Let's Be Realistic About Bush

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It is time to ask whether a Republican president would actually benefit the Right. By the Right I mean those who view with anxiety or displeasure the growth of a highly centralized American welfare state, which, among its other tasks, has been used to reform social attitudes. Whether one dislikes this development for constitutional or moral-religious reasons, it is the Right that stands opposed to it.

Members of the Right also hope to return as much as humanly possible to the regime created by the constitutional framers and favor a concept of the American people based on strong, God-fearing families. The Right thus understood should expect very little from George W. Bush, although it may be grateful that the effect of his election would be to keep the presidency from someone worse.

On most social issues, Gore is positioned to Bush’s left and this may have pushed some voters in his direction. Though Bush in the debates did not speak out decisively against affirmative action or the misrepresentation of hate crime legislation and racial profiling, he was less keen on these policies than his Democratic opponent. Bush was, furthermore, opposed to Gore’s global interventionist scheme of “nation-building” even if his reasons were not coherently stated.

And it is likely that Bush would not reach as far to the left as Gore would in coming up with three Supreme Court nominations. Bush would not give us a second Scalia but also would not be inclined to nominate a clone of Ruth Bader-Ginsburg, a pro-abortion rights feminist and an enthusiast for federal administrative control who seems oblivious to the Tenth Amendment.

It may be equally appropriate to point out why the Right would not be able to count on Bush as a soulmate. Most importantly, Bush would gain the presidency while leaning generally leftward, at least in his battle against Gore. The fact that Bush could count on “conservative” support while appealing to constituents on the left as well as in the center, and that he had to forfeit so little to rightwing candidates, will not be lost on him or his advisors. Rightwing support comes cheap, or so Bush has every right to believe.

By pointing to the danger of a Democratic victory, having neoconservative columnists George Will, Bill Kristol, and Charles Krauthammer proclaim the Republican candidate a centrist conservative, and having his staff give Bush’s pronouncements a special twist in addressing particular audiences, Bush got the Right to carry his water in return for pitiably little. Bush was not required to call for an end to quotas but merely to introduce them under the name “affirmative access.” The keystone of his campaign was to have the federal government oversee American education, though Bush hedged his bets by making rhetorical references to parental choice. His appeal to vouchers should also worry the Right: It will enhance state and federal control over once private education by making available public money with strings attached.

Bush has deplored abortions (so have Clinton and Gore) but has not even tiptoed in the direction of explaining that Roe v. Wade is an act of judicial usurpation. In any case that fateful decision has already been overthrown from the left, a point Republican politicians ignore, as a result of the recent Supreme Court decision denying to the Nebraska legislature the right to ban late-term abortions. (Roe v Wade, by contrast, encourages state legislatures to prohibit abortions beyond six months.)

Bush was also the ultimate celebrant of multicultural rites in the recent election, according to political commentator Lawrence Auster (World Net Daily, September 20). From his “inclusion-soaked nominating convention” to speeches quoted by Auster that Bush delivered to Hispanic crowds, the Republican presidential nominee missed no opportunity to welcome his country’s changed cultural identity. In one startling address to a Cuban audience in Miami on August 25, Bush not only praised the Hispanicization of America but presented himself as a vehicle for this process: “By nominating me, my party has made a choice to welcome the new America.”

Unlike the supposedly leftist Nader who has echoed Buchanan’s call for tight border controls, “the man from inclusion,” as Auster refers to Bush, gives speeches that describe the US and Mexico as having a family relationship. Bush has pooh-poohed the idea that Americans should see themselves as having more in common with England, the source of our law, language, and government, than with Hispanic neighbors to the South. Auster asks what such attitudes indicate in terms of the future president’s approach to immigration legal or otherwise.

The victory of a Republican presidential candidate who, as far as I can see, has blurred his differences with the liberal Left will not put genuinely conservative Republicans into a favorable bargaining position. Such Republicans will not have the leverage on the national level that liberals now do in the more ideologically focused Democratic Party. Gore ran a campaign designed to appeal to social liberals, highlighting gay rights, hate crime legislation, compensatory justice for minorities, and virtually unlimited reproductive rights for women.

He understood that his party represents the social Left, and, unlike Bush, did not spend most of his campaign trying to raid the other side’s base while taking for granted his own. One reason Gore did not pursue such a strategy is that his own base would not have permitted it. That base would have gone more heavily to Nader or as in the case of the socially conservative Democratic senatorial candidate in Pennsylvania, Ron Klink, made the ideological deviant pay at the polls. Until conservatives allied to the Republican Party become as concerned with their principles as liberals on the Democratic side are, they will continue to be treated in the appropriate fashion, trotted out by party bosses to vote for the GOP but marginalized in this “inclusion-soaked” party.

November 22, 2000

Paul Gottfried is professor of history at Elizabethtown College and author, most recently, of the highly recommended After Liberalism.

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