GOP Defeat and the ‘New Tone’

American Thinker | C. Edmund Wright | Nov. 6, 2008

Conservatism did not lose last night, as it was not on the ballot. The big winner was ignorance and the biggest loser was the Bush-Rove-McCain brand of watered down Republicanism. Yes, the Bush-Rove-McCain brand. They gave us each other. Much as the two men cannot stand each other, they are ironically much the same. And the result is indeed a new tone in Washington, and it is a scary dreary leftist tone.

We will never beat it back until the watered down bi-partisans are flushed from the system. Thomas Jefferson loved partisanship. Hugo Chavez does not. That should tell us all we need to know about this flawed path our party has been on for many years. Tuesday, our aisle-crossing chickens came home to roost.


Tuesday’s debacle was some 8 years in the making. Or more.

Consider: Eight years ago, George Bush rode into town from Texas with one thing on his mind: bringing a “new tone to Washington.” He was going to use his Texas charm and drawl to end all of the partisan bickering. This was a tad dispiriting to some of us who had supported him frankly. We were thinking more along the lines of some partisan victories in congress to roll back some liberalism. Actually, only Bush wanted a new tone. Neither his supporters nor his opponents had even the vaguest interest in it, dooming it from the start.

(What does this have to do with McCain v. Obama? Everything. Stick with me.)

Nontheless, with the new tone, its architect Karl Rove was going to fashion a “permanent Republican majority” governing coalition. We’re not sure what this new permanent coalition was going to accomplish exactly, since the operational foundation of the new tone turned out to be giving in on your principles so as to be universally loved. Nontheless, Bush and Rove were confident it would work. To ensure it, they were quick to “reach across the aisle” to let ultra-liberals like Ted Kennedy and John Edwards form policy time to time.

Well damned if Bush didn’t pull it off after all, in a Bizzaro-world fashion. There is indeed a new governing coalition in Washington as of Wednesday, and they are determined to make it permanent. They have the numbers to give it a good shot, too. And that new tone? That is the clanking of widespread hatred of a President who was, above all else, determined to be loved. There is little partisan bickering on this issue, since his approval ratings prove most are in agreement on his performance. This is sad and unjust, since his tax cuts, the Surge and the war on terror are all vitally important successes.

Even last night, this new tone President who was almost nowhere to be found during the entire campaign, could peer out his window at the White House and see how well his eight year capitulation had worked. He had not thrown a single elbow in this entire election cycle, yet the hatred was running thick. This was a classic “in your face” demonstration against Bush. Forget the vapor in Chicago, there was red meat in D.C. These folks have no idea that his terror policies perhaps saved some of their lives.

The man from Texas is profoundly hated by the left. But that is not the point. The man from Texas is not hated alone. The left has projected their hatred of him onto us. His refusal to fight back for his principles was not the personal individual “falling on the sword” that he has convinced himself it was. When he refused to fight, he let us all down.

The result has been a directionless party with no effective titular head. Too much liberalism crept into policy and caused problems. Those problems, with a new tone leader not willing to point fingers, got laid right at the undeserving doorstep of the Bush Administration. That is our doorstep too, however, and Bush never seemed to understand this.

(We are getting to McCain v Obama, I promise)

Remember that the attacks of 9-11 were dreamed up, planned, staffed, financed, practiced and set into motion during the Clinton Administration, but it was deemed to have “happened on Bush’s watch.” Hurricane Katrina exposed decades of corrupt and inefficient Democrat control of New Orleans, but Bush (and by extension, all Republicans) took the blame. Thirty years of liberal energy policy came crashing down on us this year with four dollar gas, yet Bush, Big Oil and free enterprise took the hit. Two decades of liberal political correctness, fraud and crony capitalism in the form of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac collapsed and took an over-leveraged economy with it. Again, Bush and free enterprise took the fall even though Bush actively fought the bad energy and lending policies. Interestingly McCain was at times quick to help this negative inertia with his public “straight talk.”

