Ask a typical tea partier when his discontent with the political establishment began. Often as not he'll point to the Bush Administration. The list of grievances is long: the profligate spending, the new entitlement for prescription drugs, the Harriet Miers nomination, the Troubled Asset Relief Program. Most tea partiers now think compassionate conservatism itself was ill-conceived.
So where were all the protest rallies back when Bush was president? It's a question tea party critics love to ask. The implication is that the protest movement is motivated by partisanship and antagonism to Obama more than principle. In fact, discontent on the right during the Bush years was genuine. Tongues were held for reasons including these: a desire to support the president in the war on terror, misguided partisan loyalty, a conservative movement that acted as unprincipled apologists and attack dog enforcers for the president, and perhaps more than anything else, a dearth of options. Circa 2003, when Medicare Part D was enacted, a primary challenge against Bush was unthinkable. What was an upset conservative to do, vote for John Kerry?
By their lights, he'd have been worse.
Liberals should understand that predicament. It's exactly the one in which they now find themselves. President Obama won't face a serious primary challenge prior to Election 2012, but that isn't because he has governed as the left would've wanted. He is trying to keep American troops in Iraq beyond his own withdrawal deadline. His executive power claims are every bit as bad, and sometimes more extreme, than the excesses the left blasted when Bush was responsible for them. The prison at Guantanamo Bay remains open. Warantless surveillance on innocent Americans continues. Whistleblowers are in greater legal jeopardy than they were. The economy is terrible. Health-care reform was more corporatist than progressives would've preferred. We're now waging an illegal war in Libya that'll cost over a billion dollars, even as we prepare deep cuts to social welfare programs. Despite promises to the contrary, the FBI is still raiding medical marijuana dispensaries in jurisdictions where they're legal under state law. Promised advances in government transparency haven't materialized.