Party versus Principles [Stephen]

A lot of bloggers put party before principle. It's true on both sides, although it might be a bit more common among high profile right bloggers. (Not that I'm going to name names, mind you, but you know who they are.)

Mea cupla. I used to be a yellow dog Republican. These days, however, I think of myself as a disgruntled right-of-center independent.

I didn't leave the GOP, however, so much as it left me. Yesterday, I posted a poll on conservative principles. How many of them does the GOP stand for today?

It's time for conservatives to face facts. George W. Bush has set back the conservative movement for years, if not decades, by betraying conservative principles. We controlled the White House, the Senate, the House of Representatives, and (more-or-less) the judiciary between 2002 and 2004, but what was accomplished? Did government get smaller? Did we hack away at the nanny state? Were the unborn any more protected? Did we really set the stage for a durable conservative majority? No on all counts.

I've come to agree with the prominent conservative who wrote of Bush:

Yet the Republican Party, which achieved its greatest vigor in this century during the presidential terms of Ronald Reagan, now seems in the sere and yellow leaf. Permit me to discuss with you, for a quarter of an hour, the domestic errors of the Republican national administration, and then to examine, for the second quarter of an hour, that administration's blunders in foreign policy.

My task with respect to the fiscal measures of the Bush Administration is made the easier for me by Dr. Edwin Feulner's "State of Conservatism" message, entitled "Fashionably Out of Fashion Again." I concur heartily in his observation that "after years of steady growth, a combination of new federal taxes, out-of control spending increasing, and suffocating regulatory burdens have conspired to send the economy into spasms." Federal expenditure soon will exceed a quarter of the gross national product; the deficits are among the largest in the history of the United States.

The Bush Administration had one handsome prospect for reducing governmental expenditure, reducing the federal deficit, and possibly even making a gesture at reduction of the federal debt: that is, the prospective contraction of the armed forces. Instead, Mr. Bush has plunged the United States into a war which, so far, has cost about a billion dollars a day. (You will recall that a billion dollars is a thousand million dollars.)

Unless the Bush Administration abruptly reverses its fiscal and military course, I suggest, the Republican Party must lose its former good repute for frugality, and become the party of profligate expenditure, "butter and guns." And public opinion would not long abide that. Nor would America's world influence and America's remaining prosperity.

Presidents Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson were enthusiasts for American domination of the world. Now George Bush appears to be emulating those eminent Democrats. When the Republicans, once upon a time, nominated for the presidency a "One World" candidate, Wendell Willkie, they were sadly trounced. In general, Republicans throughout the twentieth century have been advocates of prudence and restraint in the conduct of foreign affairs.

But Mr. Bush, out of mixed motives, has embarked upon a radical course of intervention in the region of the Persian Gulf. After carpet-bombing the Cradle of Civilization as no country ever had been bombed before, Mr. Bush sent in hundreds of thousands of soldiers to overrun the Iraqi bunkers -- that were garrisoned by dead men, asphyxiated.

A war for an oilcan not turning out to be popular, however, President Bush turned moralist; he professed to be engaged in redeeming the blood of man; and his breaking of Iraq is to be the commencement of his beneficent New World Order. Mr. Bush has waged what Sir Herbert Butterfield, in his little book Christianity, Diplomacy, and War, calls "The War for Righteousness." As Butterfield begins the third chapter of that book, "It has been held by technicians of politics in recent times that democracies can only be keyed up to modern war -- only brought to the necessary degree of fervor -- provided they are whipped into moral indignation and heated to fanaticism by the thought that they are engaged in a 'war for righteousness'."

Now indubitably Saddam Hussein was unrighteous; but so are nearly all the masters of the "emergent" African states, and so are the grim ideologues who rule China, and the hard men in the Kremlin, and a great many other public figures in various quarters of the world. Why, I fancy that there are some few unrighteous men, conceivably, in the domestic politics of the United States. Are we to saturation-bomb most of Africa and Asia into righteousness, freedom, and democracy? And, having accomplished that, however would we ensure persons yet more unrighteous might not rise up instead of the ogres we had swept away?

President Bush and Americans of his views doubtless intend the American hegemony to be gentler and kinder than the sort of hegemony that prevailed in the ancient Persian Empire, say; more just even than the Roman hegemony that gave peace, for some centuries, to several lands -- relative peace, anyway, at the price of crushing taxation and the extinction of earlier cultures. But devastating Iraq is an uncompromising way of opening an era of sweetness and light. Peoples so rescued from tyrants might cry, as did the boy whom Don Quixote de la Mancha had saved from beating by the muleteers but who was thrashed by them not long later, nevertheless -- "In the name of God, Don Jorge de la Casablanca, don't rescue me again!"

Just now I conclude my thoughts on Republican errors by suggesting that it would be ruinous for the Republicans to convert themselves into a party of high deeds in distant lands and higher taxes on the home front. Such a New World Order, like the Pax Romana, might create a wilderness and call it peace; at best, it would reduce the chocolate ration from thirty grams to twenty. And in the fullness of time, the angry peoples of the world would pull down the American Empire, despite its military ingenuity and its protestations of kindness and gentleness -- even as the Soviet Empire was being pulled down today, thanks be to God.

The sad thing is that what I've done here is to very slightly update excerpts from an essay by Russell Kirk on George H.W. Bush (you remember, 41). Unfortunately, the son and the people around him refused to listen to these wise words of prudence. As Kirk predicted, the consequence has been "ruinous" for the GOP and the conservative movement.