Conversely, the Bush tax cuts have done a great job of undergirding the economy for nearly eight years and bringing us out of the tech bubble and 9-11. Bush and conservatism, however, received no credit for this. There had not been another terror attack on this nation since 9-11 — an amazing feat no one thought possible — yet Bush and his hawkish efforts were not recognized as the reasons for this success.

You see, all the new tone did was ensure that Bush received no credit when he deserved it, and he deserved it often. Yet, he often took all the blame when he did not deserve it. This led to a candidate like John McCain for the 2008 race.

Bush lavished his “a new tone” on the Republican left, supporting moderates in their primaries against upstart conservatives. But they would never return the favor when they got to Washington. Led by maverick John McCain, this wing of the party worked against Bush on almost every major legislative initiative. Some even say McCain took great satisfaction bashing Bush in the press, in retaliation for the 2000 primary season.

The result has been almost a total lack of conservative leadership anywhere. On the few occasions when Bush actually tried to practice conservatism, McCain and various permutations of the “gang of 14” were always there to torpedo the efforts. Meanwhile, the inarticulate Bush would often trot out some lightweight like Scott McClellan to occupy the bully pulpit, at least until the too-brief tenure of Tony Snow. There was no message, no leadership, no cohesion. There was, however, a 25% approval rating. Thus, when McCain emerged from the primary pack as the pundits’ candidate of choice for the GOP, a run against Bush himself was the natural inclination.

This amounts to one of the great political ironies of all time, since in practice there is not that much difference between Bush’s “new tone” and McCain’s incessant need to “reach across the aisle.” You can make the case that Bush’s low approval numbers were to a degree the natural result of McCain’s Bush-bashing plus Bush’s new tone refusal to state his own case.

As we know, McCain made his willingness to work with Democrats a centerpiece of his campaign. He made a big issue of numerous pieces of legislation where he did so, and some of them are unmitigated disasters, chief among them is Campaign Finance Reform, which was going to take the money out of politics. Perhaps that did not go exactly as planned.

And neither did the flawed notion that McCain would swoop into the White House on this great wave of bi-partisan fever on the part of “independents.” This is one of the great tea leaf misreads of all time. In my view, there is no great clamor for bi-partisanship, there is only the conceit that there is such a clamour. Surely, if such a public hunger existed, McCain would have won by double digits. He did not. He did not even win the moderates themselves. He lost them by 21 points. He also lost notable moderates like Colin Powell, Chuck Hagel and Lincoln Chaffee.

Reagan, on the other hand, carried the independents by convincing them he was right, not that he was one of them. Newt Gingrich and the Contract with America Congress won them by exposing the liberal Democrats as the corrupt political animals they were. There was no reaching across any aisle or any new tone with those successes. There was simply unabashed constitutional conservatism, proclaimed boldly and repeatedly (and at times with humor), and it resonated. You might even call it partisan.

Conversely, McCain would rarely mention conservatism or Reagan without quickly reminding us of times when he fought against them. Well no wonder it didn’t sell. The salesman doesn’t even like it!

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8 thoughts on “GOP Defeat and the ‘New Tone’”

  1. He also lost notable moderates like Colin Powell, Chuck Hagel and Lincoln Chaffee.

    Hagel has a lifetime American Conservative Union rating of 86. His 2007 rating was 96.

    His inclusion by this author on a list of ‘moderates’ lost by Bush and McCain points to an even bigger problem.

    The Iraq War trumped all else. Hagel is lambasted as a ‘moderate’ because he was anti-Iraq War. By the time the election came around, a huge chunk of normally Redstate America was anti-Iraq War as well. Where did they go? Where could they go?

    They went to Obama. Some (like me) went to third party candidates, but there is no way McCain lost as many formerly safe Republican states as he did, without shedding Republican votes.

