Buyer’s remorse

Peggy Noonan says President Bush “has torn the conservative coalition asunder.” She even suggests that conservatives for some time “have felt like sufferers of battered wife syndrome.”
Conservatives certainly have plenty to disagree with the Bush administration about. However, as I argue at the AOL blog, we have no right to consider ourselves victims. President Bush never presented himself as a traditional conservative. We supported him anyway, in large part I think because we understood that a traditional conservative would stand little chance of succeeding Bill Clinton, who had re-popularized activist government.
Bush’s domestic policies shouldn’t have surprised conservatives, and that’s certainly true of his approach to immigration, which has been consistent over the years. Foreign policy presents a special case. Bush did become much more interested in affecting events in faraway places following 9/11 (justifably in my view). However, the extent of his activism in this respect is much overstated. The administration has attempted “nation-building” only in the two nations it conquered for other reasons. Hardly anyone thought we shouldn’t topple the Taliban in Afghanistan and toppling Saddam Hussein had wide support too, particularly among conservatives. It’s difficult to argue that, having overthrown these governments, we should simply have let the chips fall where they may.
Noonan also criticizes the intensity of administration and pro-administration rhetoric in the course of the immigration debate. This objection is not entirely without merit, but I find the rhetoric in her piece at least as strident as to which she takes exception.
JOHN adds: All true. I do fault Bush, though, for pushing the immigration issue at a time when its impact–splitting the President’s party and destroying much of what remained of his own political support–was entirely foreseeable. There was no crisis that forced Bush to move immigration to the front burner last year. It was simply the President’s trademark determination to do what he thinks is right, regardless of the political consequences, that brought us to the present pass. Bush is about two more noble actions away from being ridden out of Washington on a rail. For a leader of a democracy to ignore politics is not commendable idealism; it is irresponsibility.
I think Paul once contrasted purism in political parties that are in power and out of power. I believe his theme was that when a party has been in power for a while, it is tempted toward a purism that can lead to its defeat; conversely, when a party is hungry to get back into power, it is apt to select a more centrist candidate. The Democrats did the latter in 1992, as did the Republicans in 2000. Now, it seems that much of the Republican base is irate about the Bush administration’s deviations and is looking for a dyed-in-the-wool conservative for 2008. For many, Fred Thompson is that candidate; whether he really is a dyed-in-the-wool conservative remains to be seen.
PAUL adds: Good points, but so far the Republicans are showing remarkable pragmatism for an incumbent party when it comes to selecting the presidential nominee. The most centrist candidates, McCain and Giuliani, have considerable support; indeed, Giuliani is leading the field. I put this down to the stature of the two men plus the aftershock of the 2006 results. But it’s very early, and there’s time enough for the party to take a right turn or to nominate a centrist and then split apart.
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