Conservative Freak Out

It’s not just the President’s obvious critics to his left who are lining up to have a go at him. Conservatives of various stripes are beginning to freak out as well. Of course, a lie of a budget, a nation seemingly saddled with mountainous debt until the sun rises in the West, a federal government bigger than the nearest planet, and a pile of lies and evasions that add up to an imperial war from hell can do that to anyone, especially since this administration isn’t — never has been — into conserving a thing except power; and, even there, they may have overstepped the limits. After all, most conservatives weren’t trying to elect a king or even a family.


Kevin Philips, former conservative and the mastermind behind the “southern strategy” that has anchored every winning Republican presidential campaign since Nixon, but now a populist critic, commented on the nature of the Bush “dynasty” Sunday Feb. 8 in a piece in the Los Angeles Times. With the tongue-twistingly long title, “Four generations have created an unsavory web of links that could prove an election-year Achilles’ heel for the president,” it said in part:


“Top 1% economics: Over four generations, the Bush family has been involved with more than 20 securities firms, banks, brokerage houses and investment management firms, ranging from Wall Street giants like Brown Brothers Harriman and E.F. Hutton to small firms like J. Bush & Co. and Riggs Investment Management Corp. This relentless record of handling money for rich people has bred a vocational hauteur. In their eyes, the economic top 1% of Americans are the ones who count…


“Politically, over four generations the Bush past has been prologue. Despite George W. Bush’s new good ol’ boy image — cowboy boots and born-again ties to the religious right — his basic tendencies go in the same directions — oil, crony capitalism, top 1% economics and military-industrial-establishment loyalties — that the previous Bush and Walker generations have traveled. The old biases and loyalties seem ineradicable; so, too, for old grudges, like the two-generation fixation on Saddam Hussein.”


Top 1% economics and dynasty, of course, add up to something other than conservative. As Paul Krugman recently commented in reviewing American Dynasty, Phillip’s latest book, in the 2/26/04 New York Review of Books (“The Wars of the Texas Succession):


“And George W. Bush, as the scion of this dynasty, is the first president to, in effect, inherit the office. For four generations the Bush family has thrived by exploiting its political connections, especially in the secret world of intelligence, to get ahead in business, as well as exploiting its business connections, especially in finance and oil, to get ahead in politics. And whatever the public and the pundits may have thought about the 2000 election, for the Bushes it was a royal restoration…


“Old-line Republicans that I know cling to the belief that the Machiavellianism is only temporary, that it’s embraced in service to a higher goal. Once the 2004 election is over, they say Bush will show his true colors as an idealist, someone who genuinely believes in small government and free markets.


“But if Phillips is right — and I think he is — there is no higher goal. Bush’s motivations are dynastic — to secure his family’s rightful place.”


Actually, some of those old-line Republicans, it seems, are no longer holding out for 2005. And I did promise you conservatives freaking out, didn’t I? So how about starting with that old right-wing warhorse of the Washington Post, George Will, who wrote a column the other day (“For Bush, It’s Game Time,” 2/8/04), claiming that the President was not in “midseason form” and adding:


“Republicans are swiftly forfeiting the perception that they are especially responsible stewards of government finances. It is surreal for a Republican president to submit a budget to a Republican-controlled Congress and have Republican legislators vow to remove the “waste” that he has included and that they have hitherto funded…”


On the lies of Bush war-making, Will commented:


“Such casualness, which would be alarming in any president, is especially so in one whose vaulting foreign policy ambitions have turned his first term into Woodrow Wilson’s third term, devoted to planting democracy and “universal values” in hitherto inhospitable places. Once begun, leakage of public confidence in a president’s pronouncements is difficult to stanch.”


James Pinkerton in the Washington Post Sunday 2/8/04 (“The Bush Budget, All Bulked Up”) offered a similar lament. (“Conservatives and other limited-government types are furious at President George W. Bush for his big-spending ways… The Cato Institute calculates that Bush has presided over the largest increases in discretionary spending since President Lyndon B. Johnson’s budgets of the late ’60s.”) He blamed it all on the neoconservatives who, in his eyes, have betrayed the conservative movement by seeing “the growth of the state as ‘natural, indeed inevitable.’ They have no interest in a minimalist Goldwaterian state; it’s ‘National Greatness’ they crave.”


Or take Quin Hillyer, columnist for the Mobile Register in Alabama, in Sunday’s San Francisco Chronicle Insight section, 2/8/04. His piece begins (“Conservatives wonder if Bush is their guy”):


“Guns and butter. Lots and lots of both. A major expansion of entitlements. Unprecedented increases in domestic spending. The national government taking more and more responsibilities (and authority) from the states. Judicial nominations used as wedge issues (especially as part of a “Southern strategy”). A politically cynical crafting of policy to buy the support of one particular interest group after another. A White House licking its chops at the prospect of an election opponent seen as an extremist, after a previous election marked by a tremendously close popular vote. Talk of putting men on the moon, fergoshsakes. Ethics aside, welcome to the presidency of Lyndon Milhous Bushson.”


And he ends: “George W. Bush is a conservative in the same way Britney Spears is a virgin: only when it suits his marketing.”


Or consider Peter Eavis of American Conservative magazine, the title of whose piece tells all: “Spending Like a Drunken Democrat, Bush drives the nation towards bankruptcy” (2/16/04), and concludes: “Like a credit-card thief, the President of the United States is going on a shopping binge and making other people pay. If history gives Bush a nickname, it will be Deadbeat Dubya.”


Point made, I hope, and it could be multiplied with other examples of the same. But all these outraged articles, and others like them, read more or less as one: They cite budget bankruptcy, compare Bush to LBJ (note that conservatives in crisis also hark back naturally to Vietnam-era analogies), mock his budget “cuts” (which do add up to nada, will not be passed by Congress, and would, of course, cause immense suffering among some of the unfavored 99% of America, though this is not much emphasized in such conservative pieces), bemoan bloated Pentagon budgets and failed imperial wars, and so on.


If you then turn to the other side of the “aisle” by looking at Robert Kuttner in the American Prospect on-line (Presidential Endgame), you’ll find a devastating analysis of the real budget that lurks behind this administration’s budgetary curtain of lies, an analysis that fits quite well with those by angry conservatives and which begins:


“All of the administration’s mendacity comes together in the latest Bush budget. According to the White House, the deficit, now $521 billion, will be halved over the next five years. But the administration achieves this sleight of hand by excluding future costs of occupying and rebuilding Iraq, claiming large savings as yet to be identified, failing to adjust revenue projections, and presuming program cuts so unpopular that Congress is sure to reject them.”


Big government, giant budgets, all aimed at profiting that 1% — plus various military contractors (and other “security” corporations that have slipped in under the “Homeland defense” rubric), energy companies and companion servicing businesses — throw in dynastic power and you have the Bush version of imperial America 2004. It’s also starting to look like a precarious and increasingly unpopular construct, left, right, or center. So just watch out. You don’t want to be standing underneath (as most of us are), if it comes tumbling down.


[This article first appeared on Tomdispatch.com, a weblog of the Nation Institute, which offers a steady flow of alternate sources, news, and opinion from Tom Engelhardt, long time editor in publishing and author of The End of Victory Culture and The Last Days of Publishing.]

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