Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


Michael Gerson invites attacks from the left and the right by sticking up for the legacies of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. I think he’s right about Clinton, but needlessly provocative in his defense of Bush. These lines, for example, can’t be calculated to do anything other than annoy (immensely) his conservative readers:

Talk-radio conservatism assaults the most obviously Catholic elements of Bushism -- a role for government in compassion and a welcoming attitude toward immigrants. "Purity" is defined as the empathy of Tom DeLay and the racial sensitivity of Tom Tancredo.

The alternatives to "Bushism" are, he says, libertarianism and nativism.

This sort of provocative name-calling won’t persuade conservatives to consider whether there’s anything worth preserving in the rationale Gerson helped the President construct for his domestic policy. Indeed, Gerson would do well to get past his epithets on immigration (a reflex that cheapens him, by the way) and examine why so many well-meaning (former?) Bush supporters are opposed to comprehensive immigration reform. He’s smart enough to know that most of them don’t simply hate furriners; rather, they don’t trust a government that has given no indication of a willingness actually to gain control of our borders. And yes, they naturally care about national identity, but not in a racist or nativist way. They’re perfectly willing to welcome immigrants who are perfectly willing to learn English, obey our laws, work hard, and love our country. They recognize that cultivating citizenship takes time and effort, and that it can be done more easily with a manageable flow of legal immigrants. And that manageable flow begins with a border that isn’t unconscionably porous.

If Gerson took his conservative opponents seriously, and actually engaged with them, he might--as the keeper of the compassionate conservatism flame--contribute constructively to a conversation about the future of conservatism, persuading his interlocutors that points like this are worth taking seriously on theoretical, as well as practical political grounds:

The abandonment of Bushism and Clintonism is also leaving many Americans ideologically homeless: Catholics who regard themselves as pro-life, pro-immigrant and pro-poor; young evangelicals more exercised by millions dying of AIDS in Africa than by the continued existence of the Education Department; liberals who do not find their liberalism inconsistent with national strength or opposition to Islamic radicalism, the most illiberal force on Earth. All this alienation may, in a saner time, be the basis of a movement that mitigates polarization instead of glorying in it.

As it is, he’s rapidly writing himself into irrelevance.

Update: Ross Douthat kinda sorta agrees with me, and makes a good point about how GWB/MG could have accommodated the base along the way. Jonah G. is grateful that MG has finally confessed that Bushism/Gersonism is just Republican Clintonism. He adds:

The Gerson column I would love to read is how he reconciles Bushism to Rovism. Rove — for good reasons and bad — based Bush’s electoral strategy, particularly his 2004 reelection strategy, on churning up the base. It seems to me that there is a profound tension between holding a "philosophy" of triangulation or the post-partisan "common good" while practicing a politics based upon pleasing only one side of the national divide. I would assume that Gerson recognized this and it caused him no small amount of frustration. But, that is merely my assumption. I’d love to hear his views on the subject.

I don’t know what Gerson would say, and don’t have time for a long answer myself, but would like to make two points. First, for a number of reasons (to name two: Florida and Iraq), any effort to make political hay of compassionate conservatism in 2004 was impossible; the Bush campaign had to respond to a polarized politics, and did so quite successfully. Indeed, even if it remains viable, compassionate conservatism can’t surface again until Iraq isn’t the overarching issue. Fortunately for the two or three remaining admitted compassionate conservatives, we the people have a short memory. Just wait ’til 2012!

Second, some argue that, whatever was (and is?) the case with Bush (and Gerson), for the most part compassionate conservatism was regarded as simply an election ploy (and hence dispensable). I think that’s right for all too many Republicans, especially the Congressional party, who took it as a license for their pork-laden version of big-government conservatism. Bush could have confronted the Congressional porkmeisters, but in the face of the hyperpartisan Democratic bitterness that followed the 2000 election, he was probably too taken with the eleventh commandment. (He and Gerson have abandoned it now, for altogether the wrong reasons, and in the wrong cause.)

Discussions - 8 Comments

"compassionate conservatism" = neoconservatism = using "conservatism" as a Trojan horse to promote left-wing ideas. GW Bush is a disgrace as a president and will go down in history as one of the worst presidents of the U.S. His unconstitutional neocon war in Iraq is a debacle. The transformation of the Middle East to liberal democracy is Wilsonian Jacobinism, not conservatism. And like Bill Kristol, Bush thinks the U.S. should spend billions to defend the border of Israel and to deport illegal aliens from Israel, but simultaneously he supports the open-borders, third-world invasion of the U.S. Folks, this is treason. Plain and simple. Bush needs to be impeached, arrested, and tried for treason.

I am a Catholic who considers himself pro-life and pro-poor. And that is precisely why I am not pro-immigrant. The pro-immigrant movement can only lead to cementing the current pro-abortion regime in place by making the Democrats the dominant party in America.

