I was having a conversation with a faculty member of my (former) institution of higher learning, when I recognized a common theme. Knowing that I was a pretty conservative student at a pretty liberal institution, she recalled a story she thought would interest me. She told me that earlier in the semester, a group of conservative students talked to her about how they did not feel welcome. Conservative authors were seldom required reading, the students were always way outnumbered in class, and even the prayers in chapel felt more politically leftist than true to the tradition. A few days later, apparently unrelated, a group of liberal students talked to the same faculty member about how their views were also not welcome. Not enough was being done for GLBTQ students, there wasn’t enough emphasis on “social justice,” and so the complaints went. I suppose I am a bit naïve, but this story left me shaking my head. How could it be that at the same institution, two diametrically opposed ideologies were equally blighted?
This seems to be a pretty accurate metaphor for the rest of America. I keep asking myself how it is we have arrived at what seems to be a strange place in politics: everyone is pretty grumpy these days. Shouldn’t it be that if one side isn’t getting what they want from government (and/or culture), then the other side should be delighted? Yet, no one seems happy these days, and I have to wonder why. Is it because we have more conduits to exchange information, so both “sides” are better informed about their political parties shortcomings? This may explain why Joe Klein’s blog has been raked over the coals by angry leftists lately. Or is it because the absense of universal truth has left the majority of us without a central connector, and the transition has been very hard to make?
As much as anything, there is a fundamental leadership vacuum at most levels in America, which is certainly connected to a general acceptance of relativism. It certainly starts at the top with President Bush. Not only did he begin his presidency as a favorite target of the vitriolic left, he has mysteriously but steadily alienated his own party in proportions hard to imagine. Peggy Noonan said it best here, so I won’t repeat it. Suffice to say, he has shown marginal leadership in only one area, albeit a big one, the War on Terror/Terrorism/Terrorists, or whatever we are calling it these days. And even this successful leadership (over a war that alienated many of the libertarian conservative ranks) has proven to be as stubborn and myopic as aggressive and visionary.
And as a Christian, I am actually starting to question something I never thought I would, which is the detrimental impact Bush’s faith may have had on his presidency. Again, call me naïve, but I once considered Bush’s faith to be an asset to his leadership, but I have come to see it as more of a liability. His faith seems similarly stubborn and myopic, which comes across as more fundamentalist than faithful. And this isn’t to say he should abandon principles, but perhaps humility could have come more into play. I don’t know that he believes a war against Islamic forces is the will of God per se, but his faith has led him to a misguided optimism that Christianity doesn’t necessarily endorse. This is most clearly seen domestically.
His “anything goes” attitude (reflected in his zero-veto policy, and his endorsement of spending, federal education and now amnesty) seem to come from pseudo-optimism about human nature. Yes, Mr. President, human beings are capable of amazing good. And horrendous bad. His job as a conservative leader, which we now know he’s not, was to encourage the good by limiting government, not growing it, and discourage the bad by enforcing laws, not endorsing new ones that encourage illegal behavior, for example. In this regard, he has been a near total failure, and an enormous disappointment.
But all is not lost. If anything, Bush’s shortcomings could help a strong, articulate conservative candidate get into the White House. Mitt Romney or Fred Thompson seem to fit this bill pretty well, though they’re not perfect by any means. And these candidates will need all the help they can get; with 8 years of Bush and a Democrat-controlled Congress, it would be a rare historical event for a Republican to win. Third party, anyone?