Sunday, March 12, 2006

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The Los Angeles Times on the conservative crackup

The Sunday Current section of the Los Angeles Times has three articles on how George W. Bush has betrayed conservatism.

Jeffrey Hart writes how Bush is too much of an ideologue to be a conservative in the Burkean sense.

Bruce Bartlett writes how Bush is too much of a spendthrift to be a conservative in the fiscal sense

And your truly writes how Bush has been too inconsistent and too incompetent to be a conservative in the foreign policy sense:

[D]octrinal disputes aside, Republicans like me are angry at Bush because he has frittered away one of the party's greatest assets ó the belief that when it came to international relations, the GOP was the party of competence. Between 1965 and 2000, analysts gave Republican presidents better grades than Democrats in managing American foreign policy.

The latest public opinion polls, however, give congressional Democrats a new edge on national security issues. Which is not surprising given the administration's failures at matters that should be routine ó interagency cooperation, contingency planning, congressional consultations, alliance management and so on.

In the eyes of his party, Bush's biggest foreign policy sin is not his aims, or even his means. It's that he has done the improbable ó he's made the Democrats look like a credible alternative.

Enjoy your conservative crackup!!

posted by Dan on 03.12.06 at 09:47 AM


"Conservatism never fails. It is only failed." -- Rick Perlstein, on keeping the flame burning.

posted by: mac on 03.12.06 at 09:47 AM [permalink]

Sold their souls to the devil?

posted by: Babar on 03.12.06 at 09:47 AM [permalink]

Actually Dan the Democrats don't have a "foreign policy". In point of fact I'm not sure that they have any say in the current government whatsoever. So to put a finer point to it, Bush has managed to make an anonymous, unknown, policy vacuum look better.

I'll take the BJs in the Oval Office.

posted by: Babar on 03.12.06 at 09:47 AM [permalink]

Compared to the Democrats the Republicans are a model of competence.

It seems that everybody is an expert anymore.

posted by: Terrye on 03.12.06 at 09:47 AM [permalink]

Seems to me that the LA Times ought to be a lot more sympathetic to the Republicans (or anyone else) undergoing a crackup. From what I hear tell the LAT is cracking up itself lately....

posted by: Don S on 03.12.06 at 09:47 AM [permalink]

Where does the fact the the entire mainstream media is indistinguishable from the Democratic Party fit into this equation.

posted by: tom on 03.12.06 at 09:47 AM [permalink]

...and we know what Los Angeles Times stands for!

posted by: Iranian Woman on 03.12.06 at 09:47 AM [permalink]

"I'll take the BJs in the Oval Office."

In other words, you would like to take a vacation from reality where if we ignore all problems facing our country everything will be okay.

posted by: andrew on 03.12.06 at 09:47 AM [permalink]

Hi Dan,

As a solid Republican conservative for over 40 years, I want to almost vomit at what Bush has done to our party. You've summarized it better than I could, but at the heart of it, I'm furious at him not so much at his views, but for his utter and absolute incompetence. Had it only been someone like Reagan or even Nixon in Iraq in 2003, we would have had APC's and menacing Apache choppers around the museums and government buildings that got looted, while imposing martial law and using whatever remnants of the Iraqi police were around to restore order. When you're occupying a country, the most important juncture is the period right after an invasion occurs. Get it right, and you can forestall an insurgency and get a solid replacement government in place. Screw it up, and you have a raging guerrilla war on your hands, which Bush took years to even accept! Now we are facing almost $8.5 trillion in debt due to Bush's fiscal policies. A true conservative would never accept that much growth of government.

Now comes this fiasco of a nuclear deal that Bush seems to have hatched with India. I wasn't sure what to make of it at first, but it's become clear that Bush has basically given away the farm on this and all but given the nukes to India (and to Pakistan, by direct extension of an arms race in the region) to encourage nukes to spread around the world. If this Bush deal with India gets approved, we'll not only have a regional nuclear war in S. Asia in about 20 years, we'll also have all kinds of nukes winding up on semi-open markets as the whole rationale for blocking proliferation breaks down as the treaties fall apart. Look for both North Korea and Iran to push their own nuke programs now, with little international legal systems available anymore to combat them. Way to go, Mr. President-- that's exactly what this world needs, yet another bit of encouragement to turn the whole damn globe into a nuclear wasteland. Bush should have made a commercial alliance with India that would benefit both of us, while discouraging the growth of nukes, instead he did the worst thing possible. Bush is a fool.

