Liberal Californian Conor Friedersdorf takes the occasion of Barack Obama’s totally unexpected reelection to throw a spitball of a column at conservatives, wondering aloud: What Has Movement Conservatism Accomplished in the Last 15 Years?
Perhaps we’ll see future triumphs from the conservative movement despite its present troubles. But have we seen any evidence of success since 1997 or so? George W. Bush created a new bureaucracy, expanded the federal role in education, approved a massive new entitlement, exploded the deficit, abandoned any pretense of a “humble foreign policy” that eschewed nation building, and left office having approved a massive government bailout of the financial sector. Then President Obama took office, presided over more bailouts and growing deficits, passed a health care reform bill that conservatives hate, and got reelected. Over this same period, the country has gotten more socially liberal. Gays can serve openly in the military and marry.
A majority now supports legalizing marijuana.
Circa 1997, if you’d told the average conservative that all those things would happen in the next 15 years, would they have declared the conservative movement finished? I suspect as much.
In the first place, noting George W. Bush’s sometimes failure to govern as a conservative (more government agencies, another entitlement, bailouts) is a fundamentally dishonest argument.
The Conservative Movement has never pretended to enjoy a national majority, nor does it claim to possess unchallenged dominion over the Republican Party. In the election of 2000, as in the elections of 2008 and 2012, the Conservative Movement contended against, and wound up compromising with, the professional politicians and Republican pragmatists. That is how American politics operates. The Conservative Movement had a lot of influence and, by an interesting kind of non-coincidence, was in every presidential election from 2000 to 2012 conceded the second place on the ticket, but it did not name the nominee.
Electing George W. Bush was certainly no unalloyed triumph for Conservatism. George W. Bush ran on a commitment to compromise with liberals and democrats and promised to govern as a “compassionate” (i.e. moderate Welfare State) Republican. There was never any reason to believe that George W. Bush was a sophisticated opponent of statism.
The Bush Presidency was radically transformed in the directions of domestic statism and foreign military operations by 9/11, which event, by any fair reading, must be looked upon as a legacy of Clintonian left-wing policy passivity.
Conservatives like myself are far from uncritical of Bush’s Wilsonianism. Some of us actively deplore the creation of the Department of Heimat Sekuritat and would abolish it and the TSA in a New York minute if we could work our will. We nonetheless wound up forced to defend George W. Bush, his Administration, and his foreign policy from essentially treasonous, dishonest, and opportunistic attack by the democrat party left. One wound up feeling like a Union conscript in the Civil War obliged to defend the leadership of General George McClellan.
We, in the Conservative Movement, can at least congratulate ourselves that our movement was able to elect George W. Bush, who was, however wrong and limited, nonetheless an honest and a decent man, over the despicable charlatan and junk science demigod Albert Gore and that we were able to spare the United States the dishonor of seeing the Vietnam War traitor John Kerry promoted to commander-in-chief.
8 years of George W. Bush, alas! failed, due to determined democrat resistance, to reform the American welfare state and put Social Security on a sound and reliable footing. Bush also failed to fully foresee and avert the real estate crisis, whose roots lay as far back as the New Deal. He did try to reform Fannie Mae, but Barney Frank and Chris Dodd successfully stood, like Horatius at the Bridge, in the way.
Bush, at least, did overthrow one of the principal outlaw regimes and sponsors of international terrorism, and he successfully averted al Qaida’s intended Second Wave attack. He built up the US military, put terrorism on the run, and delivered to Barry Soetero an ongoing intelligence operation and information obtained from captured illegal combatants which made possible his administration’s greatest triumph, the killing of Osama bin Laden.
In the same period, Conservatism’s intellectual domination of legal debates continued, and we won a decisive landmark Supreme Court decision affirming the Second Amendment and essentially recalling a cornerstone provision of the Bill of Rights from exile. We also won another crucial Supreme Court decision reversing liberal efforts to control political campaign speech. Not bad.
Mr. Fiedersdorf is a very young man lacking adequate experience of life to enable him to take the long view.
It’s easy to derogate the influence and achievements of the Conservative Movement a little over a week after it experienced a disastrous defeat. One can imagine the Friedersdorf column assessing US Naval Strength published on December 16, 1941.
