Dissent is Conservative

Jonah Goldberg recounts National Review’s clashes with the Bush Administration:

We have criticized the Bush administration from the Right. We were very skeptical about the DHS reorganization, the federalization of airport security, his faith-based initiatives, big-government conservatism and compassionate conservatism. We opposed his signature education bill, No Child Left Behind, his steel tariffs and his expansion of national service programs. We opposed the campaign finance “reform” he signed into law and his farm bill. We led the opposition to his amnesty plan for illegal immigrants and against Harriet Miers.

We defended two out of three of his Supreme Court justices, his position on embryonic-stem-cell research, and the topplings of Saddam Hussein and the Taliban. We liked tax cuts before he became president and we will long after he has departed. We supported the idea — if not always the effort — to privatize Social Security.

Well, yes – I suppose these are all instances of real disagreement between the magazine and the Bush Administration. Of course, the only conservatives siding with the Administration during the Miers debacle or the steel tariff debate were, errr, employed by the Administration at the time. In other instances – immigration reform, for example – I seem to recall a few supporters of the president outside his immediate circle, but it’s not like National Review’s opposition to amnesty was a profile in political courage. The activist GOP base was dead-set against comprehensive immigration reform, so it made perfect sense for the Right’s flagship magazine to lead the charge against Bush.

Opposing “compassionate conservatism” required no special measure of bravery or insight on the part of National Review’s editors. Questioning the invasion of Iraq, the president’s fondness for invasive surveillance, or our treatment of enemy combatants, on the other hand, would have taken real cojones. And while I think it’s unreasonable to expect the flagship publication of the American Right to disagree with a Republican president on everything, it’s perfectly reasonable to expect a self-proclaimed magazine of ideas to air vigorous debate on the great issues of our time. Failing to give voice to the legions of conservative and libertarian critics of the Bush Administration’s policies on torture, surveillance, and the war did an immense disservice to American conservatism. I’m afraid National Review’s record of dissent is a lot less impressive than Jonah Goldberg might think.

UPDATE: Here’s Kathryn Lopez:

I was thinking about this point Jonah makes while I was moderating a panel on the cruise Friday on the Bush administration. We had all kinds on the panel — those who condemn Bush as a socialist, among other things, to those who worked for the man and will defend him on plenty of merits. NRO reflects this range as well (the panel was composed of people who have or regularly write for us).

Calling Bush a socialist is more likely to elicit nods of approval than condemnation from conservatives these days. Again, it’s not particularly controversial or brave to criticize the Bush Administration for excessive spending or going soft on immigration. Taking the Administration to task for policy failures that remain popular with movement conservatives, on the other hand, requires real gumption.


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Filed under Conservatism, The Media

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