The nuclear deal is the proverbial camel back-breaking straw for me and most of my fellow Republicans. If the GOP members of Congress vote in favor of this foolish pact, that's it-- we will not only refuse to vote for them, we will work against their campaigns. If they vote down the pact, then at least we can take comfort in the fact that some common sense still prevails among Republicans in the Legislative Branch, if not the Executive.

posted by: Old Soldier on 03.12.06 at 09:47 AM [permalink]

"As a solid Republican conservative for over 40 years, I want to almost vomit at what Bush has done to our party."

Same here (although I wasn't around 40 years ago).

The worst is that people think that Bush represents conservatism. I'm sick of hearing all the 'how can you be against this, you have your conservative president, don't complain' chatter around me.

Utterly depressing. But I still think Kerry would have been worse. Gore? Hmm. Maybe I should have voted Gore. 'Gore - the better conservative alternative.' Who would have thought it?

posted by: Young soldier on 03.12.06 at 09:47 AM [permalink]


IMO it is more like Bush is a do-nothing President. He accomplished two major things, and otherwise he has drifted, acting only when there is a consensus of his advisers. The two major accomplishments are:

1) Tax cuts, particularly the ones he pushed prior to 9/11 which IMO are responsible to a significant degree to the healthy economy of the past few years.

2) His "National Security Strategy" -

While I suspect Condi wrote most of the latter, I also suspect its revolutionary (in every sense of the word) implications met with intense resistance such that only Presidential intervention secured its adoption.

The invasion of Iraq was based on an almost unanimous consensus of Bush's advisers, including the Joint Chiefs, so I don't give Bush credit for it.

But he has done absolutely nothing in terms of holding down spending - he's signed every appropriation bill, used none of his powers to reduce spending, and thereby imperilled his tax cuts.

And he has done nothing to build popular support for the war on terror save when the screaming of the GOP base spurs him to say something, and then it's just to placate the base. Which has resulted in the public's loss of confidence in him with results you noted.

IMO his principal sins are of omission - he has been a do-nothing President, with the two exceptions listed above.

posted by: Tom Holsinger on 03.12.06 at 09:47 AM [permalink]

Am I losing it or does the first link (Jeffrey Hart) incorrectly point to your piece?

posted by: Robert Bell on 03.12.06 at 09:47 AM [permalink]

The latest public opinion polls, however, give congressional Democrats a new edge on national security issues.

Which changed from a Republican advantage in the span of one poll, because the ports deal came out. And despite what you say about Congressional consultation or anything else, the ports deal was bound to be profoundly unpopular. Of course, the fact that a company owned by the Chinese government leases some areas in a few ports is also just as unpopular, but that got through during the Clinton Administration.

Any politican could easily demogogue the ports deal. No matter how much Bush consulted with Congress, opposition members would still easily have the opportunity to attack the deal-- and win an advantage in national security polling. NO MATTER WHAT. The change in preference on national security has NOTHING to do with the experts you're talking about, and everything to do with massive popular revulsion to the ports deal.

Now, I happen to think that that revulsion is extremely counterproductive and stupid. But that doesn't mean it isn't there, and it doesn't mean that the only problem is selling the deal better to the American people.

posted by: John Thacker on 03.12.06 at 09:47 AM [permalink]

Your op-ed switches from "analysts" to "public opinion polls." What fallacious slight of hand. After all, "analysts" overwhelmingly agree that the ports deal was a good thing and would not impact national security at all. But public opinion, wrong though I think it is, massively disagrees.

posted by: John Thacker on 03.12.06 at 09:47 AM [permalink]

The errors that you point to, they didn't move the polls on the national security question. Only the ports deal did by any significant amount. And I just don't believe you when you say that Congressional consultation could have gotten in approved. Only if the loyal Opposition was willing to hold their fire and approve it as well would that have worked. Otherwise Republicans would have turned tail and ran just as fast as soon as they saw those polls with over 70% of people opposing it. (People who claimed to be following the port issue "very closely" in those polls, too.)

posted by: John Thacker on 03.12.06 at 09:47 AM [permalink]

> The worst is that people think that
> Bush represents conservatism.

See my previous comment on the theory that there exist grown-up Republicans. Have you considered the possibility that George W. Bush, Karl Rove, and Grover Norquist DO represent conservatism, and that you are being used as a useful idiot? Even considered it?


posted by: Cranky Observer on 03.12.06 at 09:47 AM [permalink]

Funny how the Republicans lose cohesion when they come to power, just the way the Democracts did ten years ago. Dan, I think this just means that you need to take a break from all those IR and IPE books, and starting reading some Americanist lit.

posted by: jprime on 03.12.06 at 09:47 AM [permalink]

George W. Bush is absolutely a conservative in the ways that matter to most Americans who call themselves conservative. He appears to them as a strong leader, and he stands up to liberals and the media.

