In his new book, "The Making of the Conservative Mind: National Review and Its Times" (ISI Books), Hart blames Bush's disconnect from historical conservatism on his evangelical Christianity. He cites an important analysis of this view by Wilfred McClay of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington. Said McClay in a Feb. 23, 2005, speech, "Evangelism, by its very nature, has an uneasy relationship with conservatism."
That is because evangelism emphasizes the personal relationship between man and God, disconnected from doctrine and tradition. In short, it is diametrically opposed to the Catholic vision of Christianity, which many conservatives view as being much more compatible with the nature of philosophical conservatism because it is anchored in doctrine and tradition.
Consequently, Bush is too easily able to invoke God in support of whatever he has decided to do. To evangelicals, his understanding of God's word is as good as anyone else's, and so he is perfectly entitled to do so. They view the depth of his belief as the principal determinant of the genuineness of his vision, not whether it is well grounded in a proper understanding of biblical principles, logic and history.
Hart likens Bush to William Jennings Bryan, who had a similarly individualistic view of God that also appealed powerfully to those in America's heartland -- the so-called red states. But Bryan ultimately was a disaster for the Democratic Party, enabling the more secular Republicans to win in 1896, 1900 and 1908.
Another important critic of Bush is Georgetown University government professor George W. Carey, long one of the leading conservative intellectuals in America. Writing in the fall 2005 issue of Modern Age, the nation's most important conservative academic journal, Carey finds nothing conservative about Bush's policies. "To apply the word 'conservative' to Bush and his administration, as the media routinely does, not only is misleading, but also debases conservatism," he says.
Carey lambastes Bush for moving the Republican Party further away from conservative principles than it already was. He is appalled that Democrats are now able to argue, "not without substantial justification," to being the party of fiscal responsibility. Carey calls Bush's foreign policy "Wilsonianism on steroids" and argues that it would be strenuously opposed by conservative icons Russell Kirk, Robert Nisbet and Richard M. Weaver.
Both Hart and Carey are disappointed by the younger generation of conservatives who run National Review and other conservative journals for subordinating conservatism to transitory politics. They believe that conservatives should maintain a healthy distance from the Republican Party, because the nature of politics necessarily involves compromise and reliance on leaders of dubious quality and motives. The conservative movement also gets dragged down when bad Republican leaders engineer political defeats for the party, as seems likely this fall.
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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