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Sunday, August 29, 2004

Conservatism's identity crisis.

The broad and contentious coalition of ideologies and interests otherwise known as the Democratic Party has found an amazing amount of focus this year in George W. Bush, whom we all agree needs to go. But that clarity of purpose is giving moderates, liberals, lefties, and everybody else under the Democratic big-top the momentary illusion that we're all marching toward the same long-term goals.

It's nice to see, through David Brooks's long and fascinating New York Times Magazine cover story today, that Republicans are similarly uncertain about the long-term direction of their party:

When [Republicans] nominated George Bush in 2000, they had no idea that Mr. Small Acts of Compassion was going to be transformed into Mr. Epic War Against Evil. They had no idea they were nominating a guy who was going to embark on a generational challenge to transform the Middle East. They had no idea they were nominating a guy who would create a huge new cabinet department for homeland security, who would not try to cut even a single government agency, who would be the first president in a generation to create a new entitlement program, the prescription drug benefit, projected to cost $534 billion over the next 10 years. They had no idea that a Republican-led government would spend federal dollars with an alacrity that Clinton never dreamed of, would create large deficits, would significantly increase the federal role in education, would increase farm subsidies, would pass campaign-finance reform and would temporarily impose tariffs on steel.

The Republicans who gather in New York this week love George Bush. They admire the stalwart way he has fought the war on terror. They understand why, post-Sept. 11, he has governed the way he has. But they are a little shellshocked by the unexpected transformation that has come over their party, and they do not know how it is going to turn out.

Democrats may imagine that the G.O.P. is an amalgam of fat cats and conservative ideologues, but things feel different inside Republican circles. Inside there are, beneath the cheering and the resolve, waves of anxiety, uncertainty and disagreement. You hang around Republicans, and you begin to hear all sorts of discordant things. Jesse Helms recently remarked he wouldn't have voted for the tax cut if he'd known how bad the deficit would become. Three of the senior right-wing columnists — George F. Will, Robert Novak and William F. Buckley Jr. — have come out, in their different ways, against the war in Iraq. I had lunch recently with a senior Republican official who said his party had succumbed; it was ''defeatist'' about reducing the size of government. As Will himself has observed, under President Bush, American conservatism is undergoing an identity crisis.

I haven't digested the whole article yet, but definitely check it out. ("How to reinvent the G.O.P.," David Brook, New York Times Magazine 8.29.04, reg req'd.) Oh, and if you need something to scratch your conspiracy theory itch, here's yesterday's peek behind the curtain: "Club of the Most Powerful Gathers in Strictest Privacy" (David D. Kirkpatrick, New York Times 8.28.04, reg req'd).

Copyright © 2004 by Philocrites | Posted 29 August 2004 at 10:08 AM

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