WASHINGTON -- This is the summer of conservatives' discontent. Conservatism has been disoriented by events in the last several weeks. Cumulatively, foreign and domestic developments constitute an identity crisis of conservatism, which is being recast -- and perhaps rendered incoherent.
George W. Bush may be the most conservative person to serve as president since Calvin Coolidge. Yet his presidency is coinciding with, and is in some instances initiating or ratifying, developments disconcerting to four factions within conservatism.
The faction that focuses on foreign policy has four core principles: Preserve U.S. sovereignty and freedom of action by marginalizing the United Nations. Reserve military interventions for reasons of U.S. national security, not altruism. Avoid peacekeeping operations that compromise the military's war-fighting proficiencies. Beware of the political hubris inherent in the intensely unconservative project of ``nation-building.''
Today a conservative administration is close to asserting that whatever the facts turn out to be regarding Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, the enforcement of U.N. resolutions was a sufficient reason for war. If so, war was waged to strengthen the United Nations as author and enforcer of international norms of behavior. The administration also intimates that ending a tyranny was a sufficient justification for war. Foreign policy conservatism has become colored by triumphalism and crusading zeal. That may be one reason why consideration is being given to a quite optional intervention -- regime change, actually -- in Liberia.
The conservative faction that focuses on low taxes as the key to economic dynamism and individual opportunity has had two good years. But this faction must be unsettled by signs that the president's refusal to veto last year's abominable farm bill (in fact, he has vetoed nothing) was not an aberration. The tax cutting seems unrelated to any thoughtful notion of what the government should and should not do.
Howard Dean, who will say anything while pandering to his party's activists, says the Bush administration aims to ``dismantle" Medicare. Actually, the administration is eager to approve the largest expansion of the welfare state since the Great Society 40 years ago.