What Became of Conservatives?
I remember when friends would
excitedly telephone to report that
Rush Limbaugh or
G. Gordon Liddy had just read one of my syndicated
columns over the air. That was before I became a critic
of the US invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration, and
the neoconservative ideologues who have seized control
of the US government.
America has blundered into a
needless and dangerous war, and fully half of the
country`s population is enthusiastic. Many Christians
think that war in the Middle East signals
"end times" and that they are about to be wafted
up to heaven. Many patriots think that, finally, America
is standing up for itself and demonstrating its
righteous might. Conservatives are taking out their
Vietnam frustrations on Iraqis. Karl Rove is wrapping
Bush in the protective cloak of war leader. The
military-industrial complex is drooling over the profits
of war. And neoconservatives are laying the groundwork
for Israeli territorial expansion.
The evening before Thanksgiving
Rush Limbaugh was on C-Span TV explaining that these
glorious developments would have been impossible if talk
radio and the conservative movement had not combined to
break the power of the liberal media.
In the Thanksgiving issue of
National Review, editor Richard Lowry and former
editor John O`Sullivan celebrate Bush`s reelection
triumph over "a hostile press corps." "Try as
they might," crowed O`Sullivan, "they couldn`t
put Kerry over the top." [The
Limits of Media Bias, November 29(Subscription)]
There was a time when I could
rant about the "liberal media" with the best of
them. But in recent years I have puzzled over the
precise location of the "liberal media."
Not so long ago I would have
identified the liberal media as the New York Times
and Washington Post, CNN and the three TV
networks, and National Public Radio. But both the
Times and the Post fell for the Bush
administration`s lies about WMD and supported the US
invasion of Iraq. On balance CNN, the networks, and NPR
have not made an issue of the Bush administration`s
changing explanations for the invasion.
Apparently, Rush Limbaugh and
National Review think there is a liberal media
because the prison torture scandal could not be
suppressed and a cameraman filmed the execution of a
wounded Iraqi prisoner by a US Marine.
Do the Village Voice and
The Nation comprise the "liberal media"? The
Village Voice is
Nat Hentoff and his columns on civil liberties.
Every good conservative believes that civil liberties
are liberal because they interfere with the police and
let criminals go free. The Nation favors spending
on the poor and
disfavors gun rights, but I don`t see the
"liberal hate" in The Nation`s feeble pages
that Rush Limbaugh was denouncing on C-Span.
In the ranks of the new
conservatives, however, I see and experience much hate.
It comes to me in violently worded, ignorant and
irrational emails from self-professed conservatives who
literally worship George Bush. Even Christians have
fallen into idolatry. There appears to be a large number
of Americans who are prepared to kill anyone for George
The Iraqi War is serving as a
great catharsis for multiple conservative frustrations:
job loss, drugs, crime, homosexuals, pornography, female
promiscuity, abortion, restrictions on prayer in public
places, Darwinism and attacks on religion. Liberals are
the cause. Liberals are against America. Anyone against
the war is against America and is a liberal. "You are
with us or against us."
This is the mindset of delusion,
and delusion permits of no facts or analysis. Blind
emotion rules. Americans are right and everyone else is
wrong. End of the debate.
That, gentle reader, is the full
extent of talk radio, Fox News, the Wall
Street Journal Editorial page, National Review,
the Weekly Standard, and, indeed, of the entire
concentrated corporate media where noncontroversy in the
interest of advertising revenue rules.
Once upon a time there was a
liberal media. It developed out of the Great Depression
and the New Deal. Liberals believed that the private
sector is the source of greed that must be restrained by
government acting in the public interest. The liberals`
mistake was to identify morality with government.
Liberals had great suspicion of private power and
insufficient suspicion of the power and inclination of
government to do good.
Jeremy Bentham). They believed that as the people
controlled government through democracy, there was no
reason to fear government power, which should be
increased in order to accomplish more good.
The conservative movement that I
grew up in did not share the liberals` abiding faith in
government. "Power corrupts, and absolute power
Today it is liberals, not
conservatives, who endeavor to defend civil liberties
from the state. Conservatives have been won around to
the old liberal view that as long as government power is
in their hands, there is no reason to fear it or to
limit it. Thus, the Patriot Act, which permits
government to suspend a person`s civil liberty by
calling him a terrorist with or without proof.
Thus, preemptive war, which
permits the President to invade other countries based on
There is nothing conservative
about these positions. To label them conservative is to
make the same error as labeling the 1930s German
American liberals called the
Brownshirts "conservative," because the Brownshirts were
obviously not liberal. They were ignorant, violent,
delusional, and they worshipped a man of no known
distinction. Brownshirts` delusions were protected by an
emotional force field. Adulation of power and force
prevented Brownshirts from recognizing implications for
their country of their reckless doctrines.
Like Brownshirts, the new
conservatives take personally any criticism of their
leader and his policies. To be a critic is to be an
enemy. I went overnight from being an object of
conservative adulation to one of derision when I wrote
that the US invasion of Iraq was a
It is amazing that only a short
time ago the Bush administration and its supporters
believed that all the US had to do was to appear in Iraq
and we would be greeted with flowers. Has there ever
been a greater example of delusion? Isn`t this on a par
with the Children`s Crusade against the Saracens in the
Delusion is still the defining
characteristic of the Bush administration. We have
smashed Fallujah, a city of 300,000, only to discover
that the 10,000 US Marines are bogged down in the ruins
of the city. If the Marines leave, the "defeated"
insurgents will return. Meanwhile the insurgents have
moved on to destabilize Mosul, a city five times as
large. Thus, the call for more US troops.
There are no more troops. Our
former allies are not going to send troops. The only way
the Bush administration can continue with its Iraq
policy is to reinstate the draft.
When the draft is reinstated,
conservatives will loudly proclaim their pride that
their sons, fathers, husbands and brothers are going to
die for "our freedom." Not a single one of them
will be able to explain why destroying Iraqi cities and
occupying the ruins are necessary for "our freedom."
But this inability will not lessen the enthusiasm for
the project. To protect their delusions from
"reality-based" critics, they will demand that the
critics be arrested for treason and silenced. Many
encouraged by talk radio already speak this way.
Because of the triumph of
delusional "new conservatives" and the demise of
the liberal media, this war is different from the
Vietnam war. As more Americans are killed and maimed in
the pointless carnage, more Americans have a powerful
emotional stake that the war not be lost and not be in
vain. Trapped in violence and unable to admit mistake, a
reckless administration will escalate.
The rapidly collapsing US dollar
is hard evidence that the world sees the US as bankrupt.
Flight from the dollar as the reserve currency will
adversely impact American living standards, which are
already falling as a result of job outsourcing and
offshore production. The US cannot afford a costly and
Falling living standards and
inability to impose our will on the Middle East will
result in great frustrations that will diminish our
Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant
Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration.
He was Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal
editorial page and Contributing Editor of National
Paul Craig Roberts (email
him) is the author with Lawrence M.
The Tyranny of Good Intentions : How Prosecutors and
Bureaucrats Are Trampling the Constitution in the Name