It’s time for us conservatives to face facts. George W. Bush has pissed away the conservative moment by pursuing a war of choice via policies that border on the criminally incompetent. We control the White House, the Senate, the House of Representatives, and (more-or-less) the judiciary for one of the few times in my nearly 5 decades, but what have we really accomplished? Is government smaller? Have we hacked away at the nanny state? Are the unborn any more protected? Have we really set the stage for a durable conservative majority? ~Prof. Stephen Bainbridge

Hat tip to Casey Khan on the LRC blog.

Clearly, Prof. Bainbridge didn’t read Joseph Bottum’s explanation that the old conservatism doesn’t matter anymore under the dispensation of the New Fusionism, not to mention his assurances that foes of abortion and neocon interventionists are all on the same team advancing the cause of human dignity. If he had, he would probably have come to this epiphany a week ago after he stopped laughing uncontrollably. Cheer up, Professor, Mr. Bottum would say–you don’t want to become too angry and paleoconservative, now, do you?

On occasions like this, when die-hard loyalists to the GOP who claim to be conservative turn against Mr. Bush, I suppose it is better to say, “Better late than never.” But that would be insufficient. Most of the responses to Prof. Bainbridge’s post have been the predictable contemptuous accusations of betrayal and leftism (!) from “stalwarts” more stalwart in their Bush-mania than Bainbridge or the usual conservatives-in-denial who assure us that it isn’t really that bad. Missing from all of this is the basic question: what convinced Prof. Bainbridge that any seriously conservative policies, whether on abortion or rolling back the state, were ever on the GOP’s agenda under Mr. Bush? Compassionate conservatism, so called, is by definition Republican welfarism with a saccharine, pseudo-Christian coating, and everything else on Mr. Bush’s agenda, when he is not busy selling out our country to Mexico, has been either to streamline and preserve relics of the welfare state or expand the size of government.

There has hardly ever been a better case of someone becoming disillusioned after believing the conventional press clippings about the victory of conservatism and the “deeply conservative” Mr. Bush than Prof. Bainbridge’s pained posting. Mr. Khan makes a concise statement of the futility and folly of placing such hope in political parties, but it is still puzzling why Prof. Bainbridge managed to discover only now that the political potential of conservatives and their chances for reform and renewal had all been frittered away by Mr. Bush.

Real conservatives knew Mr. Bush wasn’t really “one of us” since 1999 when he began his first campaign with moronic class-warfare rhetoric and support for the bombing of Serbia, but before early 2002 there might have at least been reason to think he was an acceptably moderate Republican who would not do anything particularly foolish or radical. By 2004, those who still supported Mr. Bush knew what they were getting and deserved exactly what they have received. And what is Prof. Bainbridge’s conclusion? Here it is:

“What really annoys me, however, are the domestic implications of all this. The conservative agenda has advanced hardly at all since the Iraq War began. Worse yet, the growing unpopularity of the war threatens to undo all the electoral gains we conservatives have achieved in this decade. Stalwarts like me are not going to vote for Birkenstock wearers no matter how bad things get in Iraq, but what about the proverbial soccer moms? Gerrymandering probably will save the House for us at least through the 2010 redistricting, but what about the Senate and the White House?”

Notice that there is no sense that the war is actually wrong or unconstitutional, but simply politically inconvenient and a threat to the imaginary domestic agenda that Prof. Bainbridge apparently believes Mr. Bush would have implemented had it not been for the colossal blunder of Iraq. Notice also the blind, nay, stupid loyalty to party that still trumps all else “no matter how bad things get in Iraq.” He is probably correct about the political reality created by the war, but consider the rather shocking cynicism implied in this view. It is, to put it rather harshly, a sort of Bolshevik criticism of the war, in the sense that Lenin never had any objection to war in general (witness the disastrous war with Poland, c. 1919-21) but simply saw domestic political advantage in supporting peace in 1917. This is the ultimate cynic’s critique of the war.

Besides, who is this “us” for whom control of the House may be secure? Surely by now Prof. Bainbridge understands that this mythical entity of conservative Republicanism to which he is so devoted is scarcely more real than Iraq’s WMDs? The GOP has controlled Congress with larger or smaller margins for over 10 years, GOP appointed justices have made up a majority on the Court for even longer and Republicans have been President for 16 of the last 24 years. In what fantasy world was Republican domination of government going to lead to the fulfillment of any conservative goals, if literally nothing significant had been accomplished thus far in terms of reducing the size and scope of government or counteracting state-sponsored cultural rot? Prof. Bainbridge would be well-advised to remember the observation Chilton Williamson made in The Conservative Bookshelf that one cannot seriously consider the GOP a conservative party unless one identifies conservatism with imperialism and capitalism. This would save him a lot of angst and dissatisfaction later.

But it is really rather too late for such “conservatives” to cry in their beer (or is it wine?) and say that they’ve been done wrong, as if it had not been obvious for a very, very long time. We few, we happy few, have been telling them this for years, and have received nothing but ostracism and scorn from the “mainstream conservatives” for it.