WILLIAM F. Buckley Jr. has defined conservatism as "the politics of reality." Ideology is the enemy of conservatism because it edits, omits or ignores reality. George W. Bush is an ideologue.
Iraq is commonly said to be the centerpiece of Bush's presidency. The United States invaded Iraq because Saddam Hussein supposedly possessed weapons of mass destruction. But nearly three years after the invasion, no such weapons have been found. And evidence is mounting that the intelligence used to bolster the claims for Iraq's WMD was cherry-picked, politically pressured and, to use intelligence expert Thomas Powers' word, "fabricated."
Perhaps the real reason for the Iraq invasion, sold to Congress along with WMD, was a Wilsonian goal of making the world -- or at least the Middle East -- "safe for democracy." Bush hinted as much in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington a month before the invasion. "Human cultures can be vastly different," he said. "Yet the human heart desires the same good things, everywhere on Earth."
An astounding statement. Flatly untrue. Refuted by history and experience. Did Mohamed Atta desire the same good things as his hostage passengers when he piloted his hijacked jetliner into one of the World Trade Center towers? Do Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds desire the same things today in Iraq?
Iraq is not going to be a beacon of democracy in the Middle East but, assuming a civil war is avoided, probably a Shiite-dominated theocracy leaning toward Iran. For this, the bill will be half a trillion dollars and tens of thousands dead and wounded.
As Buckley wrote in two recent columns, our Iraq policy "didn't work." The Bush centerpiece has been an astonishing flop.
A major triumph of American conservatism since World War II has been general acceptance of free-market economics in political discourse. This economic system works. It produces goods and services efficiently.
Yet free-market economics pushed to exclude other worthy goals becomes an ideology.
Consider conservation. Since Republican Theodore Roosevelt created our national parks, every president has worked to protect them. Free-market ideologue Bush neglects them except as a playground for more snowmobiles. He wants to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He talks about fuel-efficient cars but does nothing to encourage their production.
Bush is a privatization ideologue. Not surprisingly, his scheme to privatize Social Security sank like a stone. Who wanted to attach the social safety net to stock in such companies as Enron and WorldCom? And Bush's Medicare prescription drug plan, another privatization scheme, has been a disaster.
As for me, I'm in favor of treating disease and avoiding unnecessary death.
Stem cell research promises to do that. But not long after his inauguration in 2001, Bush greatly hampered stem cell research by severely limiting federal support for it. Why?
Bush puts it this way: "It's wrong to destroy life in order to save life."
That works only if you think a dozen cells is the equivalent of an infant diagnosed with diabetes or an adult with Parkinson's disease. If you believe that, you will believe anything. In actuality, the supposed "culture of life" is a culture of disease and death.
Bush would like to abolish abortion. No one likes abortion. But a demand for it exists today that did not exist in 1950, let alone in 1920, when U.S. women got the vote. Today, look at a university campus. Half women. They are represented in all professions. They demand the right to decide if and when to have children. Criminalizing abortion would be folly, a disaster -- and would fail, like that other prohibition. That's the actuality.
Bush is not a conservative. He has bushwhacked the term. He is a right-wing ideologue.