? Are we justified in accepting policies we know do not correspond to the agenda that is right for the country? Are we justified in praising and pretending to be happy with an agenda that cannot be defended on conservative principle?
To date, what form has the administration taken?
We have seen no attempt to sustain, encourage and lead to victory the movement, building at the grass roots for years, for fundamental reform of the way the federal government assesses and collects taxes. Instead of serious and empowering reform of a tax system that is manipulative and servile to the core, we got an insignificant adjustment of the rate structure, packaged like an employer’s Christmas paycheck bonus to his grateful employees.
Instead of the promised attempt to rein in government domination of education, we have an education bill that ramps-up federal funding, increases federal control, and was cooperatively stripped of all elements of support for genuine school choice and local control.
By aggressively defending racial preferences before the Supreme Court, the administration has directly betrayed those of its supporters who naively trusted it to pursue the unifying goal of a color blind nation.
Unlike the urgency and vigor of President Reagan’s program to renew the morale and strength of our military, President Bush’s program so far seems content to consolidate the disastrous cutbacks of the Clinton years.
Even when a correct step is taken, the administration seems incapable of giving, or unwilling to give, a principled and satisfactory reason. Thus, the decision to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol against supposed global warming caused by “greenhouse gases” was made for the sake of the economy – as though a genuine threat of cataclysmic environmental destruction could be ignored for the sake of our pocketbook! Instead of clear and forceful assertions that the United States will not be intimidated by the latest junk-science propaganda of the hysterical, globalist, Luddite anti-liberty left, the administration says, in effect, “We can’t save the world – it would cost too much.”
And the list goes on: a willingness to dilute national sovereignty in the service of globalist-managed “free” trade; a willingness to dilute the very nature of citizenship on the question of immigration in a bid to “win” the Hispanic vote; the continuation of EPA rule by diktat; the unwillingness systematically to overturn the Clinton administration abuse of executive orders and regulatory rulemaking, including approval of horrific new rules governing medical privacy that systematically deal parents out of the equation when it comes to the medical privacy of their own children.
Above all, I do not see firm and foursquare support for the principles that ought to defend the dignity of human life, whether in the womb or in the petri dish, beginning not from a moment we choose, but from the moment of God’s creative will.
I’ve been watching closely, and I have not seen a single serious Bush administration initiative that corresponds in reality to the agenda of liberty and of conservative principles. And meanwhile, the most successful policy of all seems to be the unrelenting GOP establishment campaign to suppress criticism of Bush administration policies by anyone trying to speak for the moral conservative voters who, by voting against Al Gore, allowed Mr. Bush to squeak into office despite losing the popular vote.
What are the prospects for a political movement that dutifully supports leaders who give lip-service to its agenda but take no substantive steps toward its fulfillment and are, in fact, eroding prospects for its fulfillment?
The Bush administration is skillfully lobotomizing the moral conservative cause in America because it is unwilling or afraid to take the positions that are best for America. The only explanation offered for this reticence – “If we don’t compromise, nothing will get done” – is proven false by a simple look at history. All significant advances the conservative movement has made in the last 30 years have come under the leadership of those who refused to compromise fundamental American principle. Ronald Reagan leads the honor roll of conservative leaders who succeeded precisely because they were willing to spend some time in the wilderness – they were willing to be abandoned, at times, by all – but, in or out of power, were never willing to abandon the truth.
It is a deadly error to believe that America can be salvaged by half-truths, misrepresentations and dishonest policies that dress themselves up in the language of conservatism but, in the end, betray its heart of principle. Conservative principle, beginning with the Declaration of Independence, is the heart of American strength. If we wish, in fact, to save this nation’s future, then we must unequivocally insist that our leaders act boldly to advance the policies conservative principle commands.
And we have to be willing to admit the truth that sometimes those we hoped would lead us wisely are not doing so. The Bush administration has not, thus far, been a conservative administration in any significant sense of the word. It has not proposed or advocated the policies that are necessary to get America back on the road to principled self-government. And it has given strong indication that it intends to jettison even the appearance and label of conservatism as soon as it is confident it has established a political base that makes us dispensable.
The challenge before us is not whether we can unite to be “Bush Republicans.” The challenge before us is whether we can remember what it once meant to be Reagan Republicans, Lincoln Republicans, Declaration Republicans, and whether we have the courage and honesty to ask whether Mr. Bush has so far deserved any of these honorable descriptions. Before we follow the president in bargaining away much of the principled ground on which the modern Republican Party has taken its stand, in the hope of achieving some smiley-face Machiavellian victory for a second term, we should pause and think very hard. And then, we should resolve to support this administration precisely insofar as it genuinely and forthrightly pursues the principled vision of self-government to which the party has struggled to remain devoted since Lincoln helped found it amid the ruins of the Whigs. If the emperor has no clothes, we do him no favor by disrobing ourselves of our own principles and joining the silly parade.