Making the Bush Mistake All Over Again

Despite President Bush’s rock-bottom poll numbers, a horrendously mismanaged war and a growing awareness that the President has betrayed them on a host of issues from immigration to government spending, conservatives seem unwilling to recognize their own role as “enablers” of a failed President.

And even worse, they seem ready to repeat their mistake in selecting a 2008 champion.

It is worth remembering that before he became president, then-Governor George Bush had to convince the Republican elders that he was their man: solidly conservative, more reliable than John McCain and an easy sell to the voters by virtue of his family name. He courted and was tutored by the likes of Henry Kissinger, George Schultz and Dick Cheney. They returned from the meetings confident of his bona fides and assured donors that he would be a safe choice for the G.O.P. establishment.

The party faithful convinced themselves that he would remain true to conservative principles despite the irksome references to “compassionate conservatism”—an overt dig at the conservatism many of his supporters believed needed no modifier.

If he seemed at war with the English language, had not traveled extensively and was intellectually incurious, that was all irrelevant, according to their elaborate rationalizations. The media was always mocking conservatives as non-intellectuals, and this was more of the same stereotyping; he had “people smarts”; he was a “hedgehog” who knew only a few things but knew them well, while Al Gore was the “fox” who would race from topic to topic, accomplishing nothing.

He’d be just fine, they said.

Well, he turned out to be not so fine. Conservatives had sold themselves, not to mention the country, short. Yes, President Bush cut taxes. But he also added Medicare Part D, the largest entitlement expansion in a generation, federalized K-12 education with “No Child Left Behind” and failed to veto a single spending bill. From the perspective of fiscal conservatives, this was a record worthy of, well, Al Gore or John Kerry.

Then of course there was “nation building.” During the pre-campaign tutorials and the 2000 campaign, he seemed to have mastered the notion that America doesn’t do well imposing itself on other cultures. That opposition to foreign adventures vanished after 9/11, when his administration immediately set about planning to democratize the Middle East by remaking Iraq.

And the worst insult of all, from conservatives’ viewpoint, was that the President eventually had the nerve to train his sights directly on them. As he pursued immigration—an endeavor that angered a large segment of the conservative base—the President and his surrogates began talking about his conservative critics with the same disdainful language he had previously reserved for Democrats.

According to the administration, the critics did not have the country’s interests at heart and were racist and ignorant.

The base was predictably outraged, and right-leaning bloggers and conservative columnists protested that they had been betrayed. But none of them should have been shocked.

Making the Bush Mistake All Over Again