It’s been a couple of tough weeks for W, and his defenders appear to be circling the wagons in a predictable fashion, chanting a party-line mantra dredged right out of the war-room mentality of the James Carville days: to defend Bush, attack the left.
Unfortunately, some smart guys are joining the pack, like Michael Novak. A former leftist and admitted adult convert to sense and reason, Novak knows the left’s foibles well. He is much more comfortable — and on much more solid ground — attacking the left, an easy and often enjoyable task, instead of uncomfortably and incoherently twisting traditional “Just War” doctrine to suit W’s bellicosity — sadly ornamenting it with arguments now exposed as false and groundless (WMD, involvement of Iraq to 9-11) on which points, I charitably believe Mr. Novak was deceived by the usual suspects and their disinformation campaign before the U.S. government’s unilateral aggression.
Why this continued, willful blindness in the right eye as the Bush team tries to salvage the Smug Strutter from disaster? Because they know two facts: first, Americans will naturally resonate with an attack on the left, of course, because the left is publicly bankrupt. Second, because Americans will decidedly NOT resonate with an attack on honest and traditional conservatism — whence the real arguments against empire are emerging. Thus the left-conservative-big-government Bushites will feign conservatism as long as possible, characterizing all their opponents as leftists.
They might be right, in a tactical sense (what other level can they think on?): a Howard Dean leftie, they figure, will be an easy McGovernite mark in 2004 without changing the script a bit. Moreover, the educationist lobby, to whom Bush totally and permanently caved when he signed on to Ted Kennedy’s socialist legislation, has destroyed the capacity for independent thought as much as possible for three generations, now, and Bush has lifted not a finger to stop it. In Hannah Arendt’s memorable terms, totalitarian education does not seek to force the student to reach the wrong conclusions; rather, it deprives the student of the means to reach any conclusion at all. Thus the reliance on “feelings.” This widespread, government-imposed ignorance is indispensable for Bush’s success.
All this might not work, however, even in the short-term minds of the Bushites, whose sole concern is victory in 2004. Both economic and social conservatives have registered grave reservations about every dimension of W’s policies, and Karl Rove knows he’s got a problem. It was he who personally called everyone under the sun to recruit replacements like Paul Bremer for the failed General Garner and his staff, who had originally overseen the postwar U.S. military occupation of Iraq. Now Rove is going around the country (so reminiscent of the fascinating Ashcroft travelogue), delivering his message: to evangelical leaders: “In 2000, 16 million of you voted, and four million stayed home. In 2004, we need those four million.” To Jewish leaders, “We have delivered for you in spades in both Israel — ten billion more this year alone — and in Iraq — a war that has come to threaten the survival of both the Blair and the Bush regimes. Please stand with us during the rough times ahead. No matter what public positions you hear us taking, remember we are with you — as Tom DeLay described himself, ‘[I am] an Israeli of the heart.’ Politics demands from time to time that we make certain statements that must be taken in the entire context of our relationship, not just at face value.”
Supporters of Israel might understand this little dance, but evangelicals are a different story: indeed, they might not succumb to this siren song in 2004. First, because they want Iraq to be the preamble, made necessary by their unique, apocalyptic interpretation of the book of Revelation, to Armageddon. Having worked with them closely for 25 years, I can assure Karl Rove that his rationalizations might very well — and very soon — be interpreted as fruits of the Devil’s own tool, human reason, the enemy of revelation and of God Himself. And second, because they are dissatisfied — no, that’s not strong enough, they are disconsolate — with Bush’s lack of action on so many issues centrally important to them, from federal pornography enforcement (zero, except for child porn, which even Janet Reno prosecuted) and, in the light of the Texas homosexual rights decision, the sanctity of marriage itself.
No one in the Bush camp — Not Michael Novak, not Karl Rove, not Tom DeLay — wants to address the truly conservative critics of Bush’s secular-left, big-government “conservatism.” Here we have the same phenomenon experienced so often by Jesse Helms in the 1970s and 1980s: in the cloakroom, Senators would tell him, “Jesse, you’re right — but I can’t vote with you, it’s just political suicide.” On issue after issue, the same crowd would excuse themselves from the role designed for them by the Founders, the better to cadge for donations, special interest support, or popularity with the beltway gang. The late Congressman John Schmitz heard this caviling line of talk so often that he began referring to himself as “Mr. Right but.”
In sum, many of the Bushites are guilty of intellectual dishonesty when they pretend that any of this imperialist, statist enterprise is “conservative” at all. In fact, like any smart shopper (or con man), they are merely confirming the value of the “conservative” brand. In a clear case of intellectual property theft (and in a gross violation of “truth in advertising”), they want to impose upon their own hubristic imperialism the seal of approval of “conservatism," with it accumulated goodwill that generations have labored and died for.
In classic dialectical fashion (revealing their leftist foundations to the analyst), they empty the term of any traditional meaning, while preserving the popular and widely-acclaimed brand name, hoping to fool enough of the people enough of the time — including George Bush himself, whose public statements reflect his own belief that he’s a religious conservative who’s taking his orders directly from God.
This is a classic leftist ideological practice. Erik Honneker, Mao Tse Tung, and Kim Il Sung (the joyboy’s daddy) all appropriated the word “democratic” for their totalitarian regimes, making the term meaningless as an analytical concept or even as a mere descriptive term. Now the Warbucks crowd, and their credulous (as well as their despicable) flaks, are quickly rendering conservatism, and, indeed, the entire notions of “left” and “right,” totally useless for the purpose both of analysis and of public discourse. As Solzhenitsyn says, falsehood always brings violence in its wake, and the neocons aim directly at the destruction of traditional sensibilities, in hopes of achieving virtually unlimited power both here and abroad. Their manipulation of language would make Stalin and Goebbels proud.
Will the neocon left-right camouflage heist work? Thirteen months is a long time. By the end of a long, tiresome, and (let’s be optimistic) revealing campaign, traditional conservatives might not want to vote for either of the leftist candidates. As Karl Rove fears, they might just choose to stay home.
Four million here, four million there, eventually you’re talking about real voters.