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The Pyrrhic Presidency

When the sorrowful history of early 21st century conservatism is written, chiseled into tear-stained stone tablets by candlelight, the term “compassionate conservatism” will be remembered as the harbinger of political doom. Let the hidden scrolls and cave paintings bear witness to that phrase dropping conspicuously on the 2000 campaign trail from the lips of George W. Bush, he of the Biblical allusions and furrowed brow. The true believers of conservatism may now begin stocking their fallout shelters in preparation for the long, dark ice age ahead. As they mournfully turn the moral tundra for a few turnips, they will wail and gnash their teeth, accusing themselves of willful ignorance in regard to that infamous phrase. “We should have suspected,” they will lament. “We should have seen it coming…pass the squirrel soup and put another back issue of National Review on the fire, will you honey? My martini is freezing solid.”

With the appointment of Harriet Meirs, a cynic (were there one among us) might conclude that conservatives must now embrace their exile. A substantial argument can be made that never has a political victory cost so much as the one conservatives delivered to George Bush in 2000. Undoubtedly, he looked and sounded conservative against a backdrop of Clinton, Gore and the usual lunatics at the DNC. But the actual meaning of words has always been important to conservatives, and “compassionate conservatism” ought to have given pause. The phrase assumes as true the longstanding liberal slander that conservatism is harsh, uncaring and impersonal. To admit this fallacy is to eviscerate the entire conservative worldview. Is it compassionate to enable the poor to remain poor, aided only by government handouts? Is it compassionate to legitimize destructive behavior, be it abortion, homosexuality or drug use? What Bush espouses now as a vision is actually a philosophically desolate moonscape adorned with the shiny furniture of postmodern decadence. In other words, he’s a liberal.

If conservatives wanted a ballooning deficit (Iraq), federal meddling in local affairs (No Child Left Behanind), reckless domestic spending (Katrina aid), stifled political speech (McCain/Feingold), and endlessly expanding entitlements (Medicare prescriptions), they would have elected Gore or Kerry. Undoubtedly, there were political considerations to Bush’s advocacy for these and other initiatives, but another core conservative value is that politics serves truth, not the other way around. Winning the White House is meaningless if the values enshrined there are not honorable. Bush has abandoned conservatives. They will now abandon him, preserving authentic culture, honoring philosophy, waiting in the hills for national politicians who are more worthy of their energies. The martinis will be less tasty in the caves, but at least there will still be something to toast.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on October 5, 2005 1:07 PM.

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