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Conservatives' Problems 

And the problem with conservatives

Last week President Bush proposed a $7.1 billion plan to deal with the threat of a disease that has yet to be passed from one human to another anywhere in the world. And this guy's supposed to be a conservative?

I realize that after the Katrina debacle, Bush had to do something to look as if he's in charge, but jeez. Granted, he did show conservative values, or what passes for them these days, when he loaded his plan with giveaways to his friends in the pharmaceutical industry -- after all, we shouldn't have to depend on those icky foreigners for medicine -- and proposed protecting vaccine makers from potential lawsuits, just in case they, you know, kill somebody. Handing out big favors for big business -- that's a conservative value, right? Maybe, but again, 7 billion dollars thrown at a health scare? That's conservative?

The fact is, more and more conservatives -- including former avid Bush supporters at Weekly Standard and National Review, as well as some right-wing think tanks and blogs -- are asking a lot of questions about W and what the term "conservative" means anymore. The supposedly conservative Bush has, after all, piled debt on top of debt while championing both an enormous Medicare prescription drug program and a very expensive war. Hey, throw in a civil rights law and you've got Lyndon Johnson.

As I see it, with the exception of Clinton's two terms, the conservatives have been in power for the past 25 years, and some of them are starting to realize they've blown it. A growing number of conservatives see that a quarter-century after Ronald Reagan was elected president, both the national debt and federal government are larger than ever and growing; abortion is still legal; America's morals, from their point of view, have vanished down the toilet; and Republican leaders in Washington are at least as power-mad and corrupt as the liberals who ran the place during LBJ's Great Society.

This has to be a rough wake-up call for thoughtful conservatives -- as distinguished from talk-radio dittoheads and the like -- especially since the one thing conservative true believers have excelled at is feeling superior and self-satisfied. I think we can all understand their pain. Imagine that you actually thought your political views were endorsed by God. How self-righteous would you be?

In their heart of hearts, many conservatives still think of their movement in terms more suited to 1964 when Barry Goldwater won the Republican nomination: idealistic freedom-lovers banging on the door of a corrupt government, prophet/rebels against the status quo who want to restore financial prudence, free markets and honesty in Washington. But that was 40 years ago and now they see their leaders spending money like drunken sailors and falling prey to the same corruptions they railed against back in the day. Who can blame them for thinking their movement hasn't worked out the way they'd planned?

The truth, though, is that the mantle of idealism never did quite fit American conservatives' shoulders, if only because of the deals they made in order to gain power. Conservatives were reborn in America through a long-term strategy of, among other things, developing policy proposals in new, rightist think tanks and mastering grassroots politics. They were successful, so give them credit for that. But their pretense of moral superiority should have ended when Goldwater cozied up to Southern segregationists -- and it should have been buried when Reagan gave racists a big wink-and-nudge by delivering his first major presidential campaign speech in Philadelphia, Mississippi, where three civil rights workers were murdered in 1964. Not to mention that the Gipper allied himself with "law and order" paranoids, military adventurists, Central American death squad leaders and some of the most hateful people on earth, i.e., "Christian" fundamentalists.

Conservatives' claims to the moral high ground were specious, not to say deluded, to begin with. It's conservatives who through the years have fought nearly every attempt by government to improve citizens' lives. They opposed women's suffrage, anti-trust measures, and child labor laws. They fiercely resisted all our major civil rights laws, and fought tooth-and-nail against Social Security, unemployment insurance, New Deal jobs programs, Medicare, Medicaid and all anti-poverty efforts from VISTA to Clinton's AmeriCorps program. They defeated the Equal Rights Amendment and any attempts at national health care, and are fighting like crazy to deny homosexuals basic rights. Truth be told, it was "conservatives" who opposed the abolition of slavery. So much for the moral high ground.

Another thing I find very odd, even puzzling, about conservatives is this: they deeply distrust the federal government when it comes to domestic issues, but they'll go along with almost any foreign policy decisions made by that same government, as if politicians suddenly grow a brain when they go to war. Their unquestioning support of whatever fight Washington gets us into has led them to support needless, tragic wars in Vietnam, Grenada, Panama and now Iraq. Lately, it's even led them to defend torture, for God's sake. Again, so much for the moral high ground.

It's a whole lot easier to spend years denouncing the government than it is to be the government. Some well-placed conservatives seem finally to be realizing that truth, but they're way too late.

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