It is sad, and not yet even entirely understandable yet why, that we lost this one, but frankly, Conor, old boy, I think you have a lot more to fear from the political future than we do. You put the radical Obama back into power, while the economy continues to sink, Obamacare increasingly comes into actual force and applies its terrible negative effects, and the federal budget approaches a fiscal cliff created deliberately by your party. You bozos own the disastrous US economy, and the chances that your demented ideology, your corrupt politics, and your basic bovine stupidity will do it still greater harm asymptotically approach 100%.
You are, I will grant you freely, the professionals at political manipulation, voter turnout, agitprop, and spin. You got all the weak-minded females in suburbia across the country in a tizzy over their supposed rights and they voted for Caliban out of fear that Romney would somehow personally confiscate their contraceptives and slap around their hairdressers.
What you overlook are the key considerations that your economics are fallacious, your policies are inevitably disastrous, your president is a narcissistic incompetent, and you are still, in the long-run, losing the war of ideas. Let me offer you a reciprocal challenge. Write this same column again nine days after the election of 2016, and let’s see how it reads then.
Condi Rice did a good job of standing up to him, and it is very interesting to observe how much O’Donnell relies on
fundamentally dishonest interviewing techniques. He continually interrupts his role as interviewer/debator to assume the role of judge and then tries to rule in his own favor. He relies constantly on leftwing talking points which he asserts dogmatically as the supposed fundamental facts entirely on the basis of his own native consensus on the left.
Former CIA Director Michael B. Mukasey testifies to the crucial role played by mildly coercive interrogation techniques in establishing the trail that ultimately led to Osama bin Laden.
The cosmic irony is that the single greatest success of the Obama Administration resulted specifically from the policies and tactics used by the previous administration which he ran against and has since eliminated.
[T]he intelligence that led to bin Laden came… began with a disclosure from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), who broke like a dam under the pressure of harsh interrogation techniques that included waterboarding. He loosed a torrent of information—including eventually the nickname of a trusted courier of bin Laden.
That regimen of harsh interrogation was used on KSM after another detainee, Abu Zubaydeh, was subjected to the same techniques. When he broke, he said that he and other members of al Qaeda were obligated to resist only until they could no longer do so, at which point it became permissible for them to yield. “Do this for all the brothers,” he advised his interrogators.
Abu Zubaydeh was coerced into disclosing information that led to the capture of Ramzi bin al Shibh, another of the planners of 9/11. Bin al Shibh disclosed information that, when combined with what was learned from Abu Zubaydeh, helped lead to the capture of KSM and other senior terrorists and the disruption of follow-on plots aimed at both Europe and the United States.
Another of those gathered up later in this harvest, Abu Faraj al-Libi, also was subjected to certain of these harsh techniques and disclosed further details about bin Laden’s couriers that helped in last weekend’s achievement.
The harsh techniques themselves were used selectively against only a small number of hard-core prisoners who successfully resisted other forms of interrogation, and then only with the explicit authorization of the director of the CIA. Of the thousands of unlawful combatants captured by the U.S., fewer than 100 were detained and questioned in the CIA program. Of those, fewer than one-third were subjected to any of these techniques.
Former CIA Director Michael Hayden has said that, as late as 2006, even with the growing success of other intelligence tools, fully half of the government’s knowledge about the structure and activities of al Qaeda came from those interrogations. The Bush administration put these techniques in place only after rigorous analysis by the Justice Department, which concluded that they were lawful.
The current president ran for election on the promise to do away with them even before he became aware, if he ever did, of what they were. Days after taking office he directed that the CIA interrogation program be done away with entirely, and that interrogation be limited to the techniques set forth in the Army Field Manual, a document designed for use by even the least experienced troops. It’s available on the Internet and used by terrorists as a training manual for resisting interrogation.
In April 2009, the administration made public the previously classified Justice Department memoranda analyzing the harsh techniques, thereby disclosing them to our enemies and assuring that they could never be used effectively again. ...
Immediately following the killing of bin Laden, the issue of interrogation techniques became in some quarters the “dirty little secret” of the event. But as disclosed in the declassified memos in 2009, the techniques are neither dirty nor, as noted by Director Hayden and others, were their results little. As the memoranda concluded—and as I concluded reading them at the beginning of my tenure as attorney general in 2007—the techniques were entirely lawful as the law stood at the time the memos were written, and the disclosures they elicited were enormously important. That they are no longer secret is deeply regrettable. ...
