The verdict on the 2004 State of the Union seems to be that President George W. Bush, in vigorously defending the policies of his administration, was appealing directly to his base of conservative American voters. But take a look at that conservative base these days and you’ll find a group that is bitterly divided.
While most agree on privatizing social security and cutting income taxes, and members of the Christian Right adore Bush’s pledge to "defend the sanctity of marriage," when it comes to the "war on terror" and the Pentagon’s burgeoning missions abroad, some other traditional conservatives are becoming increasingly critical of the president and his policies.
"The conservative movement’s been hijacked and turned into a globalist, internationalist, open-borders ideology which is not the conservative movement I grew up with," Pat Buchanan complained in September 2002 to The New York Times.
In his latest book, Wall Street Journal writer James Bovard calls the USA PATRIOT Act a "government license for tyranny." In Terrorism and Tyranny: Trampling Freedom, Justice and Peace to Rid the World of Evil, Bovard writes that after 9/11, "the Bush administration continually broadened the war. The response to attacks by a handful of killers is morphing into a campaign to vanquish all potential enemies of U.S. hegemony and to impose American political values on much of the world."
The "soul of the Patriot Act," writes Bovard, is "blind trust in the arbitrary power of federal agents and federal officials." And Bush is hoodwinking Congress: "The higher Bush’s approval ratings rose, the more contempt congressman showed for their oath of office—their pledge to uphold the Constitution."
On our radio program recently, Bovard took former Bush speechwriter David Frum to task for advocating expanding the war on terror in his recent book, with former assistant secretary of defense, Richard Perle, An End to Evil.Evil is a popular word with the American right, it seems, but there’s no agreeing what to do about it.
For years, all those who opposed the New Deal consensus more or less hung together—but no longer. The last time broadly defined conservatives were sniping at each other this vigorously, the disaffected broke away from the GOP and created their own party—the Libertarian Party was founded in 1971. A LIB-GOP divide could cost G.W. some critical voters in 2004.
Republicans-turned-Libertarian helped cost Slade Gorton his Washington Senate seat in 2000, they say, and they cast enough votes for Libertarian Party candidate Kurt Evans (S.D.) that if he hadn’t thrown his support the GOP’s way at the end, Evans’ libertarians could easily have cost the GOP that Senate seat in 2002.
Other libertarians—including movement leaders—are at least considering supporting a Democrat over Bush in 2004. Several said as much to Noah Schachtman in an article on The American Prospect Web site recently. There’s a "Libertarians for Dean" blog site thriving on the Internet.
Is the Conservative Coalition cracking up?
It’s possible. American Conservative magazine recently ran an article, "The Conservative Crack-Up" on their cover.
If the president pushes harder on issues libertarians hate—like policing marriage and restricting abortion—it will doubtless widen the conservative movement’s cracks. So bring it on, as Bush would say. A Constitutional Marriage Amendment may be just what Democrats need—not to shore up heterosexual coupling—but to bring down the conservative’s cold war marriage.
LAURA FLANDERS is the host of "Your Call" heard on KALW-FM in San Francisco, and author of Bushwomen: Tales of a Cynical Species, forthcoming from Verso Books.
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