An Exercise in Futility

George W. BushIn a broader context, an easy way to remember the fundamental difference between liberals and conservatives is found in the words themselves. Historically, liberals have been for the advancement of liberty and the empowerment it brings. From Jesus to Muhammad and on through Wollstonecroft, Byron, Shelly, and into the twentieth century with Goldman, the idea has had to do with liberty and liberation.

Conservatives, on the other hand, wish to conserve. Specifically, they wish to conserve that precious resource known as authority. The rhetoric of conservatism is the same for toppled kings and queens as it is for senators in a decaying republic. I mean, think about it for a moment: when the Democrats were the conservatives, they were for slavery. Party names, affiliations, and outlooks change, but the fundamental principles against which they are measured remain more firmly fixed in the foundations of history.

For a couple of years, it was the love that dared not speak his name. In 2008, Republican candidates hardly ever mentioned the president still sitting in the White House. After the election, the G.O.P. did its best to shout down all talk about how we got into the mess we’re in, insisting that we needed to look forward, not back. And many in the news media played along, acting as if it was somehow uncouth for Democrats even to mention the Bush era and its legacy.

The truth, however, is that the only problem Republicans ever had with George W. Bush was his low approval rating. They always loved his policies and his governing style — and they want them back. In recent weeks, G.O.P. leaders have come out for a complete return to the Bush agenda, including tax breaks for the rich and financial deregulation. They’ve even resurrected the plan to cut future Social Security benefits.

The idea that the Republicans are looking back to Bush is an interesting suggestion. If nothing else, it would remind that the cycles of history are accelerating. Why bother with Reagan anymore? That system went bust; leave it to the Tea Party.

Paul Krugman suggests the GOP is addicted to Bush, which makes for a halfway-cute joke in and of itself. And, yes, some of the things we’re expected to believe about the Bush years are pretty funny. But their hearts aren’t really in it:

Again, Republicans aren’t trying to rescue George W. Bush’s reputation for sentimental reasons; they’re trying to clear the way for a return to Bush policies. And this carries a message for anyone hoping that the next time Republicans are in power, they’ll behave differently. If you believe that they’ve learned something — say, about fiscal prudence or the importance of effective regulation — you’re kidding yourself. You might as well face it: they’re addicted to Bush.

Paul KrugmanIt’s not necessarily addiction. It’s more that where Democrats are gutless, Republicans simply aren’t creative.

No, wait, that doesn’t work. But look at what they’re creative about; it’s a worrisome set of priorities.

But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell would have us believe the the Bush tax cuts “increased revenue, because of the vibrancy of these tax cuts in the economy”. And, strangely, that actually makes me think of Ted Haggard. No, really, that’s not a joke. It has to do with vibrancy. And, strangely, it’s still apt because McConnell’s vibrant economy has, at best, the same sort of credibility we give the fallen preacher when he tells us how vibrant his sex life with his wife has become in the wake of the scandal. In other words, Senator McConnell, there are some things people just don’t ever want to hear you say, and this, for many reasons having nothing to do with Ted Haggard’s vibrancy, was on the list.

Ted HaggardSee, the GOP doesn’t have anything to go on right now. Don’t get me wrong, they’ll get over it someday. But for now, they’re just coming up empty. Dust bunnies and their balls, that’s what they’ve got to pull out of their pockets. And some of them are choosing to show some balls. Bush’s biggest mistake—or maybe Rove’s?—was “letting Democrats get away with the ‘shameful’ claim that the Bush administration hyped the case for invading Iraq”? Really? We’re really supposed to believe that, Karl?

With the economy where it is, and perhaps to some degree because of the belligerence of the Dubya years, Republicans can’t run on memories of Saint Reagan, whose halo is tarnished right now by the spectres of his economic and foreign policies.

So instead of putting their creative energies into something new, the GOP re-examines the Bush legacy. At least it’s the twenty-first century they want to take us back to.

Even more, though, people ought to be insulted by some of the things we are expected to believe.

The back and forth is dizzying. Because I seem to recall one way for conservatives to take advantage of Bush’s poor numbers was to establish their separation from his way of seeing things. One wonders, when that ragdoll legacy is finally flung aside the merry-go-round, where exactly it will land. Perhaps the fortune of his legacy depends on that last play; if it is a victory, history views him kindly.

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