We… need to put an end to the ongoing investigations of CIA operatives that continue to undermine intelligence community morale.
Acknowledging and meeting the need for an effective and lawful interrogation program, which we once had, and freeing CIA operatives and others to administer it under congressional oversight, would be a fitting way to mark the demise of Osama bin Laden.
At Red State, Jeff Emmanuel has a large graphic illustrating a number of informative comparisons between President Bush’s unilateral, war-of-choice in Iraq and President Obama’s kinectic action in Libya which illustrates a number of difficulties in the conventional wisdom of the establishment commentariat. Be sure to look at the larger original.
Hat tip to Richard Fernandez who reflects on history, while contemplating the unhappy spectacle of escalating regime violence in response to protests in Syria:
Deraa, the site of one of the many protests, was where the fledgling Royal Air Force won its first ground-air battle in 1918 in support of Colonel T. E. Lawrence’s Arab Revolt. He was cutting the lifeline of the Ottoman empire. Viewed from the 21st century, the battle seems almost quaint: biplanes dropping a few pounds of bombs from low altitude and landing to rendezvous with riders in flowing robes on steaming horses. But those riders, all encased in cotton, creaky leather and sweat, had the virtue of knowing which end was up. Today we are even luckier to be led, not simply by the competent and daring, but by leaders who are truly awesome.
Anonymous official sources have spilled enough to the New York Times to allow it to put the pieces together (and to give an opportunity to US and Israeli Intelligence to take a few public bows and indulge in a bit of gloating at Iran’s expense). And, what do you know! it was another of those George W. Bush policies that Barack Obama decided to continue, just like detentions at Guantanamo.
The Dimona complex in the Negev desert is famous as the heavily guarded heart of Israel’s never-acknowledged nuclear arms program, where neat rows of factories make atomic fuel for the arsenal.
Over the past two years, according to intelligence and military experts familiar with its operations, Dimona has taken on a new, equally secret role — as a critical testing ground in a joint American and Israeli effort to undermine Iran’s efforts to make a bomb of its own.
Behind Dimona’s barbed wire, the experts say, Israel has spun nuclear centrifuges virtually identical to Iran’s at Natanz, where Iranian scientists are struggling to enrich uranium. They say Dimona tested the effectiveness of the Stuxnet computer worm, a destructive program that appears to have wiped out roughly a fifth of Iran’s nuclear centrifuges and helped delay, though not destroy, Tehran’s ability to make its first nuclear arms.
“To check out the worm, you have to know the machines,” said an American expert on nuclear intelligence. “The reason the worm has been effective is that the Israelis tried it out.”
Though American and Israeli officials refuse to talk publicly about what goes on at Dimona, the operations there, as well as related efforts in the United States, are among the newest and strongest clues suggesting that the virus was designed as an American-Israeli project to sabotage the Iranian program. ...
Many mysteries remain, chief among them, exactly who constructed a computer worm that appears to have several authors on several continents. But the digital trail is littered with intriguing bits of evidence.
In early 2008 the German company Siemens cooperated with one of the United States’ premier national laboratories, in Idaho, to identify the vulnerabilities of computer controllers that the company sells to operate industrial machinery around the world — and that American intelligence agencies have identified as key equipment in Iran’s enrichment facilities.
Siemens says that program was part of routine efforts to secure its products against cyberattacks. Nonetheless, it gave the Idaho National Laboratory — which is part of the Energy Department, responsible for America’s nuclear arms — the chance to identify well-hidden holes in the Siemens systems that were exploited the next year by Stuxnet.
The worm itself now appears to have included two major components. One was designed to send Iran’s nuclear centrifuges spinning wildly out of control. Another seems right out of the movies: The computer program also secretly recorded what normal operations at the nuclear plant looked like, then played those readings back to plant operators, like a pre-recorded security tape in a bank heist, so that it would appear that everything was operating normally while the centrifuges were actually tearing themselves apart.