Those are the only two things that count -- not for all Americans by any means, just for self-described conservatives and especially Republican partisans. For between a third and two-fifths of the electorate, a strong leader who stands up to liberals and the media could cut taxes, or not; invade Iraq, or not; cut spending and propose changes in education policy or Social Security, or not. Of course any Republican President would need to do something (you can't do nothing and look like a strong leader), but what counts is the motion, not the direction.

This is the calculation relevant to electoral politics; not surprisingly, the three LA Times pieces include not one mention of it. Yet it is electoral calculation that defines the Bush White House. It is not merely the highest priority for the President and most of his closest associates, but the context in which they see everything else. Such a discussion as ever might happen between the LAT writers and President Bush's most loyal defenders is bound therefore to be a dialog of the deaf; his critics will not understand why most conservatives still think of Bush as one of them, and the President's defenders will not understand why the critics' arguments matter.

posted by: Zathras on 03.12.06 at 09:47 AM [permalink]

Drezner is wrong. The Times features FOUR articles, not three.

I can look forward to a similar articles on "Liberal Crackup" next week. Right?

I won't count on it.

It's too bad that Drezner contributed to the Times incessant, relentless Bush-bash.

posted by: DP on 03.12.06 at 09:47 AM [permalink]

There's no way in Hades that the Dems and the fiscally liberal RINOS woudl have let Bush get away with real spending discipline. One may view that the fiscal conservative (mostly Republican) minority should work only on causes that it thinks it can win - and this may be the very thought running through Dubya's head. But even if the votes aren't there, they must fight for fiscal sobriety, anyway - they must give the voters hope that someone will fight that fight. Appeasing the spendthrifts will not make them a majority.

posted by: Alan K. Henderson on 03.12.06 at 09:47 AM [permalink]

Old soldier you're a traitor. Everyone knows that there was no serious looting just the same picture of guys stealing a vase over and over. Yeah defeatists like to say billions were destroyed and that this helped the formation of criminal gangs that terrorize the country but that's because they hate freedom which is sometimes messy. Rush has shown that there was no looting just as there was no abuse in any prisons just some babes having a frat party and it just goes to show the homosexual inclinations of the media that they don't think this is cool.

posted by: republican on 03.12.06 at 09:47 AM [permalink]

Could you expand on your thesis? Is there really nothing that could be added to your list of traits a politician must have to be counted a conservative by the majority of the electorate? Is it really noting but empty posturing? You don't think opposition to abortion, at least nominally, is a requirement? At least nominal opposition to Big Government? What two traits are the cosmetic hallmarks of liberals?


posted by: Ken on 03.12.06 at 09:47 AM [permalink]

Is this anything but spoiled winners (or winers)? What do you want, to win or to be right?

posted by: Lord on 03.12.06 at 09:47 AM [permalink]

I didn't realize you were such a partisan. Too bad.

posted by: Raj on 03.12.06 at 09:47 AM [permalink]

This administration has been a disaster from the start and in every sphere of policy. I continue to be totally baffled how anyone with half a brain couldn't have foreseen it six years ago. My only mistake, as a forecaster, was the one Mencken warned against -- overestimating the intelligence of the American public -- to assume that by 2004 the scales would have dropped from Republican eyes and they would throw the rascals out. Will the deluge of news stories demonstrating their incompetence, dishonesty, cynicism and corruption finally tell with the electorate in November? Or are you all so stubborn that you'd rather live under Ruinous Republicanism than in a Mediocre Democrat-cy?

posted by: Econoclast on 03.12.06 at 09:47 AM [permalink]

Ken answers some of his own questions upthread, citing "nominal" opposition to abortion and big government has trademarks of national Republican politicians. Since national legislation radically changing the legal status of abortion has been all but unpassable for years now and most people don't follow government closely enough to distinguish a genuine foe of big government from a rhetorical one, striking a pose is indeed all that most Republicans in Washington and especially Republican Presidential aspirants need to do.

The tendency of Republican partisans to defer to any Republican President who appear as a strong leader and stand up to Democrats and the media gives GOP Presidents substantial flexibility. That's why Republicans gave Richard Nixon the benefit of the doubt on his China diplomacy, and stuck with Ronald Reagan through a deep recession early in his first term. It's also why President Bush enjoyed virtually unanimous support from Republicans after 9/11 for all sorts of measures that departed from earlier conceptions of what conservatism meant.

