Watching President Bush’s speech on Thursday, and the GOP reaction, was one of the most disturbing political experiences I’ve ever had.
Bush’s convention speech had everything that should raise red flags for those concerned about the decline of liberty in this country. The president’s words had the worst of everything in American politics. He seemed to be trying to appeal to everyone whose main political goal is to see the government expand in one way or another. Looking at different elements in his speech, you can see how Bush is reaching out to conservatives, moderates, liberals and even some libertarians in order to be reelected. He did this by being all kinds of politicians at once. Taken together, the Bush program is a frightening one.
Bush the Compassionate Conservative
Bush, in a neo-Clintonian style, took credit on behalf of the federal government for every possible good thing that has happened in America. He took credit for children "making sustained progress in reading and math," for the fact that "seniors are getting immediate help buying medicine," and for an economy that "is growing again and creating jobs."
Bush promised that he would make sure that "every senior will be able to get prescription drug coverage," and that his administration would "lead an aggressive effort to enroll millions of poor children who are eligible but not signed up for the government’s health insurance programs." He said he plans to "level the playing field to sell American goods and services across the globe" and pursue the goal of "7 million more affordable homes in the next 10 years, so more American families will be able to open the door and say, u2018Welcome to my home.’"
This is welfare statism at its very worst. And yet this is the man that conservatives elected to keep Big Government Al Gore out of office.
When Bush took credit for all good in America and made these utopian promises, the convention went wild. The Republican Party — the party of smaller government, supposedly — ate it all up.
I’m sure that a few fiscal conservatives listening to Bush’s socialist rhetoric found it distasteful. Bush had other things to say to sound like he believes in economic liberty. Bush voiced his sympathy for "reducing regulation and making the tax relief permanent." He promised a "bipartisan effort to simplify and reform the tax code." He promised "health savings accounts" and he vowed to allow every young American to keep part of his social security in the form of "a nest egg you can call your own [that the] government can never take away." He talked about government creating an "ownership society" and "American opportunity zones."
This all sounds like free-market talk, but in reality it is something else entirely. What he is proposing are in fact government programs masquerading as free-market reforms, and they are hardly steps in the right direction. The government still maintains control over all these economic matters; it only allows "zones" and "societies" and "accounts" in order to create the illusion of private property and enhanced liberty.
There is a term for when the government maintains control of the economy and yet "allows" people to maintain private ownership of property on a superficial level. It is called fascism.
Bush says this is the "compassionate conservative philosophy: that government should help people improve their lives, not try to run their lives." This is a charade, all to unite both the welfare statists and conservatives under one ideology and program: Compassionate Fascism.
Bush the Progressive, Cultural Conservative
Bush loves talking about liberating the women in the Middle East and letting them go to school. (No Afghan Child Left Behind.)
He also loves walking the tightrope between cultural conservatism and cultural progressivism. On Thursday night he referred favorably to the fact that "two-thirds of all moms also work outside the home."
There’s nothing necessarily wrong with working mothers, especially if there’s a father or another guardian at home. But the fact that 66% of moms are working is neither the result of a great economy nor something that might enthuse Bush’s cultural conservative base.
So what does Bush do? He makes himself sound socially conservative, which is why in his speech he said:
"Because a caring society will value its weakest members, we must make a place for the unborn child.
"Because religious charities provide a safety net of mercy and compassion, our government must never discriminate against them.
"Because the union of a man and woman deserves an honored place in our society, I support the protection of marriage against activist judges."
These statements alone will snag Bush many votes. Although the two parties have virtually identical abortion policies, the Democrats get their votes by saying they are for "a woman’s right to choose" and Republicans get them by saying they care about "the unborn child." Never mind the fact that Democrats impose socialism against women’s choices all the time, and that Mr. "Pro-Life" George Bush has the blood of thousands on his hands. These slogans sound good, don’t they?
By talking about not discriminating against "religious charities," Bush creates another conservative cover for his socially destructive welfare state, and by giving a perfunctory statement that is "pro-marriage" he has solidified himself as the more conservative in the minds of millions of voters who care more about words than deeds, more about familiar rhetoric than their lost liberties and the murderous War on Terrorism.
