boston.com News your connection to The Boston Globe
Today's Globe  |   Latest News:   Local   Nation   World   |    Education   Obituaries   Special sections  

Even traditional conservatives outraged by radicalism of the right

For a moment during the spring, neoconservatives associated with the Bush administration thought they had died and gone to heaven. The quicker than expected fall of Saddam Hussein seemed to justify their vision of a new America that would reshape world politics. The United States would use its overwhelming military power to crush tyrannical regimes, they declared, and establish American-style capitalist democracies in their place. Domestically, the neocons’ only question was whether the tax cuts aimed at reshaping American society would be merely big or gigantic. As time passes, however, it has become increasingly clear that this course is neither neo nor conservative and that it may lead more quickly to hell than to heaven.

This was not the foreign policy agenda traditional conservatives like myself voted for in 2000. Concerned about growing anti-American feeling around the world, we were pleased when candidate Bush spoke of adopting a humbler attitude in foreign policy and of reducing US overstretch abroad.We also anticipated that a new Bush administration would embrace long-standing conservative objectives such as smaller government, fiscal responsibility, tax cuts crafted with a goal of balancing budgets, strong protection of individual rights, and support for healthy state and local governments. There

was certainly no mention in Bush’s campaign of revolutionary schemes to transform the world.

So imagine our surprise when instead of a new humility, the fledgling Bush administration embraced a new arrogance. Traditional conservatives were no fans of the Kyoto agreement on global warming—many thought it unfair to US interests. But why so loudly reject a treaty that could have been left in limbo without any meaningful effect on the United States? Why make enemies so needlessly? Domestically, the initial Bush tax cut proposals seemed surprisingly large. But traditional conservatives held their fire. The cuts did seem to provide stimulus at a time when the economy was sinking dangerously, and the forecasters said we could maintain a balanced budget even with the cuts.

The events of Sept. 11 strengthened the president’s hand, giving him a moral authority that had been lacking after the election. It also allowed a small group of selfstyled neoconservatives in his administration to turn the ship of state onto a dramatically new course.

In foreign affairs, this meant ditching America’s ‘‘no first strike’’ commitment to deterrence in favor of preventive war. Out too were long-term alliances in favor of temporary ‘‘coalitions of the willing.’’ Suddenly America’s ‘‘mission’’ was to recast the world in the American democratic capitalist mold.Neoconservatives have openly called this strategy imperialistic.

Domestically, the administration’s new direction has been even more dramatic and, for traditional conservatives, alarming. Far from being reduced, the size of government has grown larger as spending has been significantly increased to support our imperialist strategy. Passage of the Patriot Act has imposed the greatest constraint on individual American freedoms since the internment of Japanese-Americans during WorldWar II. In the face of budget projections now deep in the red, further tax cuts may cripple all but the most basic of government functions.

Will traditional conservatives sit still for this? The dawning realization that the aftermath of war is likely to be long, painful, and costly, coupled with the absence of any significant weapons of mass destruction, has begun to refocus attention on the viability of the preventive war doctrine and the new imperialism.

Conservatives like formerNational Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft have noted that despite its great power America still needs help. Yet its efforts to get that help have been undermined by global resistance to the new US strategy and by our government’s loss of credibility. Indeed, the new doctrine is seen by many as being not only ineffective but also dangerous. Resistance is also growing on the domestic front. Maine’s Republican Senator Olympia Snowe, a member of the traditionally conservative Main Street Coalition, played a key role in capping the most recent tax cut at $350 billion. Even more significant has been the revolt of Republicans in the House against the recent changes in FCC rules regarding the consolidation of media companies. This, quickly followed by a House vote supporting US sales of inexpensive imported drugs, again in defiance of the White House, indicates that traditional conservatives are waking up to an important discovery.

There is nothing neo about imperialism. It is just as un-American today as it was in 1776. And there is nothing conservative about gigantic military establishments, endless oceans of red ink, and crumbling state and local governments burdened by unfunded obligations passed on by an irresponsible federal government. Far from conservatism, this is radicalism of the right, and it is unsustainable because it is at odds with fundamental—and truly conservative—American values.

Clyde Prestowitz is president of the Economic Strategy Institute and author of ‘‘Rogue Nation: American Unilateralism and the Failure of Good Intentions.’’

Book Group

‘‘Bushwhacked: Life in George W. Bush’s America’’
By Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose The authors take the wire brush to the Bush presidency and show how he has applied the same .awed strategies he used in governing Texas to running the country.

‘‘At War With Ourselves: Why America Is Squandering Its Chance to Build a Better World’’
By Michael Hirsh
In the author’s perfect world, Bill Clinton's Wilsonian idealism— marked by economic integration, democratization and multilateral cooperation —would coalesce with George Bush’s view of overwhelming military power to forge a strong and principled American leadership.

‘‘Lies and the Lying LiarsWho Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right’’
By Al Franken
The book that turned Bill O’Reilly blue in the face. Franken takes off the gloves and tackles the far right.

‘‘Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power’’
By Niall Ferguson
After reviewing the history of the British Empire, the author wonders whether America, an ‘‘empire in denial,’’ should ‘‘seek to shed or to shoulder the imperial load it has inherited.’’

‘‘The World Turned Right Side Up: A History of the Conservative Ascendancy in America’’
By Godfrey Hodgson
Although this vision of conservatism by a British author predates the second President Bush, it offers a valuable lesson in how conservativism has gained popularity in America.

Resources

www.meetup.com
Meetup is a free service that organizes local gatherings about any topic of interest. It has been key in organizing support for Howard Dean’s candidacy on the Internet. But it also helps you find an Elvis Presley fan club.

www.Republicanmainstreet.org
The Republican Main Street Partnership was founded in 1998 to promote thoughtful leadership in the Republican Party and to serve as a voice for centrist Republicans.

www.moveon.com
Move on views itself as the catalyst for a new kind of grassroots political organizing, helping to build online political advocacy groups. It originated during the Clinton impeachment and has since expanded to advocate for a variety of causes.

SEARCH GLOBE ARCHIVES
 
Globe Archives Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months