Conservatives love Bush because the left hates him. If the New York Times would run a front-page story headlined “Bush Delivers the Big Government Clinton Never Did,” and the lefty bloggers would pick it up and run with it, maybe conservatives would catch on.
So here’s your challenge, lefty bloggers: If you don’t like the tree-chopping, Falwell-loving, cowboy president—if you want his presidency fatally wounded for the next three years—then start praising him. One good Paul Krugman column taking off from that USA Today story on the surge in entitlements recipients under Bush, one Daily Kos lead on how Clinton flopped on national health care but Bush twisted every arm in the GOP to get a multi-trillion-dollar prescription drug benefit for the elderly, one cover story in the Nation on how Bush has acknowledged federal responsibility for everything from floods in New Orleans to troubled teenagers, and maybe, just maybe, National Review and the Powerline blog and Fox News would come to their senses. Bush is a Rockefeller Republican in cowboy boots, and it’s time conservatives stopped looking at the boots instead of the policies.
Oh, please. Sure, let me be the first to step up and say people on the left think Bush is great because of all the damage he’s done. After all, “the left” and the Democratic Party are all about ruining America. Thanks but no thanks. Both Davids labor under the belief—genuine or disingenuous, who can say?—that “lefty bloggers” and their ilk are all in favor of irresponsible government spending, economic mismanagement, ham-fisted responses to security threats and natural disasters, gigantic handouts to energy and pharma companies disguised as environmental and health policy, phenomenally botched foreign policy interventions, and so on. If, after several years of this from the President, schmibertarian fellow-travelers now feel that, for the sake of their own conscience, someone needs to smear the GOP faithful as rubes more impressed by cowboy boots than good government, let them go ahead and do it themselves. (Where’s individual responsibility when you need it?) I recall, though, that when Tom Frank made something like this argument about a key part of the Republican base, it wasn’t very well received by those on the right.
Update 2: On reflection I’m happy to retract the “schmibertarian” jab. I think Bernstein is more of a neocon than a libertarian, and Boaz—and Cato generally, insofar as I’ve noticed—have been consistently libertarian in their critiques of Bush’s domestic and foreign policy. That said, “Do your own dirty work” is still the right response to Boaz’s “challenge.” At best he’s just trying to spread the blame around in a tongue-in-cheek way, and at worst he really does believe that liberals think spending money/expanding govt for the sake of it is just great.
Update: In an addition to his post, David Bernstein complains:
Kieran Healy is entitled to his opinion, but his implication that David Boaz and I were once Bush supporters who have now turned on him for “the sake of their own conscience,” is simply wrong. I’ve never been a fan of the president’s …
He points to a post of his from last November where he criticized Bush’s “hubris, sense of entitlement to power, and belief in the ameliorative powers of government action (in both the foreign and domestic realms) that one normally associates with the worst types of statists. And let’s not forget the Administration’s blatant lies about the cost of the Medicare law, and Karl Rove’s apparent plan to drive all well-educated, secular folks out of the party in exchange for the votes of the most ignorant elements of the fundamentalist community, a traditional Democratic stronghold.”
It seems clear Bernstein and Boaz have gotten a certain amount of glee out of the rage Bush has inspired in his left-leaning opponents over the years. And yet both of you also actually believe that many of Bush’s policies are terrible—- Bernstein hates his hunger for power and his courting of the religious right, and Boaz, I believe, disagrees with the war in Iraq. The natural thing would be to critique these policies directly. But that might give you Moonbat Cooties. So Bernstein and Boaz want the moonbats to do the job for them, by the bizarre means of praising the President for his spendthrift ways in order to erode his support amongst mainstream GOP voters.
I said “for the sake of your conscience,” then, not because I thought Bernstein once supported Bush and now does not, but because he doesn’t want to admit that much of “the left’s” critique of Bush has been (a) right and (b) not much different from his own in many respects. So, for the sake of his conscience, he and Boaz seem to prefer to retreat to the absurd belief that “the left” ought somehow to support Bush because they are happy to see the size of government grow through carefree spending for whatever reason. This would give him license to say that the President wasn’t a true conservative because—look!—Paul Krugman or whoever said isn’t it great that Bush has spent buckets of money. Of course, this isn’t going to happen. As Mark Kleiman points out today, being a bad conservative does not make you a liberal, however much Messrs Bernstein & Boaz might want to believe otherwise.