With George W. Bush's popularity down to just 33 percent in the latest Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll, liberals like Paul Krugman are starting to salivate at the possibility of bringing down not only the Republican Party, but conservative ideas, as well. Conservatives, too, are becoming concerned about the prospect, and some now are looking to distance themselves from the looming Republican crack-up.
Those most concerned about this are conservatives old enough to remember when the conservative movement's attachment to the Republican Party was much more circumspect than it is today. They remember too well the viciousness of the Republican establishment's attacks on conservatives like Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan. Although these men eventually became viewed as pillars of the party, it greeted them initially as wreckers.
Older conservatives also remember Richard Nixon, with whom they made a fateful alliance in 1968, even though they knew he was never really one of them. But the imperative of getting Democrats out of the White House and his electability caused them to unite behind him. In the end, Nixon proved a disaster for conservatives and the Republican Party, as well.
Now, some of the veterans of that era are starting to speak out, saying that Bush's mistakes may lead to a political defeat for Republicans and conservatives of Nixonian proportions. One of these is Jeffrey Hart, a longtime editor of National Review magazine and professor of English at Dartmouth College.
In a neglected article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Nov. 20, Hart blasted Bush. He is no conservative, Hart said, "but a right-wing ideologue who steers by abstractions in both foreign and domestic policy. ... As a conservative, I am seething with outrage at his performance."
On conservative grounds, Hart faults Bush for his positions on Iraq, Social Security, stem-cell research and tax policy. Their failure, Hart argues, lies in Bush's view of such issues in abstract terms that are not anchored in the traditional conservative concern for prudence, informed by the study of history and human nature. Hart concludes that Bush "doesn't have a conservative bone in his body."
Bruce Bartlett is a former senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis of Dallas, Texas. Bartlett is a prolific author, having published over 900 articles in national publications, and prominent magazines and published four books, including Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action.
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