The answer to Ken's question about liberals is yes.

posted by: Zathras on 03.12.06 at 09:47 AM [permalink]

Like others here, I am really tired of conservatives whining about how Bush has "betrayed conservatism" or whatever. He is American conservatism. He's your guy. You lined up behind him. You nominated him, supported him, elected him, reelected him. In 2000 here was nothing to suggest he was even minimally competent to be President, but you backed him anyway. In 2004 you had further evidence, but Kerry went wind-surfing, or looked stiff in a debate, or something, so you did it again. Well you got what you wanted.

Take some responsibility, (or is that only for others?).

posted by: Bernard Yomtov on 03.12.06 at 09:47 AM [permalink]

Barnard might recall that Daniel Drezner did endorse Kerry in 2004, as did Andrew Sullivan and others. Not all "conservatives" are identical. I donít imagine that all liberals would want to be tarred with the brush of the Fahrenheit 9/11 worldview. At least those who donít simply follow the political theater that Zathras describes in a pavlovian way. I canít be quite as cynical about this as Zathras, but maybe only because I donít get out enough.

posted by: Ken on 03.12.06 at 09:47 AM [permalink]

Ideology has nothing to do with competence. George Bush Sr. did a great job of a}ending the cold war b}coalition building in the run up to gulf war 1.

George Bush jr. was the black sheep of the family, had never traveled or read widely, had failed or been bailed out in everything he had ever attempted. Ideology aside, how could anyone have voted for him thinking he would be a competent leader!!! opposed to "he is a good christian" or "he is the type of guy I would like to have beer with" (except he doesnt drink)

The notion of Jr being "a strong wartime leader" is as much a creation of madison ave type marketing as the notion of Coke being "the real thing" SHALLOW RHETORIC THAT STUCK!

posted by: centrist on 03.12.06 at 09:47 AM [permalink]

I do recall that Drezner supported Kerry. So leave him out, a little. (But what about 2000? The signs were there - Bush practically ran on a platform of fiscal irresponsibility - but Gore wore brown suits, and didn't act folksy enough.).

The people I'm really talking about are those who are scrambling away from Bush by claiming the problem is competence, and that their wonderful ideas will be vindicated by the next idiot they foist off on the country. Maybe they ought to admit that their judgment isn't so great.

posted by: Bernard Yomtov on 03.12.06 at 09:47 AM [permalink]

Bush Sr ended the Cold War?

posted by: Alan K. Henderson on 03.12.06 at 09:47 AM [permalink]

Bush warned us in 2000 that he wasn't a small-government type. That's what the whole "compassionate conservative" shtick was about. McCain wanted to raise taxes and regulate the crap out of anything that offended his sense of propriety. Unless you were willing to go for Steve Forbes, who presented other difficulties, the small-but-strong-government voter had no one to vote for.

So, we held our noses and voted for Bush, because at least he wasn't going to raise taxes and increase regulation. That's mostly held up. The only true back-stab relative to his campaign promises was signing McCain-Feingold (and arguably Sarbanes-Oxley). All the other domestic stuff we're bitching about--No Child Left Behind, Medicare drug plan, messed-up Social Security reform--is exactly what he promised to do. And it seemed to be popular with the voters, who don't agree, by and large, with us small-government types. (Bonus public admin point: the Bushies have actually made huge management improvements in the Cabinet departments, which can actually close their books within shouting distance of the fiscal year close for the first time in human memory--even the Pentagon has a much better idea of where all their stuff is and how much it all costs than they used to.)

As for Dan's claims of Administration incompetence in foreign policy, they seemed overheated and undersupported from the beginning. The idea, for example, that we would have had something as successful as the Afghan campaign without Rumsfeld's determination to override Army conservatism is laughable. Bush & co. have made many missteps, but none of them is the sort of thing that the academic mandarin consensus harps upon (e.g., they should have used Iraqi exile forces at the start and immediately begun the classic "small war" strategy of using American officers and NCOs to nucleate the new Iraqi army instead of waiting two years to get going). The idea that the Clinton administration (or a prospective Kerry crew) represented superior foreign-policy and military competence is too nutty for words.

posted by: steve on 03.12.06 at 09:47 AM [permalink]

There is no such thing as a bad conservative. "Conservative" is a magic word that applies to those who are in other conservatives' good graces. Until they aren't. At which point they are liberals. Get used to the hearing about how the Republicans failed because they weren't true conservatives. Conservatism can never fail. It can only be failed by weak-minded souls who refuse to properly follow its tenets. It's a lot like communism that way.

posted by: shinypenny on 03.12.06 at 09:47 AM [permalink]

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