“If only today’s conservatives were as decent or intellectual or patriotic as those of yesteryear.” The best conservatives are always dead; the worst are always alive and influential. When Buckley and Kristol, not to mention Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan, were alive, they were hated and vilified by the same sorts of people who now claim to miss the old gang. The gold standard of the dead is always a cudgel, used to beat back the living.
President George W. Bush may not be dead yet, but the Daily Beast’s Peter Beinart has apparently decided that Bush Derangement Syndrome is reaching the end of its usefulness, and it’s time to start the rehabilitation process. He observes that Bush was an “odd conservative” in that he “believed that people everywhere were pretty much the same”—unlike, of course, today’s right-wing opponents of the Ground Zero Mosque and illegal immigration:
In the mid-1990s, when Pete Wilson and Pat Buchanan were demonizing Mexican immigrants, Bush insisted that they were just like everyone else. “Family values don’t stop at the Rio Grande River,” he told a reporter. “And see, what I understand is, is that when you’re a man who got kids to feed, and are you making 50 cents and you can look up north and see the chance to make $50 and your kids are hungry, that you are going to come.” […] After September 11, Bush described Muslims in the same universalistic way. A few months after the attacks, he insisted that “Islam is peace,” a view dramatically at odds with the one being propagated by most conservative talking heads.
Lamenting that today’s Republicans no longer speak of illegal immigrants and Muslims in the same touchy-feely tones, Beinart speculates:
The more pessimistic, less universalistic conservatism being born in the post-Bush era probably has something to do with the decline in American self confidence. In the early Bush years, when America’s budget deficit was still small, its military might was largely unchallenged, and the triumph of democracy still seemed like history’s inevitable course, it was easier to be optimistic about the future of Islam. That same ideological and economic confidence also made it easier to believe that the U.S. could assimilate immigrants coming across our southern border. Now conservatives are more aware of America’s limits. And when it comes to Mexicans and Muslims, that includes the limits of American decency, too.