Zooming down the northeast corridor I was just reading Greg Anrig's delightful post at TPMCafe on conservatives' attempt to get their way out of under the Bush presidency. Greg's is actually a riff on Jon Chait's piece at TNR, which I'm just starting.
With all the efforts now to disassociate President Bush from conservatism, I am starting to believe that conservatism itself -- not the political machine, mind you, but the ideology -- is heading toward that misty land-over-the-ocean where ideologies go after they've shuffled off this mortal coil. Sort of like the way post-Stalinist lefties used to say, "You can't say Communism's failed. It's just never really been tried."
But as it was with Communism, so with conservatism. When all the people who call themselves conservatives get together and run the government, they're on the line for it. Conservative president. Conservative House. Conservative Senate.
What we appear to be in for now is the emergence of this phantom conservatism existing out in the ether, wholly cut loose from any connection to the actual people who are universally identified as the conservatives and who claim the label for themselves.
We can even go a bit beyond this though. The big claim now is that President Bush isn't a conservative because he hasn't shrunk the size of government and he's a reckless deficit spender.
But let's be honest: Balanced budgets and shrinking the size of government hasn't been part of conservatism -- or to be more precise, Movement Conservatism -- for going on thirty years. The conservative movement and the Republican party are the movement and party of deficit spending. And neither has any claim to any real association with limited or small government. Just isn't borne out by any factual record or political agenda. Not in the Reagan presidency, the Bush presidency or the second Bush presidency. The intervening period of fiscal restraint comes under Clinton.
Take the movement on its own terms and even be generous about it. What's it about? And has it delivered?
Aggressive defense policy? Check.
Privatization of government services? Check.
Regulatory regimes favoring big business? Check.
Government support for traditional mores and values on sex and marriage? Check.
That about covers it. And Bush has delivered. The results just aren't good.