The Bushwhacked Beltway Right…

After an entire month in office, President Bush
appears to be dangling American conservatives
– or at least their self-appointed leaders in
the Beltway Right – from his watch chain. This week, The Washington
a number of sagamores
of the right and pronounced
that they were pleased with the new administration.
This weekend, at the conservative movement`s annual
hog-wallow, the Conservative
Political Action Conference
, the movement
leadership will pound its chest in celebration of its
own genius in laying low its adversaries of the
Clinton era and enthroning Bush in their place.

What might be noticed by some of
those attending CPAC, however, is that it is Vice
President Cheney, not the president, who addresses the
convention. Bush won`t be there because he had a prior
engagement – discussing immigration,
NAFTA and other matters with Mexico`s President Vicente
.  If
Bush`s positions on the issues he talks about with Fox
are significantly different from those of Bill
, I leave it to the Beltway eggheads to
explain how.

But the Post
is correct that most conservatives are happy with the
new administration, and for the most part they have
reason to be. After all, "movement"
conservatism today appears to consist largely in two
impulses – an intense dislike (dare one say hatred) of
Bill Clinton and opposition to abortion. The latter
was the issue that seemed to dominate conservative
concerns during the GOP primaries last year and at the
Republican convention last summer, just as dislike of
Clinton has dominated (dare one say obsessed) the
conservative mind for the last eight years.

And Bush has so far more or less
slaked conservative passions on these matters. Clinton
is gone from office and now rots in the grave of his
own reputation. On abortion, Bush has already reversed
some Clinton-era policies, appointed a pro-life
attorney general and may even appoint some
conservative judges and justices.

But even as they gloat over their
victory and their new pal in the Oval Office,
conservatives ought to recall what he`s doing in
Mexico, and they ought to remember as well the pledge
his new attorney general made to the Senate Judiciary
Committee on abortion itself, that "I don`t think
it is the agenda of the president-elect of the United
States to seek to overturn that [Roe vs. Wade], nor
would it be my position as attorney general."
However much the administration may scratch at
abortion, Ashcroft`s statement pretty much dispels any
illusion that the president seeks to reverse the
Supreme Court`s legalization of it, which is what most
conservatives want.

But despite such shadows, it`s
perfectly natural for the right to celebrate the Bush
renaissance after the long Clinton dark age, though,
as the Post noted, there are other reasons why the conservative
establishment is so pleased. "The conservative
movement itself has changed since Reagan," the
story commented, "and particularly since the Newt
Gingrich-led takeover of Congress in 1994.

"Then conservatives talked
about demolishing the welfare state in a matter of
months. Chastened by defeats, they are (now) more
realistic in their expectations."

One of their new spokesmen, the
Hudson Institute`s Marshall
, says,
"Rather than defunding the left, you hear (about)
funding the right." Just so.

Conservative critics of
scholastic testing like to point out that test scores
often improve only because the tests themselves have
been "dumbed down" – in other words, that
the standards for success have been lowered. The same
criticism applies to conservatism itself. What has
happened to the American right since the age of Reagan
is that it has simply lowered its own standards for
victory and, with them, the right`s own philosophical
and political goals.

Instead of working for the
dismantling of the federal leviathan, conservatives
now – as Wittmann acknowledges – simply want to grab
their own share of the federal swag. Instead of
resisting the immigration and economic integration
Bush will be plotting with Fox this weekend,
conservatives now want to promote it. If all you want
from conservatism is to get Bill Clinton out of
office, and listen to vapid and meaningless sermons
denouncing abortion, the conservatism of the Bush era
is your ticket to utopia.

Personally, I suspect the
honeymoon won`t last much longer. Neither Bush nor
most of his Cabinet have any very deep or genuine
sympathy for what remains the real conservative
agenda, the agenda that most American conservatives
continue to embrace. The leaders of the Beltway Right
may have plenty of reason to gloat and grin for being
in the political limelight once more, but my guess is
that it won`t be too long before more serious
conservative forces at the grass-roots level begin to
glimpse the other side of Bush`s face.


February 16, 2001