Conservatism and the Wrong Wing

Consider the bedrock principles of Reagan conservatism as worshipped by America’s wrong wing as recently as the dawn of the 21st century: low taxes, small government, free marketeerism, jingoistic patriotism, state’s rights and a strong military.

Consider now Bush conservatism and how five of those six principles have been so abundantly altered as to defy recognition in actuality if not in name.

Let’s start with low taxes. Yes, President Bush pushed lower income tax rates through Congress. But four years into his tax cut plan, few Americans have seen their tax bills reduced.

Last year the Center for American Progress, a progressive Washington think tank, projected that by this year, 88 percent of families would have realized less than $100 in saved taxes as result of the Bush cuts. That includes large chunks of the oft-chastened “rich” who were supposed to benefit most. Why? While cutting income tax brackets, the president failed to amend the Alternative Minimum Tax (which neutralized most of his income tax cuts) or to keep federal health care spending in check (which raised health care taxes, even as income taxes should have gone down.)

Small government. Need I say more? This president’s spending spree dwarfs FDR’s New Deal.

Devotion to the free market? Only when convenient. Bush is all for it when the free market gouges the public with higher gas and oil prices. But he’s just as solidly behind government intervention when the National Rifle Association wants federal protection for gun manufacturers.

With the president’s blessing and persuasion, Congress just handed the gun lobby better protection than a bullet-proof vest. The newly passed, “Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act,” nullifies as many as 20 lawsuits nationwide launched by local governments against gun manufacturers. If that isn’t protectionism on a massive scale, then nothing is.

Jingoistic patriotism? That is the one bedrock conservative principle to which this president has remained true. But Bush has so weakened the United States economy and the view of other nations that we are the world leader, that his stewardship threatens to strip us of our long-standing world dominance.

State’s rights? Two words come to mind: Terry Schiavo. The Bush administration lost all credibility as a state’s rights advocate this past March, when it called in the federal judiciary to overrule state law in her behalf. Conservative legal scholars screamed “judicial activism” as the fed’s tromped over them.

A strong military? This president likes to dress the part. But he rewards corporate defense contractors while stripping servicemen and women of financial support. He sent armed forces into Iraq without armored vests or vehicles. He hid flag-draped caskets from public view. He slowed federal support for wounded veterans by cutting staff members at the Veterans Benefit Administration, the office that handles service personnel’s claims. Two years ago, he tried to cut combat pay from $225 to $150 a month and to trim the family separation allowance from $250 to $100. Perhaps most callously, Bush threatened to veto a plan to double the $6,000 payment to relatives of soldiers killed in action.

Given these insults to the legacy of Reagan conservatism, it is no surprise that wrong wingers are deserting Dubya on his nomination of White House Counsel Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court _ although as usual, they are right for the wrong reasons. Their fears that she would not toe the conservative line on abortion rights and vote to overturn Roe v. Wade seem unfounded.

What’s surprising is their failure to desert Bush earlier. Their only consolation is the disorganized and ineffectual Democratic Party, to wit, a lack of cohesive opposition. But if Reagan conservatism has been supplanted and now destroyed by Bush conservatism, they have only themselves to blame.

(Bonnie Erbe is a TV host and writes this column for Scripps Howard News Service. E-mail bonnieerbe(at)