Thursday, June 15, 2006

If I had the drive and technical skill to write articles like this, I wouldn't be news reporter (with, among other things, the farm beat) at a twice-weekly paper in Vermont. Not to sell myself short, of course — I'm just starting out, I've never tried something that ambitious in the first place, I do enjoy my current job, and I have written quite a few pieces I'm proud of. But I have agreed with the basic idea of that article for quite a while, and I've posted comments to the effect of it on other blogs here and there, and putting it this well is in another class entirely from the semi-rants you'd find from me or Digby or Tristero or random commenters.
Through all these laments there pulsates a sense of desperation: A conservative president and an even more conservative Congress must be repudiated to enable genuine conservatism to survive. Sure, the Bush administration has failed, all these voices proclaim. But that is because Bush and his Republican allies in Congress borrowed big government and foreign-policy idealism from the left. The ideas of Woodrow Wilson and John Maynard Keynes, from their point of view, have always been flawed. George W. Bush and Tom DeLay just prove it one more time.

Conservative dissidents seem to have done an admirable job of persuading each other of the truth of their claims. Of course, many of these dissidents extolled the president's conservative leadership when he was riding high in the polls. But the real flaw in their argument is akin to that of Trotskyites who, when confronted with the failures of communism in Cuba, China and the Soviet Union, would claim that real communism had never been tried. If leaders consistently depart in disastrous ways from their underlying political ideology, there comes a point where one has to stop just blaming the leaders and start questioning the ideology.

The collapse of the Bush presidency, in other words, is not just due to Bush's incompetence (although his administration has been incompetent beyond belief). Nor is it a response to the president's principled lack of intellectual curiosity and pitbull refusal to admit mistakes (although those character flaws are certainly real enough). And the orgy of bribery and special-interest dispensation in Congress is not the result of Tom DeLay's ruthlessness, as impressive a bully as he was. This conservative presidency and Congress imploded, not despite their conservatism, but because of it.
If government is necessary, bad government, at least for conservatives, is inevitable, and conservatives have been exceptionally good at showing just how bad it can be. Hence the truth revealed by the Bush years: Bad government--indeed, bloated, inefficient, corrupt, and unfair government--is the only kind of conservative government there is. Conservatives cannot govern well for the same reason that vegetarians cannot prepare a world-class boeuf bourguignon: If you believe that what you are called upon to do is wrong, you are not likely to do it very well.

It's not perfect. I wouldn't stand by some of the sweeping generalizations he makes.
Liberals, while enjoying the perquisites of office, also want to be in a position to use government to solve problems. But conservatives have different motives for wanting power. One is to prevent liberals from doing so; if government cannot be made to disappear, at least it can be prevented from doing any good. The other is to build a political machine in which business and the Republican Party can exchange mutual favors;

If I read a sweeping unsupported assertion like that written by someone I disagreed with, my fallback response would be sarcastic congratulation on their mind-reading powers.

But on the whole, this guy puts it very well. A theme of the past several years has been moderate right-wingers regretting their support for Bush. It's great, but sometimes it's frustrating as well because it seems so close, and yet so far away. Bush is a fuck-up, so many people say, but he's a fluke, a Benedict Arnold, a random accident, as unforeseeable as a bolt of lightning, so we'll just have to be more careful when we pick the next adherent to the same ideology. That's maddening because it's always seemed to me that Bush's style of governing is a predictable consequence of the "government is the problem" belief held by a plurality (if not a majority) of Americans.

Via Kevin Drum.

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