The attacks were not fully successful: Some parts of Iran’s operations ground to a halt, while others survived, according to the reports of international nuclear inspectors. Nor is it clear the attacks are over: Some experts who have examined the code believe it contains the seeds for yet more versions and assaults. ...
Israeli officials grin widely when asked about its effects. Mr. Obama’s chief strategist for combating weapons of mass destruction, Gary Samore, sidestepped a Stuxnet question at a recent conference about Iran, but added with a smile: “I’m glad to hear they are having troubles with their centrifuge machines, and the U.S. and its allies are doing everything we can to make it more complicated.”
In recent days, American officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity have said in interviews that they believe Iran’s setbacks have been underreported. That may explain why Mrs. Clinton provided her public assessment while traveling in the Middle East last week.
By the accounts of a number of computer scientists, nuclear enrichment experts and former officials, the covert race to create Stuxnet was a joint project between the Americans and the Israelis, with some help, knowing or unknowing, from the Germans and the British.
The project’s political origins can be found in the last months of the Bush administration. In January 2009, The New York Times reported that Mr. Bush authorized a covert program to undermine the electrical and computer systems around Natanz, Iran’s major enrichment center. President Obama, first briefed on the program even before taking office, sped it up, according to officials familiar with the administration’s Iran strategy. So did the Israelis, other officials said.
You can hear the champagne corks popping at Langley all the way out here in Fauquier County.
Taiwan’s animated news service pokes fun at America’s resort to electronic strip searches and crotch fondling.
The Washington Times is right that the recent move to humiliating invasions of personal privacy represents a deliberate policy choosing universal indignity over profiling, but I think they are wrong to identify the TSA’s practices and politically correct ideology as the invention of the Obama Administration. That infernal organization was created by the Bush Administration, and it was the Bush Administration that appointed the original officials who established its keynote policies of security theater and political correctness.
Stanley Fish gleefully watches the former president’s public estimation reascend, as Obama’s precipitously sinks. Bush derangement is evolving into Bush nostalgia.
I know you’re not supposed to, but I just love to say I told you so. ..”
Well it’s a bit more than a year now and signs of Bush’s rehabilitation are beginning to pop up. One is literally a sign, a billboard that appeared recently on I-35 in Minnesota. Occupying the right side (from the viewer’s viewpoint) is a picture of Bush smiling genially and waving his hand in a friendly gesture. Occupying the left side is a simple and direct question: “Miss me yet?” The image is all over the Internet, hundreds of millions of hits, and unscientific Web-based polls indicate that more do miss him than don’t.
A perhaps more substantial sign incorporates a sign famous (or infamous) in the Bush presidency. The March 8 cover of Newsweek reproduces the famous 2003 photograph of Bush on the flight deck of the U.S.S. Lincoln. The president is in the left of the picture, striding away from the famous banner proclaiming “Mission Accomplished.”
Those words haunted Bush for the next five years, but now, Newsweek reports, they may play differently because — and this is emblazoned on the cover — we may have “Victory At Last.” It has to be said, declare the cover-story’s writers, that “now almost seven hellish years later . . . something that looks mighty like democracy is emerging in Iraq”; and, they add (eerily echoing Bush’s words in 2003), this development “most certainly is a watershed event that could come to represent a whole new era in the history of the massively undemocratic Middle East.”
Of course, one might disagree with that assessment, but the fact that it is made in the lead article of a major mainstream magazine tells its own story. It is a story that intersects with another, the story of the precipitous decline in Barack Obama’s support and of a growing suspicion, found on the left as well as on the right, where it is much more than a suspicion, that the politics of change may have been a slogan with less promise in its future than “Mission Accomplished.” (The imminent passage of a health care bill keeps being predicted, but so far no “victory at last.”)
Meanwhile, Bush’s policies came to seem less obviously reprehensible as the Obama administration drifted into embracing watered-down versions of many of them. Guantanamo hasn’t been closed. No Child Left Behind is being revised and perhaps improved, but not repealed. The banks are still engaging in their bad practices. Partisanship is worse than ever. Obama seems about to back away from the decision to try 9/11 defendants in civilian courts, a prospect that led the ACLU to run an ad in Sunday’s Times with the subheading “Change or more of the same?” Above that question is a series of photographs that shows Obama morphing into guess who — yes, that’s right, George W. Bush.
