Election 2004

Conservatives Betrayed

Jim Bovard, a critic with libertarian and conservative leanings, tells us that we won't see anything conservative at the Republican convention in New York.
Dozens of recent books by liberal critics and Democratic Party sympathizers have shredded the reputation of the Bush adminstration – that's no surprise. We are in election season and George Bush has pursued agendas which have gone against almost everything they believe in. But it raises a few eyebrows when a critic with libertarian and conservative leanings draws his fangs on the past three and a half years of Bush's presidency, and writes a book that, in scathing and blunt language, presents George Bush as a total fraud. James Bovard has done just that – maybe even better than most of the liberal authors – with his new book, "The Bush Betrayal" (Palgrave, 2004).

Alternet caught up with Bovard to talk about his book and what we can expect from the Republican National Convention in New York.

What do you see going on at the Republican convention this week? Typical conservatism in action?

No. I hope not. I hope the traditional conservatives haven't fallen that far. B.S. is going to be hip deep. There will be a conscious effort to make Americans think that Bush has done wonderful stuff. They will canonize him for his efforts after 9/11. Basically there's going to be a bunch of lies. There's no conservatism there.

Reagan's first term was the last time we saw a sliver of real conservative values in action. Since then, the GOP has been on another track. But the total absence of conservatism in the GOP – in the conventions, national candidates, and party platforms – really started in 1996 with Bob Dole, who boasted of his leadership in ballooning farm subsidies. That's a thing that should have been a profound embarrassment to the GOP and traditional conservatives. The truth of it all is that conservatives have never had much influence in the GOP; there never was a golden era of conservatism. Look back to Nixon. He wasn't close to conservatives during his presidency until they rallied around him during Watergate.

If that's the case – and if it's been going on for so long that there isn't real conservatism in the GOP – why are people and the press still buying it?

The truth is that since there isn't a real scrutiny of people's records – we tend to limit ourselves to scrutinizing politicians' promises for the future – it's enough to call yourself conservative and leave it at that. Just saying it will resonate with a lot of voters out there who won't bother to see that there's nothing conservative going on there. The fact that Bush and Congress' new Medicare bill will add hundreds of billions of dollars to people's taxes doesn't seem to matter much to conservatives, probably because they aren't aware of it. It should outrage them. It probably would have if Bill Clinton had pushed the same Medicare bill. There isn't a federal department that Bush hasn't overseen the growth of, with the exception of some picayune programs that didn't match his political scruples. By and large, Bush is using federal revenue to buy re-election, like most politicians do. Since George Bush is "their guy," conservatives don't feel the need to look closely.

You mentioned earlier that the Republican convention will cast Bush's post-9/11 performance as worthy of sainthood. Also in your book you devote a chapter to how the Bush administration used 9/11 to ram through a lot of stuff that didn't have anything to do with terrorism or national security.

Yeah it's funny. At a time when the government screwed up the most it had in a long while – a time when we should have been considering whether to trust the government at all – the White House said, "Trust us more than you ever have." If the American people had seen the number and detail of threat reports and warnings before 9/11, they would have reacted to it very differently. But the Bush administration managed to convince the public that the federal government had been blindsided, and was an innocent victim. What we've learned since then is that this was a total fraud. My hope is that we will hold Bush to his record, and that conservatives – and everyone else – will wake up from their stupor. We need to question his power grabs and wasteful spending.

Looking at the Republican convention's lineup, which is filled with so many GOP moderates – Pataki, Schwarzenegger, etc. – why do you think that they are toeing the line with so little resistance, when Bush is seeking to undermine so many of the issues that they stand for: abortion, gay rights, and so on?

Look, the president of the United States holds a great deal of power. I hope that people don't expect politicians to be principled, because 99% of them are not. If they see that their aspirations or agendas might be furthered by some one with greater power than they have, they'll carry the water, even if it horrifies them. They just roll over.
Jan Frel is AlterNet's political editor.
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