- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The White House appears to have been truly blindsided by the vehemently negative response from conservative intellectuals to Harriet Miers’ nomination to the Supreme Court. This revolt has been long in the making. What is surprising is that took so long to come into the open.

The truth is now dawning on many movement conservatives that George W. Bush is not one of them and never has been. They were allies for a long time, to be sure, and conservatives used Mr. Bush just as he used them. But it now appears they are headed for divorce.

As with all divorces, the ultimate cause was not the final incident but grievances built up over a long period that one day could no longer be overlooked, contained or smoothed over.

The conservative list of grievances dates to the first days of the Bush administration:

• One of Mr. Bush’s first acts in office was a vast expansion of education spending with little real reform. To conservatives, it always looked like a transparent effort to buy off the so-called soccer moms. But rather than buy peace with the education lobby, it has simply led to continuous calls for still more education spending, despite the paucity of evidence correlating spending with achievement.

• Almost all conservatives view campaign finance reform as a blatantly unconstitutional abridgement of the First Amendment, the Supreme Court’s endorsement notwithstanding. Now it may end up used to suppress blogs and other new media that have been critical for conservatives in breaking the liberal monopoly of the mainstream press.

• It is the rare conservative who has a kind word for President Bush’s immigration policy. Most conservatives think he has been woefully weak on protecting our borders. Among the Republican grass roots, there is active hostility to administration plans to give illegal immigrants guest-worker status. Most see this as a form of amnesty that will further encourage illegal immigration.

• Even leaving aside national defense and homeland security, government spending has exploded during the Bush years. Although most attention has focused on the vast proliferation of pork barrel spending, which Mr. Bush steadfastly refuses to veto, far more worrisome has been entitlements expansion, especially the extraordinarily ill-conceived Medicare drug benefit. In future years, Republicans will rue the day they passed this legislation, because they eventually will have to cut it, thereby losing all the political benefits they thought they would get among the elderly.

• Government regulation got a big boost from passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley bill, which Republicans rushed through Congress to deflect criticism over the Enron scandal. But nothing in the legislation would have prevented Enron’s financial abuses — which is proven by a new scandal involving stock broker Refco that seems have engaged in Enron-style financial shenanigans now being investigated.

I could go on, but the point is that George W. Bush has never demonstrated any interest in shrinking the government. And on many occasions, he has increased government significantly. Yet if there is anything that defines conservatism in America, it is hostility to government expansion. The idea of big-government conservatism, often used to describe Mr. Bush’s philosophy, is a contradiction in terms.

Conservative intellectuals have known this for a long time, but looked the other way for various reasons. Some thought the war on terror trumped every other issue. If a few billion dollars had to be wasted to buy the votes needed to win the war, so be it, many conservatives argued. Others say Mr. Bush never ran as a conservative in the first place, so there is no betrayal, only conservatives’ failure to see what he has been all along.

Of course, this last point doesn’t say much for the conservative movement. At best conservatives were naive about Mr. Bush; at worst, they sold out much of their claimed beliefs.

The Miers nomination has led to some long overdue soul-searching among conservative intellectuals. For many, the hope of finally turning around the judiciary was worth putting up with all the big government stuff. Thus Mr. Bush’s pick of a patently unqualified crony for a critical position on the Supreme Court was the final straw.

Had George W. Bush demonstrated more fealty to conservative principles over the last five years, he might have gotten a pass on Miss Miers. But coming on top of all the big government initiatives he has supported, few in the conservative movement are inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt any longer.

Bruce Bartlett is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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