The number of deceptions, prevarications, miscalculations, bungles, calamities, usurpations, and out-right atrocities of which the Bush administration and its kept Republican Congress are guilty, only in any given week, boggles the mind, and evokes a depressing swell of nostalgia for the Clinton years.
Let us consider what has happened in the last several weeks. Another leaked document shows that the Bush administration lied about Iraq’s fictitious weapons of mass destruction and terrorist connections to wage its bloody war. The Senate unanimously passed, and Bush enthusiastically signed into law, the Real ID Act, thus turning America into a nation where we can expect "your papers, please" to become an increasingly common request from agents of the federal government and its surrogates in local government and the semi-private sector. Now the Republican monster who gave us that Hitlerian legislation is pushing a new bill that would force all Americans to become tattletales in the war on drugs: those who refuse to report any "criminal" activity to the Federal Drug Gestapo could face a mandatory minimum sentence of two years in prison. In other news, the Justice Department has just declassified a series of complaints from detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, who swear that religious humiliation is an official torture tactic of the U.S. government.
Now, any one of the above horrible news items, I do submit, would have been received with downright outrage by much of the conservative movement in the 1990s. The mainstream libertarian movement, too, seems still to be somewhat distracted by the lies that 9/11 "changed everything" and that Republican politicians (other than Ron Paul, obviously) care anything about liberty. In the 1990s, any of Clinton’s worst crimes — the attempts to nationalize healthcare, Waco, gun control horrors, "Know Your Customer" and similar police-state surveillance measures, the massacre of Serbians and Albanians in an aggressive bombing campaign, etc. — inspired months of bitter hatred on the right. Conservatives would cry that Clinton was Sovietizing the economy, recklessly deploying the military abroad, and incrementally nationalizing America’s children to construct a Brave New World Order. They were correct to complain, but any given week of Bushian rule seems as bad as any given year of Clintonian rule, and yet the right ignores the Nazification of America is if it’s nothing. National ID cards, torture dungeons, wars and maybe even a draft are all prices we are told we must pay to protect whatever liberty could be said to exist in a country with a slave army and internal passports. As long as "terrorists" or "illegal immigrants" or even "homosexual marriages" are being kept at bay, the administration can approach or even intermittently step over the fine line that separates social democracy from fascism.
The Real ID Act in particular, and conservative acceptance of it, raise some important questions. Is there any doubt whatsoever that the American right would have been outraged by such a proposal under Clinton, that they would have accepted no dubious excuses for it on the grounds of anti-terrorism or border enforcement, that conservatives would have fought it tooth and nail and maybe even considered it a sign of the apocalypse that the ungodly federal government wanted to put everyone into a national ID database? Actually, the bizarre thing is that a considerable number of today’s conservatives do think of Bush’s actions as being conducive to the apocalypse; only this time they find comfort in such a prospect.
In the last four years we have witnessed the greatest explosion of government power and size since the LBJ-Nixon policies of guns in Asia, butter at home. Budgets, deficits, federal spending, social programs, body count — no matter how you slice it, examine it, analyze it — adjusted for inflation, indexed to gross national product or setting aside non-discretionary spending (as if the government simply couldn’t cut that) — the Bush years constitute one of the saddest episodes in American history.
No Child Left Behind, steel tariffs, hundreds of detentions without habeas corpus, Afghanistan, the PATRIOT Act, Guantanamo Bay, prescription drug benefits, mandatory mental health screening for kids, Iraq, Torture-Gate, Stop Loss Orders, the Homeland Security Bill, the REAL ID Act — am I mistaken that any single one of these amounts to a scandalous abuse of power and government expansion, and that any one of these would make an early 1990s Clinton blush? Sure, Clinton tried to nationalize healthcare, but he didn’t succeed at pushing through the largest expansion of healthcare socialism since Lyndon Johnson. Sure, Clinton waged war on the Branch Davidians and bombed thousands of innocents in the Balkans, but Bush’s wars have proven far more cataclysmic.
And what are conservatives doing when they discuss politics in terms of freedom, to the extent that they still do so at all? They mostly talk about how lucky we are to have Republicans to shield us from the socialism of the Democratic Party. What they fail ever to clarify really is what socialism it is to which they’re referring: is it, perhaps, the healthcare socialism of Hillary Clinton, which Newt Gingrich has recently endorsed as just what the doctor ordered — is that the socialism to which they’re referring? Or is it, maybe, the Democratic lust for national education spending, which the Republicans have in the last four years brought to fruition several times over?
Now, of course, I am not suggesting any sort of formal alliance with the Democratic Party — which, in the long-term, might very will prove worse than the Republicans — but it is about time, for goodness sakes, for all conservatives who do care about freedom, even if only a diluted version of it, to stand up and demand that the president they twice put in power stop matching the worst of Clinton’s governance on a weekly basis. I know that conservatives are inconsistent in their love of liberty, and most of them will always have flawed views on a number of issues. But, come on. Enough is enough. Even the watered-down version of freedom that the conservatives claimed to want desperately only five years ago would taste immeasurably better than the concoction spiked with tyranny that Bush and his cadre have been serving up since they seized power.
Anthony Gregory [send him mail] is a writer and musician who lives in Berkeley, California. He is a research assistant at the Independent Institute. See his webpage for more articles and personal information.