Standing Athwart History, Yelling “Go Go Go!”

Pointed to it by Professor Bainbridge, I read the Los Angeles Times whatever on the supposed “conservative crackup.” Mostly it was an attack on President Bush, and an unhelpful one it was, despite decent contributions from two people I don’t plan to discuss in this post.

As Professor Bainbridge described it, four “more-or-less conservative” pundits participated. A more generous description you will not find. (You sure won’t find it on this blog.)

The Times symposium foisted on its readership a Kerry voter as representing the GOP (or conservatives) and got an editor of National Review (yes, the Buckley National Review) to attack Bush harshly because Bush isn’t a leftist.

A fine day indeed for the leftie Los Angeles Times. I myself would never have been so crafty as to get a National Review editor to attack someone’s conservative positions because they are not liberal. Wouldn’t even think of it.

One of the four essayists is blogger Daniel Drezner, who voted for Kerry in ’04. His right, obviously, but shouldn’t the Times mention this? Kind of relevant if your thesis is that there is a new “conservative crackup” afflicting Bush in his second term.

Drezner divides all Republicans (he uses this term instead of “conservative,” though they are not interchangeable — a liberal Republican can’t participate in a conservative crackup) into “realists and neoconservatives.” Drezner says “realists” don’t believe “ideas about liberal democracy can travel well beyond the West.”

So Japan, alas, is doomed.

It is not a key issue, but Drezner’s definition of “neoconservative” differs from that of neoconservative movement’s godfather and the definition conservatives have been using for a couple of decades now, although it is in accord with a definition one might find on a liberal website. Drezner tags every conservative who supported the war in Iraq as a “neoconservative,” yet many of us were never, ever liberals, mugged by reality or otherwise. We’re just conservatives.

However, Drezner’s essay is five-star material compared to the op-ed by National Review Senior Editor Jeffrey Hart, who tries to stretch a four-word William F. Buckley quote into a redefinition of conservatism, and then excoriates Bush for not being liberal enough — without using the word plainly.

Hart complains (without providing even a phrase of evidence) that “every president has worked to protect” national parks, except for Bush, who “neglects them except as a playground for more snowmobiles”; that Bush wants to drill for oil in ANWR (the mainstream conservative position); that Bush fails to use federal government powers to “encourage” the production of fuel-efficient cars (mainstream conservatives have been known to believe private companies should design consumer goods).

(I’ll summarize a rebuttal:

a) Bush inherited a $4.9 billion National Park Service maintenance backlog; his Administration spends more on the NPS than prior Administrations; reasonable people disagree about a snowmobile ban, but Clinton, Bush 41, Reagan, Carter, Ford and Nixon allowed snowmobiles; the Clinton Administration moved to increase restrictions during the last year of its eight; the Bush Administration issued a regulation that greatly limits their use but falls short of a total ban — a nuanced position reasonable people can disagree with but objectively one that results in tighter snowmobile standards than those in place during his predecessors’ terms;

b) Does Hart believe the Iranians or Saudis are more careful about the environment when they drill for oil than Americans would be in ANWR?;

c) A key element of fuel-efficient cars is making them light, which has the unfortunate side-effect of making them more deadly.)

Hart, whose name is the third listed on the masthead of National Review, also complains that Bush wanted to privatize Social Security (actually, Bush just wanted to partially-privatize it, but why expect precise language from a professor of English at an Ivy League university?), and characterizes the effort to rescue the insolvent Social Security system as a “scheme” to “attach” the “social safety net” (social? how about “financial” — Social Security’s current structure is anti-family) to “stock in such companies as Enron and WorldCom.” (Just picked those two companies at random, Dr. Hart?) No serious person would argue that every publicly-held corporation is as fragile as Enron, WorldCom or, for that matter, Social Security, all of which turned out to be insolvent, despite marketing to the contrary.

(Go here to read the Cato Institute’s succinct explanation of four key ways Social Security is just like Enron, or here to visit the Heritage Foundation’s Social Security calculator, which tells me I can expect a .48 percent of return for the Social Security taxes I have “contributed,” but that, based on historical data, I could earn a 5.98 percent rate of return had I been allowed to invest my contributions in a private account. Heritage tells me I lost $13,241 a month. [Thanks, Dr. Hart.])

Hart also calls the Medicare prescription drug benefit a “another privatization scheme.” If only! Medicare should be a system based on the one federal employees (like Congressmen) enjoy. Medicare beneficiaries should be able to pick between competing private plans. Their benefit should be “premium support” — that is, help (in low-income cases, substantial) paying the premium. We can call that “privatization” (we could also call it a good idea), but that’s not what Bush ultimately fought for in 2003, and that’s definitely not what we got.

Hart also complains that Bush “severely limit[ed] federal support” for stem cell research. What the President actually didwas ban most — not all — federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, but not private research.

(As I once asked: How it is that research on embryonic cells can simultaneously be immensely promising and yet also unable to attract private funding?)

Once again, Hart, not Bush, is out of the conservative mainstream. Conservatives by definition favor private spending over federal spending (hence so many of us being mad at Congress). This even applies to those who, like Hart, dismiss concern about destroying embryos with such statements as “the supposed ‘culture of life’ is a culture of disease and death.”

Hart also complains that Bush would like to “abolish abortion.” Here’s what he says:

Bush would like to abolish abortion. No one likes abortion. But a demand for it exists today that did not exist in 1950, let alone in 1920, when U.S. women got the vote. Today, look at a university campus. Half women. They are represented in all professions. They demand the right to decide if and when to have children. Criminalizing abortion would be folly, a disaster — and would fail, like that other prohibition. That’s the actuality.

Thesis: Women work, therefore, we must have abortion.

The hanging “because…” is left unsaid and unknown. Also unsaid is the fact that men who both work and have sex don’t get to decide “if and when to have children.” (Well, except for birth control, but since that doesn’t work for Dr. Hart’s women, it must not work for my men.)

Also unsaid is the fact that many people believe that if something is legal, it must be moral. Legal abortion speaks volumes to them.

And then there is the little detail that if Hart is right, why doesn’t he trust 50 state legislatures to see it his way? It is not as if Bush is pushing for a constitutional amendment banning abortion, just for judges who would let the people decide the laws of the nation.

But maybe that does bother Hart, who says women demand “the right” (constitutional, apparently, since natural rights need not be demanded) to abortion.

It sounds like Hart, who condemns Bush for his supposed extreme commitment to the market (“free-market economics pushed to exclude other worthy goals becomes an ideology”), is in favor of the legalized killing of unborn babies simply because the market demands it.

And, he blames the girls.

Addendum, March 13: Dave Pierre at Newsbusters shares a different perspective on the Times series. James Joyner at Outside the Beltway also has some very good insights, and comments.

Regarding Dr. Hart’s National Review connection: Interesting.

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