According to many political analysts, George W. Bush was re-elected in 2004
because his party had the superior “values.”
I’ve been wondering lately
what these values are, aside from hating sex and loving the rich. With
the indictments of Tom Delay and Scooter Libby, the resignation of corrupt Congressman
Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-Calif.), the outing of Valerie Plame, the
investigations of Bill Frist and the myriad problems that
are likely to result from GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s guilty plea, I think we’re finally getting an
idea what right-wing values involve. And, if the polls are to be
believed, even the ever-gullible American people may be beginning to realize their president
isn’t the straight-shooter they once thought he was.
Do Conservatives Believe?
Harriet Miers’ abortive Supreme Court run in 2005 provided an
unusual scenario — that rare moment when conservatives broke Ronald Reagan’s
11th Commandment: “Thou shalt not speak ill of other Republicans.” During
that dustup, even the GOP’s far-right majority seemed a bit confused
But disharmony has been around since as early as 1988,
when the Bush I campaign coined the slogan “kinder, gentler” to
differentiate itself from the Reagan administration. Some Reaganites complained
that this implied a lack of these qualities on the right, while other
aloud what “kind” and “gentle” had to do with conservatism in the first
Twelve years later, the Bush II campaign dreamed up the
oxymoron “compassionate conservatism.” Liberals were understandably skeptical;
however, in some areas, the Bush administration has
actually exhibited more compassion than many traditional right-wingers would like to see. For
example, W has pledged billions to combat AIDS in Africa, whereas Reagan was
famously averse to even saying the word aloud during a raging domestic epidemic.
Columnist George Will has observed that conservatism is
about competence, not compassion, but competence has now become part of the
problem. Conservatives have always believed that government can’t do things right, and the Bush
administration has endeavored to prove it, even mucking up those things
Americans expect Republicans to be good at, such as securing our borders,
dealing with natural disasters and winning wars.
Conservatives once favored limiting government, but Mr.
Bush has extended its scope in every direction. Many of the Republicans who
objected when President Clinton began policing the Balkans are now evangelical
about exporting democracy to Iraq. Meanwhile, conservative sage William F.
Buckley has expressed some dismay at the neocons’ passion for nation building,
which Bush explicitly campaigned against
During the 1980s, Reagan campaigned on eliminating the
Dept. of Education. In contrast, Mr. Bush’s No Child Left Behind initiative
has vastly expanded federal involvement in local classrooms. Even that
staunchest of red states, Utah, has complained that Washington is overstepping
When Clinton proclaimed the “era of big government”
over, conservatives scoffed. They didn’t believe the messenger, but during the
Bush Era, they’ve completely lost faith in the message. With expanding bureaucracies and
burgeoning budgets, Mr. Bush has created the biggest government in American
history. He’s become the FDR for the new millennium.
Meanwhile, fiscal conservatism has gone the way of the
Betamax. During the Reagan years, GOP deficit hawks at least pretended that his
enormous debts were caused by “big-spending liberals.” Now, without a Democratic Congress to blame, Mr. Bush’s huge deficits merely arouse his
enthusiasm for future revenue reductions, including bloating the national debt
by eliminating the estate tax for multimillionaires.
But conservatives have most conspicuously forsaken their
traditional values in the area of libertarianism. Firmly in the pocket of
the Religious Right, they’ve become fanatical about the intrusive
“family values” — particularly state intervention in reproduction
and hostility toward homosexuals — that play so well in the Red States.
This includes using the FDA to limit access to Plan B morning-after
contraceptives, an action that will simultaneously increase unwanted pregnancies and
delight right-wing Christians.
Socially conservative Republicans have also abandoned
their historical support for federalism. Apparently believing that Californians
shouldn’t be making medical decisions without guidance from Washington,
Attorney General John Ashcroft attacked the Sacramento legislature’s
legalization of medical marijuana with a missionary’s fervor.
Ashcroft’s successor, Alberto Gonzalez, has targeted
doctor-assisted suicide in Oregon, taking it all the way to the Supreme Court.
Despite fierce opposition from the meddlers in the Bush Justice Dept., this
initiative has twice been approved by Oregon’s voters. Here, one might have
hoped conservatives would have opted for a libertarian position, since this
topic doesn’t engage their reflexive Puritanism regarding sex and drugs.
And with the state interfering in so many aspects of our
lives, you’d think people who claim to want government off our backs would
oppose increased federal involvement in end-of-life decisions. However, as the
Terri Schiavo case demonstrated, fundamentalist anti-libertarians believe that knowing
the mind of God gives them the right to play God and to deny that right to the
rest of us. This, combined with their desire to dictate the start of life by
limiting contraception and forcing women to have children they don’t want, has
turned Republicans into cradle-to-grave busybodies.
So, realistically, what do modern conservatives stand
for, beyond the traditional Republican support for big business and the wealthy, and
slavish kowtowing to the Religious Right? In practice,
it’s exploiting the power they’ve worked so hard to acquire.
As a Baptist, in my youth, I was taught that sect’s
five fundamental tenets. After being persecuted by the dominant, state-aligned
Christian denominations in Europe, Baptists adopted the separation of church and
state as one of its foundational precepts. Nowadays, the Southern Baptist Convention
(SBC), one of the country’s largest and most-solidly Republican
pays lip service to this doctrine. In the South, where it’s become
overwhelmingly powerful, the SBC is one of the region’s most-intrusive and
Believing the ends justify the means, many
organizations disregard their core principles in order to gain power. Like the
Baptists, conservatives seem to have jettisoned many of their values once that
power was attained. Even in this new millennium, the more things change, the more
they stay the same.
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