A couple of days ago I heard the news that George and Laura Bush paid a private visit to the wounded soldiers at Fort Hood. They specifically requested that the base commander not inform the media of their visit. They came. They comforted the wounded soldiers and the Fort Hood community for a couple of hours. And then they left. And they never had their pictures taken saluting the troops or holding their hands.
When I heard the news, I felt this pain that hasn’t gone away. It’s a pain that I have been feeling fairly often since last November. ...
For all that he disappointed me, I miss George W. Bush. I really do.
While Karl Rove was appearing on Fox News and writing op-eds as an independent political analyst, he was privately smearing Democrats. “Karl spread rumors through the White House that one of Obama’s potential vice presidential running mates—and a United States senator—had beaten his first wife. ‘Karl says it’s true,’ the president assured a small group of staffers. Then knowing Karl, he quickly added, ‘Karl hopes it’s true,’” reports Latimer.
For a commencement address at Furman University in spring 2008, Ed Gillespie wanted to insert a few lines condemning gay marriage. Bush called the speech too “condemnatory” and said, “I’m not going to tell some gay kid in the audience that he can’t get married.” (Of course, Bush ran his 2004 campaign telling that kid just that.)
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice “adamantly opposed” any reference to jailed Egyptian dissident Ayman Nour when Bush traveled to Egypt to promote freedom. She won.
Bush, it turns out, is like millions of Americans: “I haven’t watched the nightly news one night since I’ve been president,” he said.
Laura Bush, says Latimer, “was secretly a Democrat for all intents and purposes, though it really wasn’t much of a secret.” ...
Bush on Jimmy Carter: “If I’m ever eighty-two years old and acting like that have someone put me away.”
We were arguing about the bailouts on my class email list, and a liberal classmate noted that George W. Bush started them. Bush was a conservative, he argues, so bailouts are conservative.
My classmate writes:
If Bush is actually a conservative, why did he go along with the bailout?
And if you now say, he isn’t or wasn’t, how can you be so rigid in your identifications of political categories, like “liberal” or “conservative.” Bush sounds like a quantum experiment, he’s a conservative until he isn’t? Is that your Schrodinger cat experiment? Your polemics are so absolute, but the reality is less so.
Reality is less consistent than my politics. George W. Bush ran as a Republican. I think he had some conservative views, but do remember he was always a “compassionate conservative,” the kind of politician striving to be a “uniter not a divider.” GWB’s record is very mixed from a conservative point of view. He was most conservative with respect to siding with ordinary Americans in the culture wars against the leftwing coastal elite. He seems to have had a visceral antipathy to the same elite from which he traces his own roots, and I find that basically the most lovable thing about George W. Bush.
He had ambitions to reduce taxes and to fix Social Security and health care, but Republicans in Name Only rendered his Congressional majority meaningless. Bush got temporary tax cuts (which will soon be expiring, God help the economy!), and got neither of the others.
9/11 turned Bush into a Big Government president. He created the preposterous Department of Heimat Sekuritat. He allowed political correctness to reign in airline security, confiscating nail clippers and searching blue-haired grannies from Nebraska, while continuing to allow Muslims on US flights. He waged two wars, which he conducted in a politically correct, Wilsonian manner, losing the support of the public at home and failing to rebuke domestic treason. He never explained their goals and objectives well enough, and he was too slow. The US public gets tired of wars that take too long. He kept the country safe after 9/11. No second successful mass attack ever occurred, but he also never caught bin Laden, and I do not think he actually did democratize the Middle East.
His panicky bailouts were a terrible departure from Republican principle. And, in the final analysis, we are obliged to conclude that George W. Bush received the support of a comfortable American majority in favor of lower taxes, smaller government, less political correctness, a balanced budget and a strong national defense. He accomplished little, and he managed to throw away that majority and lose Congress and the White House to a radical democrat party rump, so scary left that a lot of people believed the GOP needed only to point to them and it could enjoy an electoral majority in perpetuity.
The framers in Valhalla are doubtless distressed to see a radical community organizer and representative of the corrupt Daley machine sitting in the White House apologizing to Muslims and trying to make America into a socialist welfare state. George W. Bush will have a lot of explaining to do when he sees them