Immigration is also hammering the poorest Americans, a point which I cannot believe Mr Gerson fails to understand.

But at the root of his attitude, and that of many like him, is the notion that it is the proper role of the American government to grant succor to all mankind, and pointedly NOT to display any marked concern for Americans.

To be sure, that is an appropriate attitude for the Catholic Church to take. (Though I notice that Mr Gerson is not Catholic himself.) But while I have always scoffed at those who claim that there is a movement afoot to establish a theocracy in America, it is becoming more and more evident that there are in fact many people out there who actually think the government of the US should be run as a Christian enterprise.

It is as if these Christians are unaware that the concept of the separation of Church and state is a Christian idea.

Weird how playing the Catholic card has turned into GWB as the first Catholic prez, abandoned by all his former intellectual Catholic supporters, though there are some like Deal Hudson (is he still around?) who are overly sentimental about immigrants. At any rate, Catholic Social Teaching leaves much, MUCH room for prudence, and certainly doesn't necessarily eviscerate the nation-state or bless a flawed education policy, whether from the center or the locales (what happened, by the way, to subsidiarity, Michael?).

Too bad blog spammer "Real Conservative" missed his calling as Stalin's sloganeer and standby executioner, more Jacobin than he thinks himself to be.

Strong post Joe.

John, I like your first three paragraphs mucho. However, I have to dispute your statement that "It is becoming more and more evident that there are in fact many people out there who actually think the government of the US should be run as a Christian enterprise." It seems by this you mean that there are a lot of people who identify the purpose of government with HUMANITARIANISM, that is the two-headed beast of transnational progressivism(leftist form) and uber-neoconservatism(rightist form--and fairly rare, IMO) that Pierre Manent has described as the new "religion of humanity." Persons who errantly believe that this is what Christian teaching requires of government would think "that it is the proper role of the American government to grant succor to all mankind," etc.

Otherwise, I gotta say, give us the NAMES, DATES, and QUOTATIONS of American conservatives or socially-conservative religious leaders saying that "the US should be run as a Christian enterprise." And of course, you can't. You need to have different vocabulary to address the problem that's rightly bugging you, otherwise you lend ammo to the rising tide of "theocracy! theocracy! theocracy!" insanity.

Jesus taught his church that "the poor will always be with you," a major stumbling block for his followers who want to imitate Him by striving to eliminate poverty. The doctrine of the Fall, and other sayings of Jesus, indicate that he might as well have also said "the tyrants and the tyrannized will always be with you." I don't think our current President, may God help and guide him, fully understands this.

Sorry, but as one conservative, also Catholic, I find Gerson to be right-on.
"Name-calling?" One NRO commentator labels everyone who voices any degree of support for Kennedy-Kyl as "amnesty ......" The guy who spins "No Spin" on Fox insists on dismissing the Catholic Archbishop of LA as irrelevant because "he's for open borders, anyway.."
Why is there such an intense reaction to the observation that some who oppose "illegal immigration" allow their rhetoric to lapse into blanket condemnation of all immigrants, and any thing alien? Have we forgotten Little Italy, Chinatown, and the ghettoes of Lower Manhattan? Am I the only conservative who remembers El Diario, La Prensa, the Daily Forward?
From Deuteronomy to Jesus Jews and Christians have been commanded to succor the stranger in their midst; the Lady in the Harbor still raises her lamp to welcome the "huddled masses yearning to breathe free."
So what are we going to do? Ship 12 (or is it 20, now) million huddled masses back to where they came from? Leave them alone to remain in the shadows? Let them starve to death when they become too old or too lame to work under the table? Or allow them to at least come out in the open where they can be seen, pay taxes, and possibly contribute to the growth of the nation like the generations of immigrants who produced the rest of us?
For this conservative Irish Catholic the choice is obvious. Why other conservatives can only deride it is something I cannot understand.


I'm neither Irish nor Catholic, but I sympathize with much of what you say. The difference, for me (and, I suspect, for many others), is that I'm willing to contemplate some sort of regularization program AFTER we've gotten control of the borders. And yes, let's have a humanitarian element of a controlled and manageable immigration program, but no one has a right to American residency, let alone citizenship. Part of my own humanitarianism (such as it is, you might say) requires me to help make other places more liveable.

Yeah, I know many will think this places me in the Tin-Foil hat catagory.

There are forces at work trying to bring down the United States and form a North Americna Trade Block where unelected NGO's and corporations run the show.

Illegal immigration is a serious part of the strategy.

Pat Brennan, I recommend you read Walter Laqueur's new book, THE LAST DAYS OF EUROPE. In the chapter entitled "Migrations" in particular, but also throughout, you will find answers to your wonderment. Don't worry, there will always be the stranger to succour. Unless we lose our home.

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