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An Inconvenient Truth: The Bush Administration Was a Disaster

In an event noticed by few and mourned by none, the journal Policy Review ceased publication last month. A product of the Hoover Institution, Policy Review was, at least in its final years, always serious, often well-written, and rarely interesting. As Reihan Salam observes, the problem was not the selection of authors or subjects. Rather, it was the blandness of the content, much of which repackaged the conventional wisdom of the conservative establishment at greater length and with more erudite footnotes.

The farewell essay by editor Tod Lindberg in the final issue suffers from the same defect. Titled “Left 3.0”, the piece traces the rise of American progressivism from its nadir in 1972 to Barack Obama’s triumph last November. The bottom line:

…the Left differs from the Right in knowing where it wants to go: in the direction of more equality. Conservatives mostly know where they want to stay: in conditions in which liberty can thrive and the market can work its wonders in creating prosperity. Since the push in the direction of equality will sometimes impinge on liberty and on the market in ways that people will notice and object to, conservative reform will once again have its day. But today belongs to Left 3.0.

Lindberg gets some important things right, including his argument that the counter-culture of the ’60s is now simply the culture–and that political resistance to the sexual revolution is therefore doomed. The trouble with his analysis is that it operates almost entirely on the level of ideas. In consequence, it misses the main strength of the contemporary Left: the evident failure of (ostensibly) conservative government under the Bush Administration.

According to Lindberg, conservatives want to “stay in conditions in which liberty can thrive and the market can work its wonders in creating prosperity.” That’s certainly how establishment conservatives see themselves. But who else believes that they actually live under such conditions, or at least did until recently?

Most Americans remember the Bush years as a period of expanding government, ruinous war, and economic collapse. They voted for Obama the first time as a repudiation of those developments. Many did so a second time because most Republicans continue to pretend that they never happened.

Yet Lindberg’s essay contain only oblique references to the growth of government spending in the 2000s, to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to the housing bubble, or to the long-term stagnation of wages. And, as far as I can tell, there’s no acknowledgment that self-proclaimed conservatives played any role in these calamities. It’s simply not credible to argue that conservatives want to preserve liberty and prosperity when neither has flourished under their favored politicians or policies. No analysis of the strength of Left is complete unless it is combined with an account of the implosion of the Right.

about the author

Samuel Goldman is an assistant professor of political science and director of the Loeb Institute for Religious Freedom at George Washington University. He earned a Ph.D. in political science from Harvard, where he has also taught writing. In addition to The American Conservative, Goldman’s work has appeared in The New Criterion, The Wall Street Journal, and Maximumrocknroll. Follow him on Twitter.

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