Peggy Noonan says the party is over; Bush has done all he could to alienate and destroy his political base, and has succeeded.
What I came in time to believe is that the great shortcoming of this White House, the great thing it is missing, is simple wisdom. Just wisdom–a sense that they did not invent history, that this moment is not all there is, that man has lived a long time and there are things that are true of him, that maturity is not the same thing as cowardice, that personal loyalty is not a good enough reason to put anyone in charge of anything, that the way it works in politics is a friend becomes a loyalist becomes a hack, and actually at this point in history we don’t need hacks….
Bush the younger came forward, presented himself as a conservative, garnered all the frustrated hopes of his party, turned them into victory, and not nine months later was handed a historical trauma that left his country rallied around him, lifting him, and his party bonded to him. He was disciplined and often daring, but in time he sundered the party that rallied to him, and broke his coalition into pieces. He threw away his inheritance. I do not understand such squandering.
Now conservatives and Republicans are going to have to win back their party. They are going to have to break from those who have already broken from them. This will require courage, serious thinking and an ability to do what psychologists used to call letting go. This will be painful, but it’s time. It’s more than time.
I’ve got no strong objection to Noonan’s analysis, and indeed I’m thrilled to see it. But it seems to me that we conservatives need to avoid falling into a historical revisionism that allows us to portray ourselves as passive victims of a feckless president. Not saying she does this, but I think as the last wheel comes off this presidency, and the GOP comes to grips with what this presidency has meant for the Republican Party and the conservative movement, there will be a strong temptation to resist owning up to our own complicity. Success has a thousand fathers, after all, and failure is an orphan. This failure is not President Bush’s alone. The Republican Party owns it. The conservative movement, with some exceptions, owns it.
Few of us stood up to Bush when he took us to this disastrous war in Iraq. Few, if any, stood up to him over his foolish support for Rumsfeld, long after it became obvious what a disaster Rumsfeld was. Few, if any, stood up to him over his amassing of power in the executive branch. Few, if any, stood up to him on the spending. Few, if any, stood up to him over the massive prescription drug benefit. Few stood up to him over the political hackery pervading his administration, which became distressingly obvious during Katrina (indeed, there are still Republicans now who insist that the corrupt politicization of the Department of Justice is a non-issue, because these people “serve at the president’s pleasure”). Correct me if I’m wrong, but the first time any of us stood up in significant numbers, and with full-throated voice, against the president was over the Harriet Miers debacle. And then we fell silent again, for the most part.
So yes, by all means let’s turn our backs on this failed presidency, and save what we can, while we can. But let’s not kid ourselves: Bush has failed conservatives, yes, but we have also failed ourselves.