After building up the image of George W. Bush as a conservative in the 2000 presidential campaign and sedulously supporting him during his presidency, what remains today of the American conservative movement was dumbfounded to find that the president they adored has betrayed them.
The betrayal was not on amnesty for illegal immigrants or war with Iraq but on gun control.
Last week the Bush White House let it be known that the president would support extension of the 1994 federal law banning the sale of so-called "assault weapons." It's "just unbelievable," whimpered one of the president's staunchest apparatchiks, Beltway conservative activist Grover Norquist.
As it soon turned out, the betrayal didn't really matter because House Majority Leader Tom DeLay coolly announced that the votes from Republican lawmakers "are not there" to extend the ban. At least somebody in the Stupid Party has some common sense.
But enough votes or not, what was important about the matter was what it tells conservatives about "their" president — that he's not a reliable conservative at all.
The "assault weapons" ban, a highly controversial measure adopted under President Clinton with the support of most Democrats, was supposed to get rid of the semi-automatic weapons that everybody knows from movies and TV shows are always used by cop killers and terrorists to slaughter innocent victims.
The problem is that what everybody knows from the movies is flapdoodle. The truth about "assault weapons," as the gun Gestapo wants semi-automatic weapons to be called inaccurately, is quite different.
Gun expert John Lott writes in his recently published book, The Bias against Guns, that his own researches on the effect of state laws against assault weapons before the federal ban was enacted "find an increase in the average murder rate after a state enacts a ban on assault weapons." FBI statistics at the time the federal ban was passed showed that such weapons are in fact used in only about 1 percent of homicides nationally.
But when did facts ever get in the way of the gun control lobby?
The "assault weapons" ban passed for two reasons: First, the gun gestapo and its tame press were able to frighten and misinform enough people about semi-automatic weapons that opposing the ban was perceived as politically suicidal, and second, conservatives outside of the National Rifle Association and similar groups did virtually nothing to resist or counter-act the anti-gun propaganda.
Neither House nor Senate GOP leaders showed much interest in resisting the ban when it was on the legislative horizon in 1994, and few conservatives in the media paid much attention until the bill had almost become law. Since no one on the right was interested or paid attention, the anti-gun propaganda seeds the gun controllers planted were able to sprout and dominate what passed for the debate later on.
But it was the Democrats who supported the ban who suffered.
As President Clinton acknowledged in an interview with the Cleveland Plain Dealer in January 1995, after the Republicans won the House, "the fight for the assault weapons ban cost 20 members their seats in Congress."
Gun control also cost Al Gore a good many votes in 2000, and the Democratic candidate spent a lot of time trying to appease angry pro-gun voters. "The problem for Democrats," the Washington Post reported in October, 2000, is "is that gun control is unpopular among many of the swing voters both campaigns are targeting in the final weeks of the campaign."
It's support for the assault weapons ban, not opposition to it, that's a political liability, so it makes no sense, either on the ban's merits or on its political utility, for the Bush White House to have supported its extension, even without counting the votes for it in Congress.
"The president makes decisions based on what he believes is the right policy for Americans," a White House spokesman spouted.
That's the eighth-grade civics textbook explanation, but as to the real reason the president was backing the extension introduced by Democratic Senators Diane Feinstein and Charles Schumer last week, who can say?
That's why they call it the Stupid Party — it supports measures its leaders imagine will win them praise from the left-leaning political culture, not those supported by its white, conservative middle-class base.
Mr. Norquist and his fellow Mouseketeers in the conservative movement inside the Beltway may find it "just unbelievable" that the president ignored both the merits (or lack thereof) of the "assault weapons" ban as well as the political benefits of opposing it, but no one else should.
Middle American conservatives are entirely used to being betrayed by the Republicans they voted for.
If the Democrats were any smarter than the Stupid Party, they'd think about how they might take advantage of that.
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[Sam Francis [email him] is a nationally syndicated columnist. A selection of his columns, America Extinguished: Mass Immigration And The Disintegration Of American Culture, is now available from Americans For Immigration Control.]