    The War is not popular, and McCain was (in fact) Johnny One Note. He was a foreign policy candidate running on his belligerence at a time when Americans want peace and to recover prosperity. Romney with his business background, Ron Paul with his Austrian Economics, Huckabee with his populist message, or Duncan Hunter with his traditionalist message could have all adapted to this condition.

    McCain the ‘war hero’ had no Plan B. He was all Iraq War all the time. Hagel and other Republicans who wanted a more Taftian foreign policy were just plain shut out, and so went elsewhere. A more conservative candidate running on a good platform of Fiscal conservatism, fundamental tax reform (fair tax/flat tax), government reduction, saying no to bailouts, and pro-life would have beaten Obama, hands down.

    McCain wasn’t that guy, neither was Bush.

  2. I feel saddened by the injustice done to Bush. Clearly, he made mistakes, as does every politician. Miers, Katrina, and his monetary policy all come to mind as inexcusable mistakes. His attempts to find a middle ground on immigration, stem cell research, affirmative action, and the welfare state may have been mistaken, but I cannot blame him for trying to juggle competing political demands. With Iraq and “the War on Terror,” only time will tell; it is far too premature to see if his strategy has made America safer — if only democracies could consider things long-term. To his credit, he has succeeded in doing what everyone thought was impossible in preventing another terrorist attack in the US, he gave us stellar judges, he championed a culture of life, and he tried, unsuccesfully, to deal with the social security mess.

    When we weigh his successes and failures, I do not think that Americans’ general asessment of him matches his record. He has been a man of integrity, but his critics have said the most obnoxious, wicked, and unfair things about him. In this, he holds some responsibility for not fighting back, I suppose, but I am ashamed of my fellow citizens, the press, and the elected “leaders” who have basically cheered on losses and hardships for political gain over the past seven years. What caused this? Was it the Florida fiasco in 2000? Or has the Left become what its most vocal critics claim — unhinged, treasonous, unprincipled folks who hate America’s traditions, Christianity, and anyone who does not subscribe to their ideology? If so, God help us!


  3. What caused this? Was it the Florida fiasco in 2000? Or has the Left become what its most vocal critics claim — unhinged, treasonous, unprincipled folks who hate America’s traditions, Christianity, and anyone who does not subscribe to their ideology? If so, God help us!

    Then what explains the amount of animosity towards Bush from the Right? Every time I read this kind of sentiment from a person like yourself, Joseph, I just have to chuckle. Are the writers at the American Conservative magazine liberals who hate America? How about the folks over at the Constitution Party, or the 10% of the Republican Party that backed Ron Paul?

    Do they all hate America and Christianity? Did Clark Carlton, author of The Faith Series of Orthodox books, start hating God when he endorsed Ron Paul for president? Ron Paul having been a sharp critic of George Bush for years?

    Most of us conservatives that turned against Bush did so after 2003. It wasn’t just Katrina, or the Iraq War, it was the sum total of everything, including hundreds of things you seem to have neglected to mention or never bothered to learn about. I had my first doubts about Bush when he appointed the first openly homosexual ambassador to Romania, and used his clout as a Republican to get him approved. It was a slap at follow Orthodox.

    For me, the presidency was downhill from there. But, of course, even as a lifelong Republican all I have heard from people like you, Joseph, for the past five years is how I (and Pat Buchanan, and Ron Paul, and Chuck Hagel) are liberal, America-hating commies for daring to believe that Bush was an incompetent dolt who betrayed the conservative principles he espoused in 2000 in order to win election.

    For why the libs hate him – I am at a loss. Really I am. Bush has been the best liberal president of the last 40 years. He has expanded the government’s reach in all areas including the drug coverage under Medicare. He has nationalized our financial industry, driven us to bankruptcy, embarked on massive nation building efforts, paved the way for full amnesty, and funding Planned Parenthood to the tune of $2 billion dollars while saying he was, “Pro-life.”

    Of such friends as these, I for one, have no need. Time to forget Bush, vow never to be fooled again, and go in search of candidates who actually believe in conservatism, even after they win the election. Tall order I know, but they might exist somewhere.

