The great right-wing fraud to repudiate George W. Bush

The same movement that propped up and glorified Bush as a Reagan conservative now pretends that he was never a conservative at all.

By Glenn Greenwald
June 4, 2007 4:18PM (UTC)
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(updated below)

The great fraud being perpetrated in our political discourse is the concerted attempt by movement conservatives, now that the Bush presidency lay irreversibly in ruins, to repudiate George Bush by claiming that he is not, and never has been, a "real conservative." This con game is being perpetrated by the very same conservatives who -- when his presidency looked to be an epic success -- glorified George W. Bush, ensured both of his election victories, depicted him as the heroic Second Coming of Ronald Reagan, and celebrated him as the embodiment of True Conservatism.


This fraud is as transparent as it is dishonest, yet there are signs that the media is nonetheless beginning to adopt this theme that there is some sort of epic and long-standing "Bush-conservative schism." But very little effort is required to see what a fraud that storyline is.

One of the few propositions on which Bush supporters and critics agree is that George Bush does not change and has not changed at all over the last six years. He is exactly the same.

And none of the supposed grounds for conservative discontent -- especially Bush's immigration position -- is even remotely new. Bush's immigration views have been well-known since before he was first elected in 2000, yet conservatives have devoted to him virtually cult-like loyalty and support. Just logically speaking, Bush's immigration views cannot be the cause of the flamboyant conservative "rebellion" against Bush since those views long co-existed with intense conservative devotion to Bush.


There is really only one thing that has changed about George W. Bush from the 2002-2004 era when conservatives hailed him as the Great Conservative Leader, and now. Whereas Bush was a wildly popular leader then, which made conservatives eager to claim him as their Standard-Bearer, he is now one of the most despised presidents in U.S. history, and conservatives are thus desperate to disassociate themselves from the President for whom they are solely responsible. It is painfully obvious there is nothing noble, substantive or principled driving this right-wing outburst; it is a pure act of self-preservation.

Any doubts about that ought to be easily resolved by the following:

Jonah Goldberg, May 29, 2007 (Bush approval rating - 32%)

Bush, The Liberal [Jonah Goldberg]

Richard Cohen discovers something some of us on the right have been saying for a while: if you hold your head just so and look at Bush from the right angle, he looks an awful lot like a liberal.

Jonah Goldberg, November 8, 2003 (Bush approval rating - 60%)

But it is now clear that Bush's own son takes far more after his father's old boss than he does his own father, at least politically speaking. From tax cuts (and deficits, alas), to his personal conviction on aborrtion (sic), to aligning America with the historical tide of liberty in the world, Georrge (sic) W. Bush has proved that he's a Reaganite, not a "Bushie." He may not be a natural heir to Reagan, but that's the point. The party is all Reaganite now. What better sign that this is now truly and totally the Gipper's Party than the obvious conversion of George Bush's own son?

Rush Limbaugh, November 8, 2006 (Bush approval rating -- 31%):

Liberalism didn't win anything yesterday; Republicanism lost. Conservatism was nowhere to be found except on the Democratic side. . . . Conservatism did not lose, Republicanism lost last night. Republicanism, being a political party first, rather than an ideological movement, is what lost last night.

Rush Limbaugh, July 7, 2004 (Bush approval rating -- 55%):

Reagan was right just as George W. Bush is today, and I really believe that if Reagan had been able he would have put his hand on Bush's shoulder and say to him, "Stay the course, George." I really believe that.

Bob Novak, March 26, 2007 (Bush approval rating - 32%):

With nearly two years remaining in his presidency, Bush is alone. In half a century, I have not seen a president so isolated from his own party in Congress -- not Jimmy Carter, not even Richard Nixon as he faced impeachment.

Bob Novak, March 24, 2003 -- (Bush approval rating - 65%):

[Bush is] a president who may be more basically conservative than Ronald Reagan.

National Review's Rich Lowry, January 28, 2007 (Bush approval rating - 33%):

It is, in all seriousness, it is a distressing and depressing time to be a conservative. I'm reminded of the old saying by Mao -- things are always darkest before they go completely black.

In recent years, we have watched a Republican Congress disgrace itself with its association with scandal, with its willful lack of fiscal discipline, and with its utter disinterest in the reforms that America needs. And at the same time, we watched a Republican President abet or passively accept the excesses of his Congressional party and, more importantly, fail to take the steps - until perhaps now - fail to take the steps to win a major foreign war. . . .

National Review Editorial, Rich Lowry Editor, October 22, 2004 (Bush approval rating - 52%):

In his bid for reelection, George W. Bush deserves the support of conservatives. . . . Bush has shown evidence of being able to learn from his mistakes. We have made political strides in Iraq. . . . Bush deserves conservative support, as well, on domestic issues. . . It has been a long and difficult four years, largely as a result of events not of Bush's making. For conservatives, however, backing Bush's reelection should be an easy decision.

