Monday, October 08, 2007


October 8, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist
Same Old Party

There have been a number of articles recently that portray President Bush as someone who strayed from the path of true conservatism. Republicans, these articles say, need to return to their roots.

Well, I don’t know what true conservatism is, but while doing research for my forthcoming book I spent a lot of time studying the history of the American political movement that calls itself conservatism — and Mr. Bush hasn’t strayed from the path at all. On the contrary, he’s the very model of a modern movement conservative.

For example, people claim to be shocked that Mr. Bush cut taxes while waging an expensive war. But Ronald Reagan also cut taxes while embarking on a huge military buildup.

People claim to be shocked by Mr. Bush’s general fiscal irresponsibility. But conservative intellectuals, by their own account, abandoned fiscal responsibility 30 years ago. Here’s how Irving Kristol, then the editor of The Public Interest, explained his embrace of supply-side economics in the 1970s: He had a “rather cavalier attitude toward the budget deficit and other monetary or fiscal problems” because “the task, as I saw it, was to create a new majority, which evidently would mean a conservative majority, which came to mean, in turn, a Republican majority — so political effectiveness was the priority, not the accounting deficiencies of government.”

People claim to be shocked by the way the Bush administration outsourced key government functions to private contractors yet refused to exert effective oversight over these contractors, a process exemplified by the failed reconstruction of Iraq and the Blackwater affair.

But back in 1993, Jonathan Cohn, writing in The American Prospect, explained that “under Reagan and Bush, 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.”

People claim to be shocked by the Bush administration’s general incompetence. But disinterest in good government has long been a principle of modern conservatism. In “The Conscience of a Conservative,” published in 1960, Barry Goldwater wrote that “I have little interest in streamlining government or making it more efficient, for I mean to reduce its size.”

People claim to be shocked that the Bush Justice Department, making a mockery of the Constitution, issued a secret opinion authorizing torture despite instructions by Congress and the courts that the practice should stop. But remember Iran-Contra? The Reagan administration secretly sold weapons to Iran, violating a legal embargo, and used the proceeds to support the Nicaraguan contras, defying an explicit Congressional ban on such support.

Oh, and if you think Iran-Contra was a rogue operation, rather than something done with the full knowledge and approval of people at the top — who were then protected by a careful cover-up, including convenient presidential pardons — I’ve got a letter from Niger you might want to buy.

People claim to be shocked at the Bush administration’s efforts to disenfranchise minority groups, under the pretense of combating voting fraud. But Reagan opposed the Voting Rights Act, and as late as 1980 he described it as “humiliating to the South.”

People claim to be shocked at the Bush administration’s attempts — which, for a time, were all too successful — to intimidate the press. But this administration’s media tactics, and to a large extent the people implementing those tactics, come straight out of the Nixon administration. Dick Cheney wanted to search Seymour Hersh’s apartment, not last week, but in 1975. Roger Ailes, the president of Fox News, was Nixon’s media adviser.

People claim to be shocked at the Bush administration’s attempts to equate dissent with treason. But Goldwater — who, like Reagan, has been reinvented as an icon of conservative purity but was a much less attractive figure in real life — staunchly supported Joseph McCarthy, and was one of only 22 senators who voted against a motion censuring the demagogue.

Above all, people claim to be shocked by the Bush administration’s authoritarianism, its disdain for the rule of law. But a full half-century has passed since The National Review proclaimed that “the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail,” and dismissed as irrelevant objections that might be raised after “consulting a catalogue of the rights of American citizens, born Equal” — presumably a reference to the document known as the Constitution of the United States.

Now, as they survey the wreckage of their cause, conservatives may ask themselves: “Well, how did we get here?” They may tell themselves: “This is not my beautiful Right.” They may ask themselves: “My God, what have we done?”

But their movement is the same as it ever was. And Mr. Bush is movement conservatism’s true, loyal heir.

October 3, 2007
Blackwater’s Rich Contracts

It should come as no surprise that the Bush administration would take any opportunity to reward its political friends with lavish no-bid contracts. Still, there is something particularly unseemly about the munificent payments to Blackwater, the State Department’s principal private security contractor in Iraq.

With many Iraqis still seething after Blackwater guards killed as many as 17 people two weeks ago, it is evident that Blackwater and other security contractors are undermining the military’s efforts to win over Iraqis.

Now an investigation by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has underscored the lavish extent of Blackwater’s payments and its relationship to the Bush administration. The committee, which held hearings on the use of security contractors in Iraq yesterday, should investigate these links further.

Former Bush administration officials are peppered throughout Blackwater’s highest executive positions. Erik Prince, the former Navy Seal who founded the company, was a White House intern under President George H. W. Bush and has been a Republican financier since, with more than $225,000 in political contributions.

Mr. Prince’s sister, Betsy DeVos, is a former chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party and a “pioneer” who raised $100,000 for the Bush-Cheney ticket in 2004. Her husband, the former Amway chief executive Richard DeVos Jr., was the Republican nominee for governor of Michigan in 2006.

Mr. Prince denied yesterday that his connections had anything to do with it, but he certainly has done well under the Bush administration. Federal contracts account for about 90 percent of the revenue of Prince Group holdings, of which Blackwater is a subsidiary. Since 2001, when it made less than $1 million in federal contracts, Blackwater has received more than $1 billion in such contracts — including at least one with the State Department for hundreds of millions of dollars that was awarded without open, competitive bidding.

The Congressional investigation found that Blackwater charges the government $1,222 per day for each private military operative — more than six times the wage of an equivalent soldier. And still it uncovered instances of overcharging. It reported that an audit in 2005 by the State Department’s inspector general found Blackwater was charging separately for “drivers” and “security specialists” who were, in fact, the same people.

The fallout from Blackwater’s heavy-handed tactics is a reminder of the folly of using a private force to perform military missions in a war zone. These jobs need to be brought back into government hands as soon as practicable, and remaining private contractors placed under the jurisdiction of military law.

Henry Waxman, the California Democrat who is chairman of the oversight committee, said yesterday that if private contractors are meant to provide security on the cheap, it’s not working. “It’s costing us more money,” he said, “and I believe it’s costing us problems.” Blackwater’s contracts should spur Congress to further investigate the Bush administration’s practice of using Iraq to slip rich deals to its friends.



Post a Comment

<< Home