New York Times columnist Paul Krugman makes the case that George W. Bush is little more than a reiteration of Ronald Reagan. He notes that Reagan could have been like Bush if he'd had the same advantages - control of both houses of Congress, no pesky rival superpower, and an event like 9/11 that traumatized the nation and allowed an enormouse power grab.
I sometimes think that the shroud of nationalistic myth has done more for Reagan than it ever did for George Washington. Americans positively revere Reagan and that takes a willingness to ignore an awful lot of his true record.
For a notional conservative, Reagan transformed the US in just two terms from what had been the world's largest creditor nation into the world's largest debtor nation. He genuinely served the rich and powerful at the direct expense of the middle and lower classes. It was Reagan who drew the line between America's "haves" and "have nots". He violated his nation's laws, trashed its constitution and supported terrorism in Central America, South America and Africa. Reagan's hands were sopping with innocent blood by the time he left office. That this man should be revered rather than despised is quite phenomenal.
The Reagan miracle was that he knew what sold. He made America appear powerful again and, to its people, he restored their self-image as dominant and tough. With that parlour trick, Reagan was able to get a blank cheque for policy.
To draw comparisons, Krugman cites a 1993 article in The American Prospect by Johathan Cohn in which the author, "...described how the Interior Department had been packed with opponents of environmental protection, who 'presided over a massive sell-off of federal lands to industry and developers' that 'deprived the department of several billion dollars in annual revenue.' Oil leases, anyone?
"Meanwhile, privatization had run amok, because 'the ranks of public officials necessary to supervise contractors have been so thinned that the putative gains of contracting out have evaporated. Agencies have been left with the worst of both worlds — demoralized and disorganized public officials and unaccountable private contractors.' Holy Halliburton!
"Not mentioned in Mr. Cohn’s article, but equally reminiscent of current events, was the state of the Justice Department under Ed Meese, a man who gives Alberto Gonzales and John Mitchell serious competition for the title of worst attorney general ever. The politicization of Justice got so bad that in 1988 six senior officials, all Republicans, including the deputy attorney general and the chief of the criminal division, resigned in protest.
"Why is there such a strong family resemblance between the Reagan years and recent events? Mr. Reagan’s administration, like Mr. Bush’s, was run by movement conservatives — people who built their careers by serving the alliance of wealthy individuals, corporate interests and the religious right that took shape in the 1960s and 1970s. And both cronyism and abuse of power are part of the movement conservative package.
"In part this is because people whose ideology says that government is always the problem, never the solution, see no point in governing well. So they use political power to reward their friends, rather than find people who will actually do their jobs.
"If expertise is irrelevant, who gets the jobs? No problem: the interlocking, lavishly financed institutions of movement conservatism, which range from K Street to Fox News, create a vast class of apparatchiks who can be counted on to be 'loyal Bushies.'
"The movement’s apparatchik culture, in turn, explains much of its contempt for the rule of law. Someone who has risen through the ranks of a movement that prizes political loyalty above all isn’t likely to balk at, say, using bogus claims of voter fraud to disenfranchise Democrats, or suppressing potentially damaging investigations of Republicans. As Franklin Foer of The New Republic has pointed out, in College Republican elections, dirty tricks and double crosses are considered acceptable, even praiseworthy."
Krugman shows that modern conservatism is indeed "movement conservatism" a far-right wing ideology stripped of any progressive tendencies. It is a movement that advances by dividing, by exploiting wedge issues. It confounds and deceives the center so that it can serve its real constituents on the far right. It strives not for democracy but for oligarchy.