The self-described Conservatives meeting in Washington, D.C. this week seldom mention the previous president, and when they do prefer to describe him as not being true to conservatism. The reality is that the worst president ever was the ultimate conservative. His failures, which are obvious to anyone in even the vaguest contact with reality, are the failures of conservatism. Those are failures that the movement and its adherents would like to distance themselves from. The truth, however, is that by getting the power to enact their programs, their now rejected former president has proved that their ideology is a failure, and a disastrous one.
Bush put into effect the tax cuts that he had promised, as well as the deregulation that is de rigueur for the corporate welfare conservatives espouse. As Thomas Frank pointed out on Washington Journal February 16, previous administrations of conservatives such as Reagan had made a practice of this and he continued it. As Frank noted, recently Reagan advisor David Stockman has published a book in which Stockman says he realized early on that the principle of cutting taxes while increasing spending on programs like defense was unworkable. Though he and other members of Reagan’s, and subsequent, administrations claimed that it was disaster in the making – and argued against the principle of incurring debt on the grounds that it would keep only Democrats from carrying out social programs – conservatives continued on with the policy that has destroyed our economy.
That the previous administration was irresponsible not only fiscally but morally is an observable fact that the present conservatives wish to deny, but the facts are there. To keep from equating conservatism with the ideology that brought on our present disasters, they deny their connection to the ultimate conservative, George W. Bush.
Dr. Paul Krugman spoke to that myth in November of 2007, and made several connections between the then president and the conservative ideology.
People claim to be shocked at the Bush administration’s efforts to disenfranchise minority groups, under the pretense of combating voting fraud. But Reagan opposed the Voting Rights Act, and as late as 1980 he described it as “humiliating to the South.”
People claim to be shocked at the Bush administration’s attempts — which, for a time, were all too successful — to intimidate the press. But this administration’s media tactics, and to a large extent the people implementing those tactics, come straight out of the Nixon administration. Dick Cheney wanted to search Seymour Hersh’s apartment, not last week, but in 1975. Roger Ailes, the president of Fox News, was Nixon’s media adviser.
People claim to be shocked at the Bush administration’s attempts to equate dissent with treason. But Goldwater — who, like Reagan, has been reinvented as an icon of conservative purity but was a much less attractive figure in real life — staunchly supported Joseph McCarthy, and was one of only 22 senators who voted against a motion censuring the demagogue.
Above all, people claim to be shocked by the Bush administration’s authoritarianism, its disdain for the rule of law. But a full half-century has passed since The National Review proclaimed that “the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail,” and dismissed as irrelevant objections that might be raised after “consulting a catalogue of the rights of American citizens, born Equal” — presumably a reference to the document known as the Constitution of the United States.
Now, as they survey the wreckage of their cause, conservatives may ask themselves: “Well, how did we get here?” They may tell themselves: “This is not my beautiful Right.” They may ask themselves: “My God, what have we done?”
But their movement is the same as it ever was. And Mr. Bush is movement conservatism’s true, loyal heir.
Again in 2008, conservatives renewed their connection with Bush even though by then the evidence was clear that his administration had brought ab out any number of disasters. Still he was their apotheosis, his presidency the victory they had sought for so long. Polled by Gallup, the conservatives approved their ideal that the worst president ever had embodied:
Dec 11, 2008; George W. Bush remains popular among conservative Republicans (72% approve of him) despite his low overall approval rating.
The conservatives are trying very hard to scrape the remains of their perfected ideology off the windshield before voters recognize it. The extent to which they succeed is another catastrophe that will foul up the scene, and this country. We need to make the point as much as possible; the worst president ever, George W. Bush, was a real conservative, and succeeded in his ambition to achieve conservative principles. We are barely surviving the effects of conservatism now, if, that is, we do survive as a nation.