Monday, February 20, 2006

What Happens To Conservatives Who Criticize "Our Dear Leader"

This Dallas Morning News article about Bruce Bartlett (member of the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, fiscal conservative) shows you what happens to conservatives who state publicly what many are saying privately: George W. Bush is no conservative:

Even before his name showed up in The New York Times Sunday Magazine on October 17, 2004, Bruce Bartlett knew he might be screwed. A few weeks earlier, the former Washington insider--he was a policy analyst for both Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush's administrations--appeared in The New Republic saying aloud what few conservatives would say in private: Maybe it wouldn't be such a bad thing if John Kerry got elected. This is what he told writer Franklin Foer: "People are careful about how they say it and to who they say it, but, if you're together with more than a couple of conservatives, the issue of would we be better or worse off with Kerry comes up--and it's seriously discussed." Bartlett's words had the stink of heresy; how dare one of the party's own turn on the president, especially so close to the election.

Bartlett knew he was taking a big risk. He also meant every word, having come to believe during Bush's first term that this conservative president was no such thing at all. No real Republican would have grown the government the way Bush had, by some 23 percent since Bill Clinton left office. No real Republican would have signed into legislation the Medicare prescription drug bill in 2003. And no real Republican would allow the national deficit and government spending to increase to record levels. Bartlett saw his party's leader not as the revolutionary or reformist he's portrayed as by loyalists but as a traitor to the cause of fiscal conservatism.

Still, saying what he did in The New Republic was nothing. At least in that lefty mag he didn't compare Bush to Al Qaeda like he did in the Times in October 2004.

Some 16 months later, Bartlett claims he was misquoted by writer Ron Suskind but doesn't dispute the meat of what he was quoted saying, which was this:

"Just in the past few months, I think a light has gone off for people who've spent time up close to Bush: that this instinct he's always talking about is this sort of weird, Messianic idea of what he thinks God has told him to do. This is why George W. Bush is so clear-eyed about Al Qaeda and the Islamic fundamentalist enemy. He believes you have to kill them all. They can't be persuaded, that they're extremists, driven by a dark vision. He understands them, because he's just like them...This is why he dispenses with people who confront him with inconvenient facts. He truly believes he's on a mission from God."

Keep in mind it wasn't Ted Kennedy who said this. It was a Republican who'd been on Bush's daddy's payroll. A Republican who wrote two very sober-minded books on economic policy, 1981's Reaganomics: Supply Side Economics in Action and 1983's The Supply-Side Solution. A Republican who has pushed for tax reform and small government in his syndicated column and in op-eds that have appeared in The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and other more right-leaning publications. And a Republican who, since 1995, had been on the payroll of the conservative Dallas-based think tank called the National Center for Policy Analysis, which counts among its board members and contributors Dallas' Fred Meyers, the Aladdin Industries executive who raised more than $200,000 for Bush's 2004 campaign and chairs the Republican National Committee's Presidential Victory Team.

As it turned out, Bartlett's boss at the National Center for Policy Analysis wasn't too thrilled with the Suskind piece. Bartlett says now he thought his conversation with Suskind was an off-the-record chitchat among friends, but like a kid caught hurling spitballs at the teacher, he was called into the principal's office and reprimanded by John C. Goodman, the NCPA's founder and president, and former governor of Delaware Pete Du Pont, chairman of the NCPA's board of directors.

"John called me the day after the article appeared and told me that Karl Rove had called him to complain about it," Bartlett says from his home in Great Falls, Virginia, where, from all accounts, most rooms are filled with ancient bookshelves and file cabinets filled with reams of tax-related documents. At 54, he boasts of having no wife or children to interfere with his self-proclaimed Spartan lifestyle.

"And that was really when they started to really pressure me to tone down my criticism," Bartlett recalls of that meeting at the NCPA's Washington, D.C., offices. "I know that there was contact [with the White House], and I know that Rove knows John Goodman, because the one time I met Rove and talked to him, he asked me what John was doing, and they know each other from Texas politics."


"I almost always agree with the factual substance of the stuff Bruce writes," Goodman says. "But we don't want in our organization to attack people's motivations or their character or their managerial ability. That is something we want to stay away from. Let's not make it personal. Disagree with the president as much as you want to, but don't make it personal. I understood him to agree with that, and Pete Du Pont understood him to agree with that, and that is where we left it."

Until one year later, when, in October 2005, John Goodman told Bruce Bartlett he wanted him gone immediately.

I admire honest conservatives like Bruce Bartlett or Bob Barr. Unlike the phonies (e.g., John McCain, Pat Roberts, Orin Hatch, J.D. Hayworth, et al.) who will say and do anything to back up the administration, honest conservatives have principles and beliefs they will not compromise and/or lose to maintain party power.

But take a look at a guy like like McCain. Five years ago, McCain became a media darling by running as a maverick, straight-talking conservative Republican who would not compromise his ideals and principles to win.

McCain won the GOP primary in New Hampshire with his refreshing message of principled ideals and straight talk. So Bush/Rove swift-boated him in the South Carolina primary, putting out the word that McCain had a black baby (actually an adopted Asian child), calling him a "Manchurian candidate" (a direct reference to McCain's imprisonment during the Vietnam war) and exposing McCain's wife as a "drug addict" (she had entered rehab in the past for pill dependency).

Bush beat McCain and went on to the White House.

So now what would a principled conservative Republican who had been swift-boated by Bush/Rove do after he saw George W. enter the White House, turn a $178 billion dollar budget surplus into a $354 billion dollar budget deficit, expand the federal government by 23%, fail to veto any spending bill (or any bill!!!), and nearly ruin the armed forces through multiple deployments in a badly managed war?

Why join the cause, of course!

McCain wants to be preznit in 2008. McCain knows Rove will call the shots on who wins in the GOP primary, so McCain has sucked up to the administration in case after case (just check out his television appearances since 2004 as evidence.) Even when McCain has fought the administration, as with the torture bill, ultimately Bush/Rove/Cheney have gotten their way over McCain (e.g., Bush issued a signing statement that undercut McCain's anti-torture law and rendered it mostly meaningless).

McCain, meanwhile, is happy to shill for the administration on the Sunday talk shows and cable news networks and allow Ken Mehlman to help raise money for him for the 2008 campaign.

All of which is to say McCain, and many other "conservatives" like him, are sell-outs who have put party above principle, elephant above flag, power above all else.

But not men like Bruce Bartlett or Bob Barr. Bartlett believes in limited government and by God he knows George W ain't limiting it. Bob Barr believes in constitutional law and civil liberties and by God he knows the NSA domestic spying program and the Patriot Act ain't either.

And both Bartlett and Barr have the guts to state their beliefs aloud, unlike most in the GOP.

This is why Bartlett hasn't been able to find any work at another conservative think tank after Rove had him fired from the National Center for Policy Analysis and why Barr is barely tolerated at conservative gatherings like CPAC.

These men have principles they won't compromise and they are honest and upfront about them.

I admire that. I respect that. I believe if there were more conservatives like this, the nation would be better off today.

Unfortunately most Republicans and conservatives are more like John McCain, however - willing to compromise everything they hold dear to make the man in the White House happy (i.e., Karl Rove) and thus willing to lie, cheat, misrepresent, and deceive in order to maintain power for a "conservative" Republican administration that seems to be neither conservative nor Republican.

(Thanks to Kevin Drum at Washington Monthly for the link to the Dallas Morning News article.)

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