More fury on Bush's right flank

By Mark Follman
Published October 11, 2004 11:07PM (EDT)

It's been clear for some time now that President Bush has raised the hackles of "true" conservatives with many of his policy decisions -- he's suffered some savage criticism for everything from bungling the war in Iraq to spending the nation into a debt-ridden oblivion.

Congressman Bob Barr, R-Ga., who says he's no longer sure who he'll vote for on Nov. 2, is the latest to rip Bush from the right:

"When Bush became president Jan. 20, 2001, he inherited an enviable fiscal situation. Congress, then controlled by his own party, had -- through discipline and tough votes -- whittled down decades of deficit spending under presidents of both parties, so that annual deficits of hundreds of billions of dollars had been transformed to a series of real and projected surpluses. The heavy lifting had been done. All Bush had to do was resist the urge to spend, and he had to exert some pressure on Congress to resist its natural impulses to do the same. Had he done that, he might have gone down in history as the most fiscally conservative president in modern times."

When criticized for his fiscal record, Bush often has cited the costs of the war in Iraq and the global war on terrorism -- "I'll spend what it takes to win" -- but Barr doesn't buy it.

"What we got were record levels of new spending, including nearly double-digit increases in nondefense discretionary spending. We now have deficits exceeding those that the first Republican-controlled Congress in 40 years faced when it convened in January 1995. The oft-repeated mantra that 'the terrorists made us spend more' rings hollow, especially to those who actually understand that increases in nondefense discretionary spending are not the inevitable result of fighting terrorists. It also irritates many conservatives, whether or not they support the war in Iraq, that so much of defense spending is being poured into the black hole of Iraq's internal security, while the security of our own borders goes wanting."

Indeed, Barr also wacks Bush for selling out border security in order to appease Mexican President Vicente Fox, and for "stripping" away at the civil liberties of U.S. citizens at home.

"Those are but three tips of the iceberg that signal the deep dissatisfaction many conservatives harbor against the president," Barr says, adding that the Bush camp has failed to take heed of the rising dissatisfaction to the president's right. "With Bush's political gurus telling him he's ahead and to just lay low and not make any major gaffes, he seems unwilling to recognize the problems on his right flank. Or he seems to have concluded that he doesn't need to address those concerns because the ineptitude of the Kerry campaign hasn't forced him to."

In a tight race down to the wire, he says, "those dissatisfied conservative voters will become increasingly important, but it's going to be impossible for the president to pull them back in with hollow, last-minute promises."

Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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