Saturday, November 18, 2006

He Is No Conservative

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Jeffrey Hart explains in an article in The American Conservative why President Bush is no Conservative. Ideology Has Consequences: Bush rejects the politics of prudence.

On April 24, Bush repeated his fantastic theory in a speech in Irvine, California:

I based a lot of my foreign policy decisions on some things I think are true. One, I believe that there’s an Almighty, and secondly, I believe one of the great gifts of the Almighty is the desire in everybody’s soul, regardless of what you look like or where you live, to be free. I believe liberty is universal. I believe people want to be free. And I know that democracies do not war with each other. And I know that the best way to defeat the enemy, the best way to defeat their ability to exploit hopelessness and despair is to give people a chance to live in a free society.


Well, it is certainly taking a long time for what the Almighty wants to make its appearance in the actual world. Most of the world today is far from democratic. Over the long span of human history, democracy is almost invisible. In the real world, many people want a society in which the rules laid down in the Koran govern all activities and take absolute precedence over liberty. In Iraq, the radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has no interest in freedom, and al-Sadr is the power behind the present Prime Minister Maliki. What planet is Bush living on? He makes the “metaphysical dogma” of the radical philosophes seem sober by comparison.

Before long, students may be allowed to take entire history courses in the expanding library of books analyzing Bush’s Iraq calamity and other failures of his administration, which also derive from his tendency to privilege ideology over realism. Supply-side ideology led to large tax cuts and mountainous deficits. Privatization ideology led to an incomprehensible and unnecessarily expensive prescription-drug plan. No previous administration has produced such an outpouring.

Is Bush a conservative? Of course not. When all the evidence is in, I think historians will agree with Princeton’s Sean Wilentz, who wrote a carefully argued article judging Bush to have been the worst president in American history. The problem is that he is generally called a conservative, perhaps because he obviously is not a liberal. It may be that Bush, in the magnitude of his failure, defies conventional categories. But the word “conservative” deserves to be rescued. Against the misconception that Bush is a conservative, and appealing to Burke, all of our analytical energies must be brought to bear. I hope I have made a beginning here.


I wonder if there is not a fourth ideology brewing in the United States that defies the categories liberal, conservative, and socialist. The fourth ideology would be one informed by Evangelicalism and a utopian view of human nature that never squares with reality.

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