Conservatives Follow the Leader


The relationship between the Bush administration and the conservative movement was hardly unexpected. Conservatives were disappointed when George W. Bush was nominated, since he is not a card-carrier. But when The Democrat arrived on the scene, pushing the usual panoply of bad ideas, conservatives changed their tune and backed the GOP. They always do. Indeed, they assembled in full force to elect Bush.

Of course, he moved left after the election. Many months went by before Bush did what every Republican president does: invite “movement leaders” to the White House for a special briefing. Craven doesn’t quite describe it. Conservatives will sell their firstborn to get a meeting at the White House. The leaders emerged to tell their followers and the press that they had inside information that the Bush administration was on the right track, so there was nothing to worry about. We can easily imagine Bush’s staff guffawing at these fools after they left the room.

After their meeting, the new conservative love for the GOP president lasted for a couple of years, and then it was time for another election and the whole charade started over again. Conservatives issued a warning that the president had better shape up or he wouldn’t earn their support. So they got another meeting and a photo op and again promised fealty to the Republican Leviathan. In the end, of course, they have nowhere else to turn. No matter how dreadful the president is, conservatives fear the alternative more. So they end up as willing propagandists for the regime.

But this reliable support by conservatives for the Republican president confronts what psychologists call “cognitive dissonance,” which is to say that people will not forever live with a massive contradiction between what they do and what they believe. Eventually, the beliefs come around. So it has been for the conservatives who, in the 1990s, blasted Clinton’s big budgets and nation-building and then ended up celebrating far larger budgets and a vaster military empire around the world. The result has been an amazing intellectual bankruptcy on the Right.

The culminating event was the financial bailout of the Wall Street plutocrats, which contradicts everything that conservatives allegedly stand for. It was socialistic in every way. It rewarded market failures. It ripped off average families for the sake of billionaires. It was the worst form of Keynesian planning. It was an open conflict of interest, as the ex-CEO of Goldman Sachs funneled vast sums to Goldman Sachs. It had exactly zero chance of helping the economy. In fact, by draining productive private resources necessary for economic recovery, it makes a bad situation worse.

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