So why, after six years of glorifying George Bush and devoting their full-fledged loyalty to him and the GOP-controlled Congress are conservatives like Lowry and Gingrich suddenly insisting that Bush is an anti-conservative and the GOP-led Congress the opposite of conservative virtue? The answer is as obvious as it is revealing. They are desperately trying to disclaim responsibility for the disasters that they wrought in the name of “conservatism,” by repudiating the political figures whom they named as the standard-bearers of their movement but whom America has now so decisively rejected.

George Bush has not changed in the slightest. He is exactly the same as he was when he was converted into the hero and icon of the “conservative movement.” The only thing that has changed is that Bush is no longer the wildly popular President which conservatives sought to embrace, but instead is a deeply disliked figured, increasingly detested by Americans, from whom conservatives now wish to shield themselves. And in this regard, these self-proclaimed great devotees of Conservative Political Principles have revealed themselves to have none.

When he was popular, George Bush was the Embodiment of Conservatism. Now that he is rejected on a historic scale, he is the Betrayer of Conservatism. That is because “Conservatism” — while definable on a theoretical plane — has come to have no practical meaning in this country other than a quest for ever-expanding government power for its own sake. When George Bush enabled those ends, he was The Great Conservative. Now that he impedes them, he is the Judas of the Conservative Movement. It is just that simple and transparent. ~Gleen Greenwald

As far as the “movement” and especially the people gathered at the NRI Summit are concerned, Greenwald is pretty much entirely right.  The new “don’t blame conservatives, blame those treacherous Republicans” narrative is a sad and sorry dodge of responsibility that everyone who worked hand in glove with the GOP for at least the last six years is using to escape the collapsing wreckage of the Bush Era.  In the past, there have been occasions when it was possible to make this sort of argument work.  It was possible for conservatives to have expected something more after 1994 and then become disillusioned with what followed.  It was perfectly legitimate to view Bush the Elder as someone who had betrayed the people who had voted for him by breaking his promises on taxes, etc.  But with this Mr. Bush there was almost never a time, even when he was a candidate, when conservatives should ever have allowed that Mr. Bush was conservative, because he so clearly was not if the word meant anything at all.  Support for him should always have been extremely conditional, rather than wildly enthusiastic as it was from very early on.  This was true even pre-9/11, as I recall a cartoon in The Washington Times showing Mr. Bush returning from his first foreign visit to Europe as if it were a new V-E Day and he was some sort of conquering hero.  Of course, absolutely nothing had been achieved on his first European trip; he had, I think, said something rather blunt about Kyoto, which annoyed the Europeans, but the popular attitude towards the man was completely out of all proportion.  So it would be for the next many years.  That the “movement” was willing to embrace him as a conservative of some stripe, or at least was willing to tie themselves so closely to him and his fortunes as they did signaled their submission to his goals and policies.  

That doesn’t mean that the gross distortions and contortions of conservatism that these people have engaged in during their period of near-complete slavishness towards Mr. Bush and the GOP are anything like proper conservatism, but it surely does mean that many of these people abandoned that conservatism right along with Mr. Bush every time they cheered on his aggressive war or looked the other way as he enlarged the size of government or pretended not to notice while he shredded constitutional protections and checks on the executive.  Even when some did occasionally, meekly raise a voice of protest about Medicare or immigration or some other domestic policy, they would effectively render that protest meaningless by affirming that they would continue to support Mr. Bush because of his great war leadership.  There is a myth developing out here that 2006 saw massive conservative defections, which I would like to believe, but the GOP turnout machine brought essentially the same core people to the polls that they did in 2004–the key difference last year was the overwhelming loss of independent voters to the Democrats.  After everything that happened between 2004 and the midterms, core conservative Republican voters continued to go along with Mr. Bush.   

These people did effectively “hollow out” conservatism and fill it with whatever horrendous ideas the administration put forward.  Arguably, this hollowing out has been going on for a good deal longer than the last six years, but it became acute and fatal in recent years.  Some of us on the right have been saying as much for quite a while, and certainly long before it was popular or advantageous to say so, and I appreciate that Greenwald acknowledges some of these people later in his post. 

The first hollowing out was the fraud of “compassionate conservatism.”  The next was the effective indifference of most of these “movement” people to Mr. Bush’s “big-government conservatism,” which they tolerated or even endorsed (because Medicare Part D uses private companies for providing prescription drugs, which means it can’t be a bad idea!).  They tolerated all of this because of the more abiding sell-out to activist, interventionist foreign policy that became the priority of most “conservative” leaders.  These people cheered every unconstitutional executive usurpation, every trampling of constitutional rights and every abdication of congressional responsibilities, and counted it as villainy if anyone dared suggest that the President had no right to do any of these things.  From early 2002 until the midterms, all things would be endured for the sake of Mr. Bush’s abominable foreign policy, the chief example of which has been the Iraq war.  Even now these supposed leaders of conservatives will go down with Mr. Bush’s War sooner than repudiate that abomination.  Even now the apparatus of mainstream conservatism works to chastise dissenting Republican members of the Senate for daring to question the glorious surge.  The surge’s possible merits and flaws are irrelevant to these people–what matters is, as Greenwald himself has noted before, that Mr. Bush and Gen. Petraeus have said they are for it, so the followers take it as something close to revealed truth that it must be the path to victory.  (After all, when has Mr. Bush ever been for a plan that didn’t work?)  These movement leaders may as well go down with him, since they have no credibility left, except among themselves, and are now receiving the payment of their sale of principle for the brief moment of basking in the reflected glory of power. 

All that being said, Greenwald’s approval of the main thesis of Sullivan’s book is misplaced and I think he is deeply mistaken to take Sullivan’s explanation of the woes of conservatism seriously.  If I have some more time this week before I go to L.A., perhaps I will try to get into how Greenwald has missed the mark on Sullivan’s book.