The Democrats are determined to make the election of 2006 a referendum on Bush and the war in Iraq. And, as of now, that is how history will likely record it.
But beneath the surface of the national election, a different plebiscite is being held, within the conservative movement, on the ideology George Bush imposed on Ronald Reagan's party.
What are the elements of Bushite neoconservatism?
First, an interventionist foreign policy, using U.S. power to impose democracy and "end tyranny on this earth." Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon are the laboratories and proving ground.
Second, "Big Government Conservatism," as seen in the deficits, the dearth of vetoes, soaring social spending in wartime, the bulking up of the Department of Education and "faith-based initiatives" -- LBJ-style cash grants to pastors and parsons for Social Gospel work, to reap a harvest of gratitude from the pulpits in elections to come.
Third, a La Raza immigration policy, featuring amnesty and a "path to citizenship" for 12 million illegal aliens, pardons for all businesses that hired illegals, and outsourcing of immigration policy to Corporate America to go abroad and hire workers for jobs here Americans cannot take at the wages offered.
Fourth, a trade policy rooted in the belief that it does not matter where goods are produced or whether Americans produce them. What matters is unimpeded global commerce, where the consumer is king and gets all the goods he wants at the cheapest possible price.
On these four mega-questions, Republicans are as divided as they were in the days of Rockefeller and Goldwater. Where the Right unites -- on tax cuts, John Roberts and Sam Alito -- the president has the nation behind him.
Wherever "conservatives" stand -- whether Old Right or neocon, supply-sider or deficit hawk, America First or global democrat, Big Government or small government -- the returns of Bush's policies are largely in and the outcome unlikely to change. And this is why Bush and the GOP are in trouble, and neoconservatism is in the dock.The altarpiece of the Bush foreign policy is Iraq. American dead are at 2,600, the wounded at 18,000. Three hundred billion dollars has been plunged into the war. Yet, Iraq is a bloodier, more dangerous place than it has been since the fall of Baghdad. One hundred are being killed every day, half of them in the capital. IED attacks on U.S. troops are at record levels -- three-and-a-half years after Baghdad fell.
The Bush democracy campaign brought stunning electoral gains for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Hamas in Palestine, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Moqtada al-Sadr in Iraq. Our ally Hamid Kharzai is today little more than mayor of Kabul, as the Taliban roam the southeast and coalition casualties reach the highest levels since liberation, five years ago.
North Korea and Iran remain defiant on their nuclear programs. Vladimir Putin is befriending every regime at odds with Bush, from Tehran to Damascus to Caracas. Neocon meddling in The Bear's backyard has gotten us bit.
Unless we grade foreign policy on the nobility of the intent, which is how the liberals used to defend disasters like Yalta, it is not credible to call Bush's foreign policy a success. The Lebanon debacle, once U.S. complicity is exposed, is unlikely to win anyone a Nobel.
Bush's trade policy has left us with annual deficits of $800 billion with the world and $200 billion with Beijing. Once the greatest creditor nation in history, we are now the greatest debtor. U.S. manufacturing has been hollowed out with thousands of plants closed and 3 million industrial jobs vanishing since Bush took office.
While the economy has been running well since 2003, creating jobs, and the markets are performing well, the real wages of working Americans have not kept pace with the portfolios of the clients of Lawrence Kudlow. Industrial states, like Ohio, could be killing fields of the GOP in November.
To the neocon guru Irving Kristol, "The historical task and political purpose of neoconservatism would seem to be ... to convert the Republican Party and American conservatism in general, against their respective wills, into a new kind of conservative politics suitable to governing a modern democracy."
With some of us, the tutoring never took, but the neocons surely did convert George W. How's your boy doing, Irving?