The Wall Street Journal’s Peggy Noonan has written a column that is perhaps the bluntest call yet for conservatives to distance themselves from the Bush administration.
And it contains an even even more no-holds-barred comment on the two Bush Presidents’ governing styles.
What political conservatives and on-the-ground Republicans must understand at this point is that they are not breaking with the White House on immigration. They are not resisting, fighting and thereby setting down a historical marker–“At this point the break became final.” That’s not what’s happening. What conservatives and Republicans must recognize is that the White House has broken with them. What President Bush is doing, and has been doing for some time, is sundering a great political coalition. This is sad, and it holds implications not only for one political party but for the American future.
The White House doesn’t need its traditional supporters anymore, because its problems are way beyond being solved by the base. And the people in the administration don’t even much like the base. Desperate straits have left them liberated, and they are acting out their disdain. Leading Democrats often think their base is slightly mad but at least their heart is in the right place. This White House thinks its base is stupid and that its heart is in the wrong place.
And, indeed, immigration is just the teeny-weenie tip of the iceberg.
In considering Noonan’s main point, you could slice the immigration issue totally off, and you’d still have to note profound differences between this administration’s central ideology (to retain and expand political and executive branch power) and traditional Republican conservatives who insist upon following Barry Goldwater’ and Ronald Reagan’s cherished principles.
Yet, traditional conservatives have been driven into the circled covered wagons by the Bush administration to defend policies that are in some cases radical. And how? By using the late 20th century America’s most identifiable and potent political tactic: demonization of the opposition. If you believe your opponents have horns and pitchforks, you’ll work until your last breath against them.
Noonan writes a paragraph that suggests that now even Republican critics are concluding that the Emperor has no clothes…or if he does, they’re awfully tacky ones:
The president has taken to suggesting that opponents of his immigration bill are unpatriotic–they “don’t want to do what’s right for America.” His ally Sen. Lindsey Graham has said, “We’re gonna tell the bigots to shut up.” On Fox last weekend he vowed to “push back.” Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff suggested opponents would prefer illegal immigrants be killed; Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez said those who oppose the bill want “mass deportation.” Former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson said those who oppose the bill are “anti-immigrant” and suggested they suffer from “rage” and “national chauvinism.”
Why would they speak so insultingly, with such hostility, of opponents who are concerned citizens? And often, though not exclusively, concerned conservatives? It is odd, but it is of a piece with, or a variation on, the “Too bad” governing style. And it is one that has, day by day for at least the past three years, been tearing apart the conservative movement.
But it’s NOT just the conservative movement that has been dealt with “insultingly,” almost contemptuously by this administration. The U.S. for the past six years has had many “concerned citizens” who are Democrats, independents and moderates who’ve received the exact same treatment that conservatives are now experiencing.
Never in American history have we seen a presidential administration so intent at utilizing ‘divide and rule’ as a way to stay in power. History is not peppered with Presidencies where the words “consensus” or “compromise” are considered words for wusses.
Nor have we seen an administration that so frequently uses the tactic of whipping-up hatred against those who oppose it on policy and/or routinely discrediting them, rather than trying to engage critics on the left AND on the right with substantive arguments that counter criticism of policies or proposals.
Meanwhile, Noonan takes this a step further by saying something about both Bush presidencies that others may have been too polite to write:
One of the things I have come to think the past few years is that the Bushes, father and son, though different in many ways, are great wasters of political inheritance. They throw it away as if they’d earned it and could do with it what they liked. Bush senior inherited a vibrant country and a party at peace with itself. He won the leadership of a party that had finally, at great cost, by 1980, fought itself through to unity and come together on shared principles. Mr. Bush won in 1988 by saying he would govern as Reagan had. Yet he did not understand he’d been elected to Reagan’s third term. He thought he’d been elected because they liked him. And so he raised taxes, sundered a hard-won coalition, and found himself shocked to lose his party the presidency, and for eight long and consequential years. He had many virtues, but he wasted his inheritance.
Bush the younger came forward, presented himself as a conservative, garnered all the frustrated hopes of his party, turned them into victory, and not nine months later was handed a historical trauma that left his country rallied around him, lifting him, and his party bonded to him. He was disciplined and often daring, but in time he sundered the party that rallied to him, and broke his coalition into pieces. He threw away his inheritance. I do not understand such squandering.
Now conservatives and Republicans are going to have to win back their party. They are going to have to break from those who have already broken from them. This will require courage, serious thinking and an ability to do what psychologists used to call letting go. This will be painful, but it’s time. It’s more than time.
Can Republicans say in a crystal-clear manner that it’s time to move on from the Bush eras? And can they stand for principles that won’t shift with the latest White House talking points or campaign to whip up its supporters against its opponents — proudly and firmly figuring that the strength of their ideas and arguments will persuade voters?
Or will they they fall into this administration’s trap of assuming that when voters agreed to lend George Bush I and II the executive branch it was actually a kind of divine entitlement, with nearly-unfettered power and that the rest of the country — Democrats, independents, AND Republicans with whom they don’t agree — could go Cheney/McCain themselves?