George W. Bush has not only been the worst president in my lifetime, but he has almost single-handedly wrecked the political label I have subscribed to my entire adult life.
I began calling myself a conservative as a teenager, immersed myself further on the Right in my early 20s, and supported the presidential campaigns of Pat Buchanan in both 1996 and 2000. Along with Texas Congressman Ron Paul, Buchanan remains my greatest contemporary political hero. He's a standard-bearer for what American conservatism should be.
But under Bush, the conservative movement became what it is now — a mere tool of the Republican Party. In the past, there were many on the Right who wrote books, promoted philosophies, and endorsed policies they hoped might eventually become political and cultural realities, and they often considered the GOP the better party to help implement more conservative politics.
Today, we have the exact opposite, as the pundits and pontificators who represent popular conservatism have abandoned ideas or principles for pure party partisanship.
What conservatism has the Bush era produced? Exploding government, enhanced state power, reckless spending, increased federal programs, open borders, starting a needless and costly war — the list is endless — and yet most self-described mainstream conservatives have little criticism for this catastrophe of a president.
Popular talk host Sean Hannity now begins his show proclaiming that the election of Barack Obama has put "conservatism in exile." This begs the question — exactly what conservatism has been prominent the last eight years that Hannity believes has now been put on the back burner?
By completely ignoring the lack of conservatism under Bush, yet simultaneously bemoaning its "exile," the mainstream Right illustrates what conservatism has been reduced to — Republican victories. As loyal foot soldiers for the GOP, conservatives are now expected to dutifully make political hay out of the forthcoming Democrat disasters, real or imagined, while completely ignoring, and even defending, the glaring Republican disaster left in their wake.
After spending the 1990s trying to convince voters that Bill Clinton ranked amongst America's worst presidents, conservatives have spent the new millennium trying to pretend Bush does not. And in vilifying Obama — sometimes justified but more often juvenile — it's not so much that the Right despises him in particular; it's just all they know.
A popular, last ditch defense of Bush has been that since 9/11 there hasn't been another terrorist attack on American soil. This is true. But a cost-benefit analysis of the Bush presidency would show that after a half decade of war in Iraq, billions of dollars spent, and the deaths of over 4,000 American soldiers and thousands upon thousands of Iraqi civilians, worldwide terrorist activity has increased dramatically.
According to the 2006 National Intelligence Estimate, "the Iraq War has become the 'cause célèbre' for jihadists ... and is shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives." Praising Bush for "keeping us safe" while ignoring the enduring, larger problem he created, is like high-fiving the politicians who pushed through the recent federal bailouts while ignoring their role in helping wreck the economy. In terms of terrorist recruitment, Bush hasn't been Al-Qaeda's worst enemy — he's been its best friend.
Honest conservatives must confront the tragic Bush presidency soberly, wholly reject it, and move forward. If conservatives are smart, they will view John McCain's defeat as a sign that they must purge themselves once-and-for-all of a scourge that has beset the GOP for eight years — the Bush Republican.
Those who still suffer from the delusion that a president's willingness to drag his nation through costly and counterproductive wars exhibits a certain "toughness" or is somehow conservative should welcome Lyndon Johnson into the right-wing hall of fame. Johnson's reckless war and spending have since been matched by Bush.
Dubya didn't rescue conservatism from any exile to which it has now returned — he murdered it and trotted around the corpse, inspiring an army of Republican zombies to march in lockstep with one of the biggest, big-government agendas in American history. The lingering stench promises to stink up the GOP for as long as some still believe that at least part of the last eight years is worth redeeming.
But there's nothing to salvage. And it's high time that conservatives finally admit what the rest of the country, and indeed the entire world, already knows.
George W. Bush sucked.
Catch Southern Avenger commentaries every Tuesday and Friday at 7:50 a.m. on the "Morning Buzz with Richard Todd" on 1250 AM WTMA.