  4. Nicholas,

    I certainly have never thought of Paul or Buchanan as America-hating; I respect both men a lot, even if the “truther” camp that followed Paul is rather disturbing. Certainly, Bush was not a conservative, or at least not a conservative’s conservative. He did what he said he was going to do in the 2000 campaign as a “Compassionate Conservative” — he tried government solutions informed by a certain type of social conservatism — sort of like Europe’s Christian Democrats.

    Was this a mistake? Strategically, it seems to have fallen short. Does playing to the middle often work in politics? Conventional wisdom would suggest that centrist policies would garner popularity, but not only has Bush incurred wrath and hatred, he has been accused of being a far right extremist. That should make you chuckle, Nicholas.

    I am not defending Bush’s administration as a beacon of good government. However, I do not think that he deserves the ill will that is directed toward him. Hindsight is 20/20, as they say, and a president has to work with the limitations of American politics. He tried to please everyone and do the best thing, and he simply estranged his natural allies by betraying conservative principles without making friends on the other side, who only care about political advantage.

    Bush aimed to help blacks in particular with his policies and appointments, but what political good has it done? Blacks voted for Obama . . . wasn’t it 95%? AIDS initiatives in Africa, compromise on affirmative action, No Child Left Behind, work with black churches and charities, the first and second black Secretaries of State . . . and yet, “Bush hates black people” and is accused of genocide because of Katrina. It’s madness!

    Even the current financial mess is due to this tendency of his to assuage the Left. Instead of going after Fannie and Freddie, Bush did not play hardball. Rather, he followed Clinton’s precedent in stressing how we are now an “ownership society.” He touted with pride the statistics of minority homeownership, ignoring or not heeding the unsustainable situation that was allowing those statistics to exist.

    I suspect that the Right dislikes Bush because all of his attempts to build a larger coalition failed, politically. Had Bush’s heresies against conservative principles achieved Rove’s “permanent Republican coalition,” only the most truly principled conservatives (like Buchanan and Paul) would speak out against his actions. However, after 2006 and 2008, the critics jump on the bandwagon to lay the blame on Bush. I see it as the political equivalent of a mob kicking a man when he’s down, and I find it distasteful.

    So, Nicholas, I am not attacking you or any other thoughtful critic of Bush. He does deserve some blame for Obama and whatever befalls us in the next four years. I am simply saying that the terrible things said about him, i.e. “Bush is Hitler,” are unfair and shameful, and that he has been a better president than he is given credit for.


  5. Nicholas,

    I think that you and other disenchanted conservatives would like yesterday’s piece by Deroy Murdock on NRO: “Restoring Reaganism.” He is pretty brutal with Bush and several others. It’s tough love, I suppose, and he is painfully correct. Sigh . . . I have often wondered what would have happened had McCain been elected in 2000 . . .


  6. I have often wondered what would have happened had McCain been elected in 2000 . . .

    Well, I fail to see how it could have been worse the past 8 years. I worked hard against McCain in 2000 because he wasn’t conservative enough. That is irony for you.

    The silver lining with McCain beaten and now playing lapdog to Obama while savaging Palin by proxy (That takes guts, crawl on your belly to your enemy, stab friends in the back) is that conservatives are now openly saying what they should have said years ago. Defeat can be liberating!

  7. Many people do not realize that hosts of conservatives, and devout Christians of all backgrounds voted for Obama. His demeanor, his charisma, and his mantra of change, got to these people. They knew nothing about him and “pooh-poohed” anything negative as Limbaugh-Hannity “hate” propaganda.

    IMHO, neo-cons are basically JFK Democrats who moved to the Republican Party as the Dems continued to move to the “left.” Pat Buchanan is the last true conservative leader. However he shot himself in the foot with his last book.

    Neo-cons, I believe are slowly realizing what it means to be a true conservative: States’ rights, strict interpretation of the Constitution, etc.

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