For almost three years, arguably longer, conservative Bush supporters have felt like sufferers of battered wife syndrome. You don’t like endless gushing spending, the kind that assumes a high and unstoppable affluence will always exist, and the tax receipts will always flow in? Too bad! You don’t like expanding governmental authority and power? Too bad. You think the war was wrong or is wrong? Too bad.

But on immigration it has changed from “Too bad” to “You’re bad.” ~Peggy Noonan

I can sympathise with Ms. Noonan’s disillusionment with Mr. Bush.  Of course, to be disillusioned requires that you had illusions and therefore failed to see things as they really were and are.  Impugning the motives of political opponents started at least in 2002.  Those who did not sign on for the full range of warfare state measures, including the abuses and excesses of the PATRIOT Act, were denounced and their patriotism denied.  Imputing villainy to political opponents was a major feature of the 2002 elections.  This was something that the GOP as a whole engaged in quite actively.  It was a Khaki election, and it was a good time to be a Bush cheerleader.  It wasn’t as if Mr. Bush dragged them kicking and screaming down this path.  They didn’t have their party and movement stolen from them–they gave them gleefully as if they were tributes to an overlord. 

In fact, this tendency in casting political disagreement as the result of the moral deficiency of the opponent dates back to the beginning of Mr. Bush’s first presidential campaign when he accused Congress of “balancing the budget on the backs of the poor.”  The tendentiousness, the dishonesty, and the preference for liberal rhetorical tropes (”racist,” “sexist,” “elitist” are some of the favoured terms of abuse hurled by the administration and its lackeys) were all there from the start.  They re-emerged on a regular basis: those who were against democratisation in Iraq were racists who believed Arabs were not fully human, or something of the sort; those against the appallingly bad Harriet Miers nomination were sexist elitist chauvinist pigs, and so on.  In smearing antiwar conservatives, of course, Mr. Bush had, still has, many willing helpers in the movement.  Then there were all those in positions of some influence who saw what was happening, knew it was wrong and said nothing.  The betrayals and compromises of the previous five years were no less horrible, no less significant and no less damaging in their different ways to this country than this amnesty bill, but those things were all bearable so long as they greased the wheels and kept the GOP in power in Congress.  That seems to be the thinking of more than a few pundits who are now outraged at the treatment of Bush’s immigration critics.  Now, having lost Congress, there is a sudden discovery among Republicans that Mr. Bush and his loyalists are dishonest, obnoxious and buffoonish.  It took them long enough to admit this.   

As myriad liberals have been pointing out this week as conservative complaints about the rough treatment Bush and his allies have meted out to opponents of the amnesty bill, there is absolutely nothing  new in the methods that the administration is using.  Mr. Bush has a long record of attacking his enemies by disparaging their patriotism, decency and common sense.  He has learned well from the example of the masters of deceit and chutzpah–Wilson, FDR, Clinton–who were always sure to accuse their political opponents of the very things of which they were far more likely to be guilty.  Opponents of amnesty on the right, who have mostly been more tolerant of Mr. Bush’s other projects (and some of whom have actively joined in with Mr. Bush in his past attacks or have made the attacks on his behalf), have now discovered that vilifying political opponents, denigrating their good faith and intimating that they are possessed of hateful prejudices are undesirable and unacceptable methods of debating policy. 

Again, I sympathise in this case, since I also find the amnesty bill appalling.  A great many conservatives, be they enforcement-first or restrictionist or some mix of the two, are finally in agreement that the administration has gone mad.  Of course, he has been intent on doing this since 2001.  There are no surprises here.  From the day Mr. Bush signed No Child Left Behind, he had declared his hostility to the beliefs and interests of large numbers of people in his coalition.  Everything that followed was merely a continuation of this.  Now Mr. Bush and his allies in the GOP leadership declare their own constituents bigots, and apparently, finally, those constituents have started losing patience with these frauds.  It’s about time.

The battered wife syndrome analogy is only too apt, since one of the symptoms of that syndrome is to exist in a state of denial, constantly blaming oneself and finding excuses and reasons to justify the abuse.  “The President has been under a lot of pressure at work.  We haven’t shown our appreciation for the tax cuts as much as we should have.  Plus, we didn’t laugh at all of his jokes, and we mildly criticised him about McCain-Feingold…We were basically asking for a beating.”  Worse than any excuse-making were the arguments that conservatives had to embrace Mr. Bush’s big-government conservatism as the inevitable future of the movement.  Whether for pragmatic reasons or genuine changes of mind, many Bush supporters went along with this.  Those whom the gods would destroy they first make into presidential loyalists.