Peggy Noonan, one of my favorite columnists and always a great read, today turns her substantial rhetorical guns on what she sees as the biggest threat to the Republican Party — George Bush. Accusing him of following his father in squandering a great political inheritance, Noonan calls for a Republican repudiation of Bush and his family:
What political conservatives and on-the-ground Republicans must understand at this point is that they are not breaking with the White House on immigration. They are not resisting, fighting and thereby setting down a historical marker–“At this point the break became final.” That’s not what’s happening. What conservatives and Republicans must recognize is that the White House has broken with them. What President Bush is doing, and has been doing for some time, is sundering a great political coalition. This is sad, and it holds implications not only for one political party but for the American future.
The White House doesn’t need its traditional supporters anymore, because its problems are way beyond being solved by the base. And the people in the administration don’t even much like the base. Desperate straits have left them liberated, and they are acting out their disdain. Leading Democrats often think their base is slightly mad but at least their heart is in the right place. This White House thinks its base is stupid and that its heart is in the wrong place.
For almost three years, arguably longer, conservative Bush supporters have felt like sufferers of battered wife syndrome. You don’t like endless gushing spending, the kind that assumes a high and unstoppable affluence will always exist, and the tax receipts will always flow in? Too bad! You don’t like expanding governmental authority and power? Too bad. You think the war was wrong or is wrong? Too bad.
But on immigration it has changed from “Too bad” to “You’re bad.”
I’m a little surprised by Noonan with this piece. I see nothing all that unusual with the way the Bush administration has attacked its critics over immigration. If she was to honestly look at the last six years, she will see that this is the normal mode of operation for the White House — to always stay on the attack. In fact, they’ve followed the James Carville model from their first days in the White House.
What’s the difference? They’ve not had to answer substantial conservative criticism very often. When they have, though, they’ve been consistent. When the Right objected to the poor choice of Harriet Miers as a Supreme Court nominee, they were accused of being sexist. When the Dubai Ports deal came to light — which the administration failed to properly support — they accused critics of bigotry and xenophobia. Those same accusations have arisen from Bush himself in this debate, with his accusation that opponents of the compromise bill “do not want what’s right for America”.
Welcome to the hardball of the Bush administration. We loved it when they used it on Democrats and the war, and it seems just a little hypocritical to start whining about it now that we’re getting a taste of it ourselves.
However, Noonan does get the main point correct, which is that the GOP needs to start working on defining itself for the post-Bush era. We support him on the war and on taxes, but on most other domestic issues, we have a lot of daylight between Bush and the party. Discretionary spending went out of control on his watch, and the government grew faster than during the Clinton administration. That’s not just Bush, either, but also the Congressional Republican leadership prior to the last mid-terms. We allowed lobbyist influence to increase, and we exploded the use of earmarks.
Republicans used to stand for smaller government, federalism, and strong national defense. Not all of that conflicts with the Bush legacy, but enough of it does that we need to start publicly demanding a return to those core concepts. Rather than repudiating Bush over his insulting attacks on the base, the better path is to generate a positive agenda that demonstrates our dissatisfaction with the previous six years — and give Republicans something to vote for, rather than something to vote against.
If we can do that, we won’t have to demand that the Bushes stay in Kennebunkport. We just won’t give them any room to remain in party leadership.