Friday, February 24, 2006

A Conservative's Honesty: Too Little, Too Late

As you've probably noticed, Bruce Bartlett is everywhere lately, promoting his new book Imposter, which denounces George W. Bush as a phony conservative and a betrayer of the Reagan legacy.

I heard Bartlett being interviewed by Leonard Lopate on WNYC, the New York outlet of NPR, and naturally I enjoy witnessing Bush being undermined by his erstwhile supporters. (The weaker Bush is, the less further damage he is likely to do.) But I must say I am unimpressed by the timing of Bartlett's apostacy. In the interview, Bartlett made it clear that he was ready to denounce Bush before the 2004 election and only held back because he didn't want to influence the voters.

Sure enough, a look at Bartlett's 2004 archive reveals that he spent the year bashing Kerry and tip-toeing around his growing disagreements with the Bush administration. And yes, greater frankness from Bartlett and his fellow right-wing pundits might have had a practical impact: The election was so close that even a mini-trend like a small wave of disgruntled conservatives refusing to vote might have tipped a state or two.

Now, I understand that Bartlett dislikes John Kerry even more than he dislikes Bush. But wasn't it at least disingenuous, if not dishonest, for Bartlett to withhold his true feelings about Bush until after the November voting? In effect, Bartlett was saying, "I am sophisticated enough to recognize the flaws in Bush's presidency while also mastering the exquisite moral calculus that reveals Bush to be the lesser of two evils. Therefore it's safe for me to know the truth about Bush. But if the unwashed masses out there get wind of it, they might do something stupid--like elect a Democrat. So it's better to withhold the facts until next year, when the danger will be past."

Cheesy behavior, wouldn't you say? Aren't conservatives the ones who continually berate us "elitist" liberals for not trusting the people to make their own best choices?

But, then, modern conservatism isn't really about trusting the people--nor is it about fiscal responsibility or individual liberty or a strong defense. It's about seizing and retaining political power. Bruce Bartlett's anguished conservative conscience had to remain under wraps for a year lest it interfere with that fundamental goal.

Question: How many years from now will the conservatives decide it's safe to tell us what they really think about Iraq? or warrantless wiretaps? or Guantanamo? or the Patriot Act . . . ?

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