Saddam Hussein unintentionally gave President Bush a little bump in the polls last week, though it's beginning to look like the president didn't need his help anyway. The only people besides the Democratic presidential candidates who seem disgruntled with Mr. Bush are the almost-always unhappy sages and sagamores of the "Conservative Movement."
But those gentlemen are not going to vote for any of the Democrats, and it may not matter anymore if they're disgruntled or not. The truth is that conservatives are today pretty much irrelevant.
The reason the "Movement" bigwigs are displeased has little to do with Mr. Bush's ill-advised and unnecessary war with Iraq, his refusal to enforce current immigration laws adequately and seek serious reform of the immigration system or the very questionable impact of his internal security policies on basic liberties.
No, the conservatives are upset about Medicare. It costs too much.
The high cost of government is of course a perfectly legitimate and important issue, as are the size, scale and power of the state, and conservatives ought to be burned at what the president and his party pushed into law this fall. The Medicare bill is supposed to cost more than a trillion dollars over the next 20 years, and former House Majority leader Dick Armey announced that "the conservative, free-market base in America is rightly in revolt over" it.
Well, maybe, but who's really groused is the Beltway Right, that dwindling and never-merry band of direct mail scam artists, "think tank" czars, decrepit "youth leaders," journalists with phony British accents, and professional Family Values activists who haven't seen their own kids for 20 years.
Here's what the Post quotes from a representative slice of them:
"The Wall Street Journal editorial page accuses Bush of a 'Medicare fiasco' and a 'Medicare giveaway.' Paul Weyrich, a coordinator of the conservative movement, sees 'disappointment in a lot of quarters.' Bruce Bartlett, a conservative economist with the National Center for Policy Analysis, pronounces himself 'apoplectic.' An article in the American Spectator calls Bush's stewardship on spending 'nonexistent,' while Steve Moore of the Club for Growth labels Bush a 'champion big-spending president.'
"'The president isn't showing leadership,' laments Brian Riedl of the Heritage Foundation, who calculates that federal spending per household is at a 60-year high. 'Conservatives are angry.'"
The reason conservatives are angry about the Medicare bill is that each and every one of them is an Economic Man, fixated on the idea that economic issues are really all that matters and that economic forces are all that really drives human beings.
Yet it probably doesn't much matter what these guys do. There is no challenge to the president in the forthcoming primaries, and nobody's left in the party to run against him anyway.
And even if there were such a leader and even if he did want to challenge the president in the primaries, the first people to line up to denounce him for it would be—the conservative leaders.
Throughout the 1990s, Pat Buchanan ran three presidential campaigns, two of them in GOP primaries, but not one of the Beltway Right panjandrums supported him or showed any interest, and not a few went out of their way to denounce him.
Nor did they support other right-of-center candidates. In 1996 and 2000, all these leaders and their ever-shrinking followings could offer was that we had to beat Bill Clinton or Al Gore and elect a Republican. Despite warnings from reliable conservatives that Mr. Bush wasn't one and that his "compassionate conservatism" was a fake, the stalwarts hurt themselves trying to clamber onto his bandwagon.
Well, they got what they wanted—a Republican in the White House.
Today, the reason the Conservative Movement doesn't matter politically is that its own leaders succeeded in consigning themselves and their Movement to oblivion.
Having sold their followers on the bill of goods that George W. Bush was a conservative, they are now amazed to find that many Americans regard Mr. Bush as a conservative.
There may or may not be a "conservative, free-market base in America," as Mr. Armey claims, but if there is, there's no special reason to think it's upset with what Mr. Bush has done or that it's interested in doing anything about it.
And even if it does exist, one thing is for sure: These characters don't represent it, don't speak for it and won't lead it anywhere.
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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. Click here for Sam Francis' website. Click here to order his monograph, Ethnopolitics: Immigration, Race, and the American Political Future and here for Glynn Custred's review.]