The New Republican: Ipse Dixit

The liberal magazine The New Republic has come up with a new reason for voting against Bush: he's not a good conservative.

Well, any port in a storm. Of course, it's not a new observation either. Back in August, a liberal friend e-mailed me an article from the New York Press by William Bryk, titled The Conservative Case Against Bush.

Now The New Republic takes its turn (October 25, 2004 print issue: "Conscientious Objector" by Michael A. George, p. 20.) The tactic is a pretty familiar one: "See, one of THEM doesn't like him either." You give your case more impact (the thinking goes) by bringing out a real live one of whatever group it is you're targeting. If you want to attack Israel, you bring out a real live Jew to condemn the Jewish state (a ploy that too many real live Jews are willing to go along with). And if you want to attack Bush, what better way than to produce a real live conservative who will come out and say ... what?

He'll say that Bush is no conservative.

Well, hell, I coulda told you that.

The New Republic could have told you that, too, and in fact they did. Back in March of 2003, TNR published a magnificent issue on the topic of "Liberalism and American Power" (March 3), which included Lawrence F. Kaplan's piece on p. 21, titled "Bush, closet liberal." Now Robert George discovers that "initiating a war to 'liberate' an entire region far from our shores can hardly be called a conservative cause." (Mr. George might want to review Leon Wieseltier's helpful guide to political debate in the November 1 TNR, where Wieseltier explains, "you do not refute a proposition by putting inverted commas around it." But I digress.)

The conservative case against Bush is fair enough (if a bit familiar, by now, to anyone who's actually been awake for the last couple of years): he's certainly no fiscal conservative; the Patriot Act scarcely qualifies as "small government"; and, oh yes, conservatives don't launch wars of liberation (or "liberation" if you prefer). Well, for the sake of argument, let us agree that Bush stands guilty as charged.

So what does this real live, real conservative do, now that he's realized he cannot vote for Bush? He doesn't say whether he's voting for Kerry, or staying home. "Of course," he adds, "a conservative can still cast a libertarian vote on principle."

This business of voting "on principle" is a fine bit of chutzpah from the magazine that rails, yet again, against the "irresponsible" Ralph Nader on p. 12 of the very same issue (Ryan Lizza, "Sole Influence"). The Nader article is unitntentionally revealing: Lizza writes that "From Moveon.org to the Howard Dean campaign to the liberal blogosphere to Air America radio to new think tanks sprouting up around Washington, D.C., an entire network of exactly the kind of activists that Nader has long praised is suddenly being born. Their singular goal is to defeat Bush." Exactly: they lack a coherent vision, unifying principles, or any positive ideology; their singular goal is "to defeat Bush."

President Bush has succeeded in retaining as much popular support as he has - despite some highly controversial decisions - precisely because he appeals to a wide variety of Americans: traditional conservatives, neoconservatives, centrists, and even liberals. Bush's supporters may differ on a host of less important issues, but they are united, both in principle and in practice, on the things that matter most. His opponents are united only in the fact of their opposition to Bush; so it is inevitable that the single uniting symbol for them is their presidential candidate: that perfect vacuum of a man known as John Kerry.