Sunday, February 7, 2010

Hypocrisy in Democracy

Several weeks ago, I found myself engaged in a heated political debate with a right-wing friend who insisted that his movement was NOT objecting to the policies of Barack Obama and congressional Democrats for purely partisan reasons, but that in fact they were equally willing to dissent with the Republicans when their actions contradicted conservative principles. To this argument - which I have encountered more times than I would like to recall - I replied as follows:

If that is really the case, then where were they when Bush spent trillions of dollars on an unnecessary war in Iraq? Where were they when millions of dollars meant to help New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina were used on - well, we still don't know what? Why didn't they get up in arms against Bush when he squandered Clinton's budget surplus early in his presidency on a tax cut that primarily benefited the rich?

There were several points which I should have added. Conservatives profess indignation at abuses of authority, so where were they when the Bush Administration outed an undercover CIA agent just because her husband opposed their policies, or when Bush's attorney general dismissed seven United States attorneys due to political differences? They place a great deal of stock in reducing the power of government, so why weren't they forming grassroots "tea parties" when the Bush Administration passed the Patriot Act and concentrated power in the executive branch in ways not seen since Nixon and the imperial presidency? They spew volumes about the necessity of honesty in government, so where was the unbridled rage when it became increasingly clear that President Bush lied about our reasons for going to war with Iraq? They prattle on about stopping government encroachments into our private lives, so why did they not object to the politicization of religious and cultural values during the Bush years? In short, if this populist uprising is really about holding President Obama to task for his alleged violations of conservative ideals, then why weren't they behaving in the same fashion when they had a strong case that Bush was doing likewise?

The fact of the matter is that the so-called real conservatives didn't have a slight problem with George W. Bush when he flouted the principles on which they stood (or if they did, they were surprisingly silent about it), and only began distancing themselves from Dubya when his political stock began to plummet during his second term (although they couldn't get enough of him during his first term, convenient revisionism aside).

Abraham Lincoln remarked upon a similar phenomenon in December 1856. At the time, the pro-slavery policies of Democratic president Franklin Pierce had caused great civil unrest in this country; this, in turn, made him extremely unpopular, prompting the Democrats to refuse his bid for renomination (the first time in American history a sitting president had been denied a spot on the ticket) and select instead James Buchanan. Thanks to the fall of the Whig Party and the fact that his two main opponents - John Fremont of the Republican Party and Millard Fillmore of the Know-Nothing Party - were widely considered to be excessively radical, Buchanan went on to an easy victory.

The same pro-slavery elements that had once lauded Pierce as their champion now distanced themselves from his toxic political brand, instead claiming that he had never been one of their own and that Buchanan was the true champion of their values. The ever-astute Lincoln, however (at that time a former one-term congressman and impending senatorial candidate), saw right through their tactic. Speaking of President Pierce, he had this to say:

He is in the cat's paw. By much dragging of chestnuts from the fire for others to eat, his claws are burnt off to the gristle, and he is thrown aside as unfit for further use. As the fool said to King Lear, when his daughters had turned him out of doors, "He's a shelled pea's cod."

Likewise, conservatives who distance themselves from the legacy of George W. Bush, and who claim to be entirely non-partisan in their rabid hatred of Barack Obama, should not be believed. They only denounce George W. Bush because he is unpopular, and they dare not associate their cause with his political brand if they desire success. At the same time, they continue to embrace the memory of Ronald Reagan - a president whose ideology and policies were virtually identical to those of George W. Bush - and support as their new champion individuals like Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, and Mitt Romney, all of whom fail to depart from Bush dogma in any meaningful way.

I won't deny that I have serious disagreements with Republicans. That said, I absolutely hate liars, and any Tea Partier or so-called conservative populist - a Glenn Beck supporter in his 9/12 Movement, a John Bircher, you name it - who claims that his or her opposition to Obama is not partisan is a liar.

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