Joe Conason's Journal

Why do conservatives permit George W. Bush such latitude in pursuing policies that should make them scream in protest?

Published June 30, 2003 9:39PM (EDT)

While Democrats feud, Grover gloats
Why do conservatives permit George W. Bush and the Republican leadership such latitude in pursuing policies -- like the Medicare prescription drug benefit -- that should make them scream in protest? They like power, that's why -- and as Grover Norquist explains in today's New York Times, they believe that a Republican White House and Congress will promote their extreme agenda during a second term.

"The Republicans are looking at decades of dominance in the House and the Senate, and having the presidency with some regularity," he assured the Times. "So if this year the tax cut isn't the one we wanted -- no biggie. There's a sense that we can afford to wait."

What Grover awaits is the opportunity to demolish every government program, large or small, that assists ordinary Americans, from Social Security to student loans, along with environmental regulation, the minimum wage and every other law protecting workers, progressive taxation, and most of what has made this a fairer, more decent nation during the past century. He knows that all the presidential soft-soap about "compassionate conservatism" and "bipartisanship" is pure sales talk. Grover's pal Karl Rove and his staff have spent much time and effort convincing the capital's right-wing apparatchiks of the GOP's sincere devotion to those dubious objectives.

A current profile of Norquist outlines reasons why the prominent activist-lobbyist feels so confident:

"George W. Bush owes his presidency in large part to the masterful illusion that he was a different kind of Republican from Newt Gingrich. He's even careful to avoid making overt spending cuts in popular programs, lest he give the enemy atrocities to point to. But one of the leading strategists behind Bush's secret war on government is more than happy to tell the world all about it. His name is Grover Norquist, and he is the nation's leading advocate of 'kill the taxes and you kill the government.' If pre-emption is the most dangerous idea any president has had since Richard Nixon, Norquist may well be the most dangerous adviser."

Just as significant as the tone and content of this rather alarming essay is its featured space in Blueprint, the online organ of the Democratic Leadership Council. While liberals and progressives regularly revile the council as "Democrats in name only," the centrists now sound as impassioned as their critics in opposition to Bush, Rove and Norquist.

Differences among the Democratic factions can scarcely be minimized in the aftermath of the divisive (and ongoing) debate over the war in Iraq. But if lockstep unity is possible in the Republican Party -- whose factions encompass anarcho-libertarians like Norquist and religious fundamentalists like his comrade Ralph Reed -- then the various kinds of Democrats might at least consider learning to talk to each other.

Encouraging that conversation is among the principal purposes of Ruy Teixeira's new Web site, Emerging Democratic Majority. In their book of the same title, Teixeira and John Judis argue that Norquist's triumphal expectations are overblown, despite the present Democratic difficulties. Demography and other social trends favor the rise of a "broad majority coalition" that should return the Democrats to power, they write. Yet Teixeira (whose blog is called Donkey Rising) disdains what he calls "rah-rah cheerleading."

"In order to bring this emerging Democratic majority into being, the Dems will have to solve some very major problems with their strategy, their message, issues and coalition," he writes. "And, to do that, the two major wings of the party are going to have to start talking with each other and figuring out how they can work together. Otherwise, the Republicans will keep right on winning."

As the Democratic Leadership Council and its adversaries snipe at each other's candidates during the pre-primary season, that wise message seems particularly timely.
[3 p.m. PDT, June 30, 2003

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