Why Conservatives Have Abandoned Bush
Because we're from Mars and politicians are from Venus
As a long-time supporter of President Bush and a some-time critic of his policies and decisions, it is time to come clean: I'm worn out. I'm worn out with the constant racheting up of rhetoric. Those of us who still approve of the president find ourselves buffeted by the Right and the Left. I'm worn out by the Left's incessant efforts to turn Bush into Nixon (i.e. impeached, discredited crimminal ex-president). And I'm worn out by the Right and its abandonment of Bush...now finding fault, disaster, and travesty with every Bush administration move almost as often and with as impassioned ferocity as the Democrats. Why have all but a few of us conservatives abandoned the ramparts?
How did we get here? Part of the problem is that the American Right has never valued loyalty to its political leaders. This isn't all that suprising when you think about it. The conservative soul is the essence of the self-directed life: individuality, freedom to make ones own decisions, and overcomming adversity through innovative success. We don't suffer leadership gladly. American conservativism, furthermore, has ever been suspicious and distrusting of government: of the power of government as well as the ends of government. That Reagan once quipped that government isn't the solution to the problem, but rather is the problem...is no small part of the reason he enjoys continued respect on the Right to this day.
So it shouldn't be that big of a shock that conservatives, unlike their counterparts on the Left, fail to doggedly stick with their guys through thick and thin. For the Left, government is the solution to most of societies ills. It is the enemy of racism and sexism, it is the provider of riches--redistributed from the undeserving wealthy. The leaders of the Left, when in government, have been handed the keys to the universe. They are do-good-ers in the literal sense--leaders from the Left have been entrusted, from the perspective of their rank-and-file, with forging the good society. It is no coincidence that the 'Camelot' symbolism was employed with a Democratic administration. The Left views its leaders as the stately King on his horse and government, Exaclibur, at his (or her) side to battle the forces of evil and provide justice and bounty for the people. In other words, they don't merely believe in the righteousness of the cause, but imbue those who purse that cause with righteousness, Q.E.D.
I'm not being glib. This is powerful imagery, and it speaks to an emotional truth of what it means to be 'progressive' or 'liberal' or a 'Democrat.' They invest in their leaders much of their hopes and dreams about what a good society can be. Is it any wonder how vigorously they defend them?
For conservatives, however, it is a different story entirely. Government is no Exacliber. Government is a hammer. A weapon of destruction yielded by a motivated enemey. Conservative leaders in government are, at their best, Crusaders in heathan lands. Sent to root out evil in a tainted country and protect the folks at home from the seething hordes. It is an entirely different set of expectations. We don't expect these soldiers to provide the 'good society' for us. To warm our fires or put food on the table. We expect them to do righteous battle against evil--i.e. the oppression of Big Brother's steady hand. Conservative leaders are to bring the light of 'truth' to the benighted. Missionaries as opposed to Bishops--to use a Catholic analogy. We have no investment in these individuals, and, indeed, become suspicious of them the more time they spend with the godless. Because they are in the land of temptation, we monitor them for signs of weakness. Signs of sin.
So it shouldn't be surprising that conservatives have abandoned Bush. Bush is but the latest in a long line of conservatives in government who have made a few missteps and found that the movement didn't have their back. The movement didn't care very much about Bush (or any elected official) in the first place. Conservative passion about government is anti-government. Government is a necessary evil--a rabid dog that must be watched over and controlled...and is kept on only because of the protection it provides against the barbarians at the gate. Is it any surprise that we find it difficult to form attachments with the leaders of government...whatever their conservative bonafides? A conservative in government is necessarily tained. Conservatives in government make policy. They make compromises. The engage in the 'art of the possible.' They dirty their hands in the working of government. But most importantly, they are PART of the government. No conservative in government is without sin. By their very success in politics, no matter what their intentions, they have abandoned the purity of conservatism. And, thus, conservatives have long turned a jaundiced eye towards those 'conservatives' who sought and achieved government power. It is a contradiction in principles that no liberal experiences. In our heart of hearts we believe that no true conservative would want to be in government...let alone make a career of government.
This is not to caricature real and serious disagreements that the conservative movement has with its leaders. And clearly you can take the above too far. Liberals grumble about Democrats that compromise with Republicans...and Conservatives often mount vigorous defenses for Republican officials. Not every disagreement the movement has with its representatives in government can be reduced to our inate problem with government in general. But from my perspective, it has always seemed that, for most conservatives, their heart simply isn't in showing loyalty to our leaders. We are quick to abandon a conservative in government should he or she step out of line. It is thus not surprising to see how successful Democrats have been in bringing low Republicans in government (Gingrich, Delay). Nor is it surprising to see how successful Democrats in government have been in surviving the most severe of scandals (Kennedy, Clinton). When liberals defend a Democratic member of the government, they are in many ways defending themselves and their vision of the good society. Conservatives have no such investment in their leaders, hence when a conservative gets in trouble we are often like a bored public defender tasked to defend someone we believe is probably guilty. Ours is often a disinterested advcocacy. Why? We are not defending conservatism. We are defending a conservative. And that individual, by the very nature of their position, is not someone we're particularly juiced about defending in the first place.