The presidential campaign trail is not the only place where conservatism is being routed this month. We’re also being shoved under the desk in the Oval Office.
President George W. Bush has begun his final year in office by moving sharply leftward. It’s as if he is finally vying for the Strange New Respect Award from the liberal East Coast elites. The effort, of course, is futile — not to mention wrongheaded and potentially disastrous for the country.
How doth the president shaft us? Let us count the ways.
1) The “stimulus” package. What Bush is proposing is sheer nonsense. It is likely to be not just ineffectual but, quite likely, counterproductive. They might call the developing proposal a “tax cut,” but if the government is sending checks to everybody, they can call it macaroni if they want and it still won’t change the reality that it’s just another big spending program.
A similar “stimulus” barely helped in 2001, when the dollar was strong and the money really meant something; but with the dollar a 90-pound-weakling, the only thing that will be stimulated this time is an even faster flight into more stable currencies. A quarter century after Reaganomics put Keynesian economics in its grave, Bush has resurrected Keynes, complete with all the old shibboleths about how inflation and government largesse are the cures for economic slowdowns. They aren’t, and that old Keynes sidekick stagflation may not be far behind.
2) Israel. Never, ever, has an American president gone so far to kowtow to the Palestinians and undercut the Israelis as Bush has done this month. Until this month, no American president had endorsed the utterly insane notion of “reparations” for individual Palestinians whose families left Israel 60 years ago. Until this month (unless I missed it earlier), no president had hung the shameful moniker of “occupied” territory on key Israeli lands annexed after the Six Day War in 1967 — a war in which Israel fought off unified Arab aggression.
It’s as if George W. Bush, so long a heartfelt supporter of Israel, has suddenly been possessed by his father’s henchman James Baker — the same James Baker once reported to have said “F*** the Jews: They don’t vote for us anyway.”
3) Earmarks. For weeks, now, conservatives have been urging Bush to make a stand against underhanded congressional “earmarks” (purely local pork projects). In the 2008 appropriations finally signed into law by the president, the vast majority of earmarks were not written into the law itself, but rather included in legislative “report” language that accompanies the bill in question without technically having the force of law.
Not only are earmarks wasteful, but they have repeatedly been shown to create the conditions for corruption. Conservatives have been begging Bush to issue an executive order directing federal agencies to ignore the “report” earmarks and absorb the money into their general-fund budgets. So far, their pleadings have been met with sounds of silence profound enough to make even Simon and Garfunkel proud.
4) Handguns. Earlier this month, the Bush administration stunned virtually everybody in the political world by trying to “split the baby” concerning the District of Columbiaï¿½s handgun ban that faces Supreme Court consideration this spring. Rather than coming down strongly against the ban, the administration filed a brief urging the high court to send the case back to lower courts for more “fact finding.” Supporters of the gun ban considered the Bush position a great, and surprising, victory, while Second Amendment gun-rights proponents felt blindsided and betrayed.
5) Energy. The president complained about the new (and misnamed) “energy bill” passed by Congress late last year, but then he went ahead and signed it anyway. The new law is a disaster. Not only will it mandate ridiculously large (and price inflationary) increases in biofuel use, but it also will effectively ban the familiar incandescent light bulb in favor of fluorescent lights that turn into mercury hazards if broken.
The bill does basically nothing to promote domestic production of oil and gas, and nothing to end the barriers to importing the far less expensive biofuels produced by Brazil.
Now, it must be said that this president has surprised everybody before. Sometimes his surprises make conservatives happy. Sometimes his surprises just make no sense. We can hope, and only hope, that his State of the Union Address next Monday night will do the former — that it will contain bold and politically effective proposals for a reformist, conservative agenda to end his presidency on a series of high notes. If, somehow, it does, then these recent abandonments of principle will be a bit easier to swallow.
But even then, they won’t have been right.