By sounding "conservative," and also referring to the recently sainted Ronald Reagan as "a great American," Bush can do whatever socialist things he wants without losing most of his conservative base.
Bush the Humble World-Building Crusader
Bush said in 2000 that the United States should have a more "humble foreign policy." Although in his speech on Thursday he joked about his English skills, his Texas swagger, and his folksy approach to politics — thereby humbling himself to help voters identify with him as a human being — Bush is anything but humble, in any real sense.
The man who once eschewed nation building promises now to "build a safer world" with his wars. An unambiguous Wilsonian, Bush explained that "the story of America is the story of expanding liberty, an ever-widening circle, constantly growing to reach further and include more. Our nation’s founding commitment is still our deepest commitment: In our world, and here at home, we will extend the frontiers of freedom."
And he will extend this freedom with bombings and slaughter. Bush said that because of his death and destruction, "today, the government of a free Afghanistan is fighting terror" and "the army of a free Iraq is fighting for freedom." Of course, the freedom in Iraq and Afghanistan of which he speaks is not without its censorship, curfews, gun bans, torture, taxation, military occupations, collective punishment, and indiscriminate killing.
At the convention, Bush unveiled his ultimate plans in the War on Terror: "[W]e are working to advance liberty in the broader Middle East, because freedom will bring a future of hope and the peace we all want. And we will prevail."
Bush wants to take over the Middle East! And the crowd went wild.
Bush glorified war in a most morbid manner when he said, "My fellow Americans, for as long as our country stands, people will look to the resurrection of New York City and they will say: Here buildings fell, and here a nation rose."
And the crowd went wild. The idea that a country rises when it is attacked and thousands die is pure nationalism.
Throughout this convention, Bush has been compared to Franklin Roosevelt, and the War on Terrorism has been compared to the World Wars and the Cold War.
On every occasion, the crowd went wild.
Even though millions of people died in each of those foreign wars — even though world peace and freedom was never attained — the GOP crowd in New York went wild to hear Bush and company glorify war and mass death, and speak excitedly and proudly about how we are in a great new era of worldwide killing and constant fear.
Tens of thousands have so far died in Bush’s wars, which any decent news source reveals as total failures. We are not safer. Neither is the world.
Bush the National Uniter
The crowd went wild every single time Bush opened his mouth to promise a chicken in every pot, a literate in every house, freedom in every nation and prescription drugs in every medicine cabinet.
Although Bush’s words were dangerously idealistic, dishonest, collectivist, nonsensical, and violently arrogant, I could see how many Americans at home would see his speech as reasonable, sincere, patriotic, determined, and modest.
Bush promised that the federal government can do everything in the world, and his convention ate up everything he said. So did Americans throughout the country — some of them conservatives, some moderates, some liberals. A conservative might dislike Bush’s social programs, but love the war. A liberal might be a bit uncomfortable with the war and the anti-abortion talk, but find his education proposals quite reasonable. What bothers me the most is that I can now see how even a libertarian might think Bush is the best chance for a free America, given his hollow "savings accounts" and tax-cut rhetoric.
No one agrees with all of Bush’s agenda, but as Bush said, "Even when we don’t agree, at least you know what I believe and where I stand." On Thursday the president shined like never before in his ability to unite people of all types and opinions under a banner of hyper-patriotism, perpetual imperial war, and growing government at home with only the façade of liberty intact.
There’s a term for the program that harkens back to tradition and that makes people think they still own themselves and their property, all while incorporating imperialist nationalism and domestic socialism.
The term is National Socialism. And the crowd goes wild.
Anthony Gregory [send him mail] is a writer and musician who lives in Berkeley, California. He earned his bachelor’s degree in history at UC Berkeley, where he was president of the Cal Libertarians. He is an intern at the Independent Institute and has written for Rational Review, Strike the Root, the Libertarian Enterprise, and Antiwar.com. See his webpage for more articles and personal information.