The Sins of the Father

To understand the conservative antipathy toward George Bush's nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court, you must first understand our history with his father. We've been let down--badly--by a President Bush before. Many of us were not completely sold on the man who once called Reagan's plan for cutting taxes "voodoo economics." So after eight years of service, he still needed to make a case for himself to the base of the party. In his acceptance speech (written ironically by Peggy Noonan) in New Orleans in 1988, he made that case. And we believed him...and voted for him--hoping that he would give us four more years of Reagan's policies even if he couldn't duplicate the personality.

I think every politically involved person remembers "Read my lips"...and that Bush broke that promise. But now nearly twenty years later, most people have forgotten the context of that pledge. It was not a thrown-away line--it was the centerpiece of a campaign to convince conservatives that he would follow in Reagan's footsteps--that he was, or at least would govern as, one of us. Bush 41 said:

And I'm the one who will not raise taxes. My opponent, my opponent now says, my opponent now says, he'll raise them as a last resort, or a third resort. But when a politician talks like that, you know that's one resort he'll be checking into. My opponent won't rule out raising taxes. But I will. And the Congress will push me to raise taxes, and I'll say no, and they'll push, and I'll say no, and they'll push again, and I'll say, to them, "Read my lips: no new taxes."

Except of course Bush 41 did nothing of the sort. Instead he caved on the essential promise of his campaign. Congress pushed and he said, "Sure...let's get more money in here that we can spend." And on that day, he lost any chance of winning a second term. For he had been elected to continue the Reagan Revolution, and had instead joined the other team.

The comparable pledge of Bush 43 was to appoint Supreme Court justices in the mold of Scalia and Thomas. This commitment was central to cementing his position as different from his that of his father--the concept that he would govern more as Reagan's heir than as his dad's. And it was in hopes of achieving the transformation of the court that many of us swallowed hard and put up with his decidedly unconservative ways. From the Ted Kennedy-written education bill to the profligate spending; from the complete lack of seriousness about border control and immigration to the broad expansion of government powers, he has been anything but conservative. Yet we have not rebelled against him. Instead we waited for the one promise that mattered most to be fulfilled. (The fact that in the face of all this evidence we still expected the conservative judges promise to come to pass is testament to our faith--and perhaps our naivete.)

When Bush 41 broke his promise of no new taxes, he broke the faith of his conservative base. Now that Bush 43 has broken his promise of Scalia and Thomas, he has done the same. So for all those who wonder why the base--and to repeat a point I've been making for two weeks, it is the base, not just the "elites"--has reacted with such vehemence, I submit that it is because the sins of the father have been repeated in the life of the son. Just as his father did, Bush 43 has broken the central core of trust with his supporters by violating his most important pledge to us. Once that is done, it can never be restored.


At 6:02 PM, Blogger Jeff said...

Indeed, Bush I was not a favorite son of a lot of conservatives. And today, we will never forget it was Bush I who put Souter on the Court, on the advice of New Hampshire "moderate" Republicans.

So, I hope the pro-Miers crowd will forgive us skeptics if we're a little leery about simply "trusting" a President.


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