WASHINGTON -- I stopped by the White House the other day, my first visit since the Bush administration -- the first Bush administration.
Over the past eight years, despite my intimacy with the Clintons and all their contretemps, we were never what you would call close. For a certitude, we shared acquaintances, troopers, nannies and a source or two in the White House. The Clintons reciprocated by following my work and asking their Justice Department to also; but we rarely got together -- no invitations to press briefings, no invitations to White House Christmas parties, not even a presidential Christmas card.
Now there is a new president, urging a new comity among Washingtonians, and so with my colleague, Richard Vigilante, I stepped into the West Wing reception lobby directly under the nose of a tall, well-starched Marine. We were there to interview a member of the administration, but the ravenous curiosity of the investigative journalist within me could not be quelled.
While awaiting my meeting, I nosed around, espying the reception room's ancient paintings and peering under the freshly upholstered furniture for telltale evidence. What evidence, you ask? Given all the reports of the previous occupants' larcenous departure, I just wanted to see if the new administration has had to resort to the services of Cort Furniture Rental. The Secret Service agent standing nearby was not amused.
Except for the question of missing furniture, the White House is resplendent. Moreover, it is alive with the earnest activity of scores of well-groomed aides. After having spent an afternoon there, I thoroughly understand the alarm that is spreading throughout liberal circles. President George W. Bush has filled the place with Republicans, and many are, indeed, conservative Republicans. The least he could do, deferring to the liberals' anxieties, would be to bring into his administration a goodly supply of Rockefeller Republicans and perhaps a few surviving Bull Moosers.
Admittedly, there really are no Rockefeller Republicans left and the Bull Moose movement lost steam precipitously during the second Wilson administration, but surely some Bush appointees could lie about their identities, again, out of deference to their anxious liberal critics.
Considering the growing media coverage of the Bush administration's problems with environmentalists, abortion-rights activists and other left-wing special-interest groups, think of the confusion the Bushies would sow in the critics' ranks if, say, a few undersecretaries declared themselves Bull Moosers. How could an environmentalist inveigh against an administration that was actively recruiting aides who claim fealty to the ghost of Theodore Roosevelt?
There is nothing new or even uncommon about a public figure lying about his deepest political commitments. Surely the growing chorus of Bush's critics among the environmentalists, the abortion-rights activists, the civil rights leaders, and the vegetable lovers could not complain. They lie about their political commitments all the time. They may claim first allegiance to their special monomanias, but the unspoken truth of contemporary American politics is that, monomanias aside, these gasbags are essentially Democrats.
It is a journalistic dispensation that impels reporters covering the White House to call Bush's critics by their favored labels. The truth is that most are Democrats, and so for that matter are many of the supposedly innocent reporters. When they report that "Bush has a problem with environmentalists," they are saying that Bush has a problem with Democrats, liberal Democrats.
This helps explain their complaint that the Bush administration has become so very conservative, more conservative than the Reagan administration, as some of the critics would have it. Liberals and liberal Democrats compose a very insular society. They for the most part only converse with each other and listen to media that spread their bugaboos. They have yet to notice that conservatism has come to characterize much of the country. Its influence is felt even among moderates in the Democratic Party. Welfare reform is here. Global markets are popular. Faith-based social work is inviting. And as for environmentalists, no one is opposed to a healthy environment, and almost everyone is in favor of economic growth. The question is how to balance both interests.
Over the last 20 years, the issues have changed. The liberals say the conservatives have lost cohesion owing to the end of the Cold War. But owing to growth of conservatism, the liberals have lost touch with reality. The Bush administration is filled with conservatives because the country is increasingly conservative. If it will relieve the liberals' hysteria, I urge more Bushies to claim they are actually Bull Moosers. They are as justified in claiming that title as the environmentalists are in denying that they are at heart Democrats.