By MANIFESTO JOE
The day before Iran held the first round of its presidential election, George W. Bush issued a statement basically calling the Iranian process a sham: this from a man whom the Supreme Court appointed to the presidency on rather zany legal grounds, and whose "re-election" was suspect, given the shenanigans in Ohio and other states.
Ostensibly, Bush was motivated by a desire to one day see U.S.-style democracy in Iran. One would have to read his mind to be sure.
The result: Iran's hard-liners exhorted Islamic fundamentalists to get to the polls; evidently, they went, and the reformers lost. Regime officials snidely thanked Bush repeatedly the day after the vote. It would appear that he helped ensure the life span of their theocracy.
This was one small example of this administration's moronic hubris -- but it was quintessential Bush. In campaign politics, he leads a charmed life. But in policy-making, he and his team have, time after time, shown virtually no circumspection.
Bush's lack of genuine compassion has long been documented, going back to when he was governor of Texas. He mocked a woman whom he refused to pardon from Death Row ("Please don't kill me," he said to an interviewer in a falsetto voice).
Now it is easy to conclude that he is not only a phony as a "compassionate conservative," but as any kind of conservative.
This is not to say that I am a fan of conservatives. I confess that, long ago, I was once one of them. Experience taught me their true intentions -- to rationalize and defend privilege, most of it unearned; and to dupe as many of the underprivileged as possible into thinking it's in their best interests to side with the winners.
Also, they tend to cite the longevity of human institutions as proof of their purity and soundness; tell that to the victims of pedophile Roman Catholic priests. The typical "thinking" conservative's professed dark view of human nature seems to turn into naive optimism when they encounter power and privilege. Their pessimism seems to apply only to the weak and destitute.
Conservatism is largely an ideology of opportunism. Historically, they have not been unwilling to use illegal force, ranging from CIA-engineered coups to union busting by company goons, to get their way. Their platitudes about the rule of law have a hollow ring.
But even if one really tries to regard conservatives as they would like to be seen, as those who strive to preserve what was best about our past -- it is clear that Bush is a right-wing radical, not a conservative. He has more in common with the hard-line Iranian mullahs whom he reviles than he will ever realize.
Would Winston Churchill have gone on supporting tax bonanzas for the rich in the middle of an expensive war? Would Senator Robert Taft have wanted to drag us into invading a country that had not attacked us, based on intelligence that sounded flimsy even before it was proved bogus? Would Barry Goldwater have approved of the most sweeping rollback of legal rights and protections in decades? Would Ronald Reagan have mined the harbors of Nicaragua? (Oh, yeah, he did do that! -- but then, one could argue that Reagan wasn't a true conservative, either.)
Russell Kirk, regarded as an intellectual founding father of the modern conservative movement in America, wrote an essay, The Essence of Conservatism, in 1957, in which he identified 10 chief principles of American conservative thought.
Among the principles, presented as quotes:
"Power is full of danger; therefore, the good state is one in which power is checked and balanced, restricted by sound constitutions and customs."
Packing the courts with extremist ideologues, defying a Congress controlled by his own party, bullying the media, running the executive branch with Nixonian secrecy -- the Bush-Cheney-Rove gang has ignored that admonition so many times, it is pointless to go on. Suffice it to say that, very early, one pundit dubbed them "The Mayberry Machiavellians."
"The past is a great storehouse of wisdom."
Did Vietnam, or the disastrous British occupation of Iraq after World War I, enter Bush's mind during the run-up to the war? He is reported to have majored in history at Yale, yet he has again and again displayed profound ignorance of it. As the poet George Santayana, a bona fide conservative, warned, "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
"In the affairs of nations, the American conservative feels that his country ought to set an example to the world, but ought not to try to remake the world in its image."
Do the words "regime change" sound familiar? Has Gitmo set a good example for democracy wannabes?
"Change and reform, conservatives are convinced, are not identical; moral and political innovation can be destructive as well as beneficial."
The Bushies should have been told this when they set out to debase Social Security, America's most successful and venerable anti-poverty program, so as to furnish more lucre for Wall Street.
On several counts, Bush and his cohorts fail at what Kirk called essential principles of conservatism. They lack the respect for diversity -- the hallmark of a high civilization, as Kirk described it -- and the foresight, the wise caution, the mature judgment, that has characterized the best classic Burkean conservatives. Bush's consistent failure to learn from mistakes, or even admit them when they are obvious, is not prudent conservative governance.
His idea of conserving the environment is to punch holes in a fragile wildlife refuge; to invade and disastrously occupy a Third World country for its oil, so America can keep driving those gas-guzzling SUVs; and to reject an important treaty that other major world powers have signed on to. A true conservative would want his or her children to inherit a planet worth living on. But when it comes to the environment, this administration ignores sound science and apparently lets oil companies determine policy. Exactly what is being conserved? It's obvious -- profits.
Fortunately, as the screw-ups mount and the body count grows, the court of public opinion seems to be slowly turning against Bush. Real conservatives, or what's left of them, should be worried; Bush's simple-minded, Messianic right-wing radicalism could very well bring down their entire movement.
I pray, literally, that it does, and before this smug fool's second term ends.
If he were to leave office tomorrow, it would take America's so-called liberals decades to pay off some debts, salvage our infrastructure, curtail the putrification of our air and water, and somewhat restore our standing in the world community.
Since our "liberals" and "progressives" have long been, by the standards of Europe and elsewhere, establishment centrists, it shouldn't be much of a stretch for them to, ironically, serve as our country's de facto post-Bush conservatives. I hope they can save the best elements of our recent past.
Manifesto Joe is an underground writer living in Texas.
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