George W. Bush and the End of Conservatism

By Niman, Michael I. | The Humanist, January-February 2005 | Go to article overview

George W. Bush and the End of Conservatism


Niman, Michael I., The Humanist


I remember when the Soviet Union collapsed. The American media went into a celebratory frenzy. With the intellectual depth of a squid, pundit after pundit lined up to pen "socialism's" eulogy. The "evil empire" was disemboweled. The former Soviet satellites were sinking into chaotic fratricide as the triumph of free-market capitalism loomed just over the horizon.

But I didn't see it that way. I wrote at the time that the collapse of the Soviet Union would ultimately lead to the death, not of socialism, but of capitalism. My argument was simple. The "New Right" crowd in Washington was now able to pursue a radical flee market agenda in the former Soviet satellites--an agenda that liberal Americans would never allow back home. And that agenda of disassembling generations worth of public health, education, retirement, housing, and cultural programs, I argued, would prove so disastrous as to expose the free market for the barbarous medieval throwback that it is.

I'm the first to admit that my theory was "out there." But time seems to be proving it correct. Former Soviet satellites have either rebounded back from the market, reinstituting socialist reforms and reconstructing a social safety net within a democratic framework, or they've sunk into quagmires totalitarian kleptocracy. Neither direction models the success that the Reaganites dreamed of. Meanwhile, European Union countries continued moving left for fifteen years, with the EU emerging as a democratic socialist alternative to the social despair of unbridled market greed.

Back here in the United States, however, Americans continued electing corporate-friendly conservatives, such as George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton, who continued to shift the tax burden downward while gutting public education, public transportation, culture and arts funding, and healthcare, among other things.

Then George W. Bush seized the White House. And Paul Wellstone's death flipped the Senate to Republican control just as right wing corporate giants like Clear Channel, Sinclair, Fox, and Liberty Media were consolidating their hegemony over the American media.

One would think, with Bush winning a second term, that the current political moment would be a conservative wet dream. Frat boys rule! Suddenly everything is within reach--the complete wacko agenda--privatizing social security, eliminating the income tax, privatizing public education, eliminating environmental regulation, outlawing abortion, and pushing gay Americans back into the closet. Anything is possible. A century's worth of social progress is vulnerable as the Bush team leads us not into the twenty-first century but back into the nineteenth.

Many conservatives, however, aren't donning their party hats or twirling their noisemakers. Rather, to the contrary, many thinking conservatives see this as threatening the end of their movement. As with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the collapse of the Democratic Party--replete with Republican control of the House, Senate, White House, military, CIA, and federal judiciary--offers the Grand Old Party a historically unprecedented opportunity to screw up.

This is why Scott McConnell, writing for the American Conservative magazine, endorsed John Kerry for president. It's not that he liked Kerry--he clearly didn't support the man or his policies. But he wrote that Bush's policies, by driving the country into ruination, "will discredit any sort of conservatism for generations."

Bush, he added, "has become the Left's perfect foil--it's dream candidate." McConnell went on to describe Dubya as behaving "like a caricature of what a right-wing president is supposed to be." Kerry, by comparison, would be a powerless president. "If he were to win, his dearth of charisma would likely ensure him a single term. He would face challenges from within his own party and a thwarting of his most expensive initiatives by a Republican Congress. …

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