Any attempt by the media to aid and abet this fraud -- by fueling the suggestion that there has been long-standing tensions between Bush and the "conservative movement" because Bush was never really one of them -- would itself be fraudulent. The conservative movement tied itself to Bush as tightly and loyally as possible for years when they perceived that Bush was a wildly popular president who would bring glory to "conservatives," and that their movement would receive credit for the heroic and powerful Bush. When he was popular, they depicted him as the Embodiment of Pure Conservatism. That's just undeniable, historical fact.

The newfound storyline that Bush's failure is attributed to the fact that he was never really a conservative (and, all along, was really liberal) -- and that movement conservatives are thus his disappointed and betrayed victims -- is pure fiction, the most transparent form of revisionism. And this deceitful purge -- whereby movement conservatives would suddenly turn on Bush and claim he was not a "real conservative" once his popularity collapsed -- has long been predicted, particularly in the blogosphere, the most classic and precise expression of it offered by Digby long ago, in February of 2006:

"Conservative" is a magic word that applies to those who are in other conservatives' good graces. Until they aren't. At which point they are liberals.

And Digby again:

George W. Bush will not achieve a place in the Republican pantheon. Conservatism cannot fail, it can only be failed. (And a conservative can only fail because he is too liberal.)

And from Atrios, in February of 2006:

The interesting paradox is, as I've written before, that they'll dump Bush and transfer the cult onto the next Daddy figure that comes along.

And Dave Neiwert, the same month:

The discrete conservative movement is structured such that it needs a "charismatic" figure at its head; it's essentially a psychological imperative for this kind of belief system.

But [Bush] is in essence disposable, an empty suit filled by the psychological needs of the movement he leads. He's sort of like a Fraternity President on steroids: Bush's presidency is all about popularity, not policy. He's a figurehead, a blank slate upon which the movement's followers can project their own notions of what a good president is about. And when his term is up, the movement will create a new "charismatic" leader.

What is going on here, quite transparently, is not any assertion by conservatives of their alleged "principles," but rather a craven rehabilitation project. Bush's presidency cannot be salvaged, but the reputation of conservatives and conservatism can be -- but only by separating the former from the latter.


During the years of 2002 through 2004, George Bush was venerated like few other Presidents, spoken of in terms so reverent that at times it seemed almost improper to criticize him. And it was American conservatives leading these virtual canonization rituals.

Such sudden "recognition" that Bush is not a true conservative is transparently prompted by the collapse of the Bush presidency, by the collective realization that he has been an epic failure, and the consequent desire to shield conservatism from the toxic fallout. As conservative Rod Dreher put it this week in responding to Peggy Noonan's patently dishonest depiction of conservatives as long-suffering victims of Bush:

I've got no strong objection to Noonan's analysis, and indeed I'm thrilled to see it. But it seems to me that we conservatives need to avoid falling into a historical revisionism that allows us to portray ourselves as passive victims of a feckless president.

Not saying she does this, but I think as the last wheel comes off this presidency, and the GOP comes to grips with what this presidency has meant for the Republican Party and the conservative movement, there will be a strong temptation to resist owning up to our own complicity. Success has a thousand fathers, after all, and failure is an orphan. This failure is not President Bush's alone. The Republican Party owns it. The conservative movement, with some exceptions, owns it. . . .

It doesn't take much courage to stand up for conservative principle to a president as weak as this one has become. It would have taken real courage to stand up for conservative principle in 2002, 2003, 2004, even early 2005. How many did?. . .

It is tempting to blame Bush for everything. But it's not fair, and it's not honest. Bush is today who he always was. The difference is we conservatives pretty much loved the guy -- when he was a winner.

Dreher is right on every level. These cherished conservative "principles" were nowhere to be found when Bush was a wildly popular President. They are being dusted off now only as a pretext for jettisoning their failed and disgraced leader. As I documented previously, Noonan herself is one of the most egregious examples of such behavior -- having hailed George W. Bush when he was popular in terms so worshipful it would make the Pope blush, only to then pretend that she was a critic all along once his intense unpopularity became irreversible.

What is most glaringly apparent from this entire spectacle is that outside of a handful of honest conservatives too small to merit much discussion [the ones who objected to Bush early on as a radical rather than a "conservative" (and were viciously attacked as heretics, non-conservatives, even liberals)], the right-wing "conservative movement" -- which eagerly ignored its own "principles" when Bush was popular and re-discovered them only when it needed to repudiate him -- has conclusively demonstrated that its only real "principle" is its own political power.


The media's function is not merely to pass on self-serving conservative propaganda but to report actual historical fact, to point out when such propaganda deviates from objective truth. The "conservative movement" now desperately trying to depict Bush as an anti-conservative vigorously argued the exact opposite for the last six years. No account of the conservative movement's chicanery can be remotely accurate without prominently highlighting that fact. George Bush is tied irrevocably around the neck of the right-wing movement because they tied themselves to him when they thought doing so would be politically beneficial.

UPDATE: HTML Mencken at Sadly, No highlights the same game being played by Mark Steyn, while Balloon-Juice's John Cole focuses on Steyn clone Mark Levin. This little game of former Bush acolytes turning on Bush as his approval ratings decline has been germinating for some time, but it has now clearly become, as Noonan's column signified, the common and almost universally script of the formerly Bush-following right wing.

Glenn Greenwald

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