The Democrats are determined to make the election of 2006 a referendum on Bush and the war in Iraq. And, as of now, that is how history will likely record it. But beneath the surface of the national election, a different plebiscite is being held within the conservative movement on the ideology George Bush imposed on Ronald Reagan's party.
What are the elements of Bushite neoconservatism?
First, an interventionist foreign policy, using U.S. power to impose democracy and "end tyranny on this earth." Afghanistan, Iraq, and Lebanon are the laboratories and proving grounds.
Second, "big-government conservatism," as seen in the deficits, the dearth of vetoes, soaring social spending in wartime, the bulking up of the Department of Education and "faith-based initiatives."
Third, an immigration policy featuring amnesty and a "path to citizenship" for 12 million illegal aliens, pardons for all businesses that hired illegals, and outsourcing of immigration policy to corporate America to go abroad and hire workers for jobs here.
Fourth, a trade policy rooted in the belief that it does not matter where goods are produced or whether Americans produce them. What matters is unimpeded global commerce, where the consumer is king and gets all the goods he wants at the cheapest possible price.
On these four mega-questions, Republicans are as divided as they were in the days of Rockefeller and Goldwater. Wherever "conservatives" stand -- whether Old Right or neocon, supply-sider or deficit hawk, "America first" or global democrat, big government or small government -- the returns of Bush's policies are largely in and the outcome is unlikely to change. And this is why Bush and the GOP are in trouble, and neoconservatism is in the dock.
The altarpiece of the Bush foreign policy is Iraq. American dead are at 2,600, the wounded at 18,000. Three hundred billion dollars has been plunged into the war. Yet, Iraq is a bloodier, more dangerous place now than it has been since the fall of Baghdad. IED attacks on U.S. troops are at record levels -- three-and-a-half years after Baghdad fell.
The Bush democracy campaign has brought stunning electoral gains for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Hamas in Palestine, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Muqtada al-Sadr in Iraq. Our ally in Afghanistan Hamid Kharzai is today little more than mayor of Kabul, as the Taliban roam the southeast and coalition casualties reach the highest levels since liberation five years ago. North Korea and Iran remain defiant on their nuclear programs. Vladimir Putin is befriending every regime at odds with Bush, from Tehran to Damascus to Caracas.
Unless we grade foreign policy on the nobility of the intent, it is not credible to call Bush's foreign policy a sucess. The Lebanon debacle, once U.S. complicity is exposed, is unlikely to win anyone a Nobel.
Bush's trade policy has left us with annual deficits of $800 billion with the world and $200 billion with Beijing. Once the greatest creditor nation in history, we are now the greatest debtor. U.S. manufacturing has been hollowed out with thousands of plants closed and 3 million industrial jobs vanishing since Bush took office.
As for Bush immigration policy, the nation is in virtual rebellion. Six million aliens have been caught at the Mexican border since he took office. One in 12 had a criminal record. In April and May, millions of Hispanics marched through U.S. cities demanding amnesty and all rights of citizenship for aliens who are breaking the law by even being here. Bush and the Senate are in paralysis, appeasing the lawbreakers by offering amnesties and by opposing House demands that the president seal the border.
While the economy has been running well since 2003, the real wages of working Americans have not kept pace with the portfolios of the clients of Lawrence Kudlow. Industrial states, like Ohio, could be killing fields of the GOP in November.
To the neocon guru Irving Kristol, "The historical task and political purpose of neoconservatism would seem to be ... to convert the Republican Party and American conservatism in general into a new kind of conservative politics suitable to governing a modern democracy."
With some of us, the tutoring never took, but the neocons surely did convert George W.
How's your boy doing, Irving?