On July 16, James Antle III contributed his column,
"Trouble on the Right? Bush and His Conservative Base," to IntellectualConservative.com.
Mr. Antle’s thoughtful and insightful statements should receive careful attention
because he has hit on exactly those criticisms which should be leveled at
our president if one is truly interested in achieving a greater level of
conservatism in America and American government.
The key statistic that stands out is the incredibly high approval rating
Mr. Bush receives from Republicans. That demonstrates that in general
the core constituency continues to strongly support their man. The
problems develop on the far right, from positions where people are looking
for something that is closer to their personal brand of conservatism.
These are the people who are likely to see many current Republican office
holders as little more than “Liberal Lite.” Their position is justified
by the continuing growth of government, continued emphasis on social welfare
spending, and the inability to rein in a court system which has lost touch
with our legal and governmental foundations. Thus, a significant amount
of the core support might exist only because the supporters believe that
they have no other choice. Polling data on subjects such as this are
unreliable, unless you know enough about the questions asked, and also about
the polling sample.
Looking back to the pre-election hype, we recall how candidate Bush was portrayed
by some on the left as a flaming conservative cowboy who would destroy every
vestige of human rights in his wake. The Republican line, which we
now see as accurate, portrayed Texas Governor Bush as a moderate who built
coalitions and worked with the opposition to “get the job done.” He
is continuing this approach in the White House, but is this the what we really
want in Washington, DC?
When Ronald Reagan was elected President many conservatives cheered.
Their support was amply justified by Mr. Reagan’s successes in the area of
foreign affairs. Presiding over the demise of the Berlin Wall and the
Soviet Union is nothing to sneeze at. But back at home, dealing with
a recalcitrant legislative branch, he could muster little more than the Tax
Reform Act of 1986; a bill which was supposed to make the income tax more
fair and filing more simple. As I wrote at the time, the result was
that fairness was sacrificed for simplicity, while simplicity was sacrificed
for fairness; essentially nothing had changed significantly except the rate
We see similar results from Mr. Bush via his apparent willingness to go along
with socialist style education and health care proposals, the continued growth
of government and government spending, as well as increased intrusions into
the lives of ordinary citizens. There are other areas ripe for criticism
and complaint. Where Mr. Antle and I differ lies in his statement that,
“The problem isn’t really Bush. It is that conservatives don’t really
expect anything of Republican leaders.” I have no scientific evidence
to the contrary, no statistical surveys or any way to prove it. But
what may actually be the truth here is that many rank and file Republicans
have simply given up on expecting true leadership from their representatives.
They resign themselves to having small amounts of progress from time to time,
sandwiched between massive setbacks and the resulting decline in American
potential, power and prestige. They don’t expect anything because no
one is offering anything real.
When an opportunity presents itself few are willing to put themselves on
the line and fight the good fight to the end. When Newt Gingrich “shut
down the government” temporarily during the Clinton years, there was a temporary
euphoria among some of us. Perhaps Newt would show the way. If
we could just hold out long enough and the world did not end, people would
learn the truth. It didn’t happen. The House caved in, the budget
was passed, and the liberals won again. Failures of this sort have
a very disheartening effect. However, they are not a foregone conclusion.
If this is an ideological war, then we must be willing to fight. Lest
we forget, the men who signed the Declaration of Independence pledged their
lives, fortunes and sacred honor. Should we do any less today?
We should also consider that if a strong leader emerges, the people, even
a somewhat disillusioned people, should be willing to follow. Mr. Bush
might have used the disaster of September 11, 2001 to strengthen his position
at a critical time and then work toward significant changes. Instead,
his attitude appeared to be directed more toward appeasement of the opposition
at home, while his foreign policy approach may have been and still may be
somewhat misguided. The fact that the saga of the Iraqi uranium has
continued so long is a sign of lack of decisive leadership; matters like
this need to be cut off quickly so that the national focus can be returned
to matters of real importance.
Because we don’t know enough about the true beliefs of many core Republicans,
it is difficult to assess exactly what a candidate can get away with in office
with the expectation that they will be re-elected. There is also the
ubiquitous problem of Washington, DC log-rolling, combined with the seniority
system which makes it difficult for a newcomer to make progress, regardless
of their intentions. Many a candidate might go in with idealistic ideas,
only to find that he can’t fight city hall. If he elected to fight
anyway, he would probably not get the publicity necessary to attract grass-roots
support. Finally, if our new legislator is a true conservative, we
can certainly expect that any efforts to make meaningful change will be met
by a firestorm of angry rhetoric from the other side of the aisle, and from
much of the press. It seems that the battle is lost before it even
So, in the end, we must ask ourselves what Americans and American conservatives
want. Money talks all too well in political circles. It talks
both to the office holders and to the people they are supposed to represent.
No one seems to care where the money comes from. Republicans and Democrats
alike continue the same programs of spending and expanding. It seems
that the system is at fault, unless “we the people” are willing to do something
about it. Perhaps there aren’t enough of us to care. Perhaps
too many people don’t think it matters. Either way, the results will
probably be the same.
A few years ago I encountered a scale replica of the ancient city of Rome
as it appeared at the time of Constantine the Great. It was an imposing
sight, and probably was even more imposing to the people who lived there.
The Empire had endured for centuries, and looked just as strong as ever.
Why should anyone care? Of course, by this time the Empire was already
weakened, and the lack of caring was a symptom of that weakness. In
the end, no matter how good the leadership was, the decline continued, until
the emperors were no longer leaders; they were figureheads who had little
real power or control of their own destinies, and in some cases they didn’t
care, either. Their purpose in achieving the purple was self-indulgence.
It has been said may times and it applies to liberals and conservatives alike;
Mr. Antle said it, and now I repeat it: We get the leaders we deserve.
Steven Laib is a practicing attorney.