What is wrong with Howard Dean? Not much, if you listen to many Republicans and some conservatives. Republicans are salivating over the prospect of a Dean nomination because it seems to be the best way to ensure that President Bush stays where he is. Some conservatives, however, are saying that they may vote for the ex-governor of Vermont simply because they dislike George W. Bush so much and because Mr. Dean seems to be the man most likely to rid the federal government and the world of the present resident of the White House.
Both reactions are understandable but flawed. The first reveals the naked partisanship that now masquerades as “conservatism.” “Please nominate this man,” pleaded the title of a recent article about Mr. Dean by Rich Lowry in National Review, the semi-official journal of the Republican Party and the Bush White House. The second reaction is also flawed, because it narrowly obsesses on a single issue, a bad habit that has plagued the American right for decades.
The single issue in this case is the war with Iraq. President Bush dragged this country into it for no good reason. The reasons he and his administration offered for the war have turned out to be without foundation and may well have been outright lies. Several in the Bush foreign-policy team may be reasonably suspected of manipulating U.S. policy on behalf of a foreign power whose interests are not those of this nation. Several others in the administration may be reasonably suspected of conflicts of personal financial interests in the foreign and military policies they have pushed. The President himself may be reasonably suspected of being incompetent.
All those are good reasons for wishing the current administration to be out of office, but none of them should lead any serious conservative or any other sensible and patriotic American to support Mr. Dean. It is true, as he and his campaign love to repeat incessantly, that, of all the Democratic contenders, he has been the most consistent, opposing the disastrous Iraq intervention from the first. The larger and more important truth, however, is that Mr. Dean does not support a foreign policy grounded in the just interests of the United States. He supported both the first Gulf War in 1991 and the U.S. intervention in the Balkans, a crusade no more necessary to our interests and no less disastrous to the people and region it ostensibly sought to help than what we have done and are doing in Iraq.
Moreover, while Mr. Dean’s views on the current war are (sort of) the same as those of most anti-interventionist conservatives, his views on virtually everything else are those of the left-liberalism from which he emerges. His tax plan proposes exorbitant and ruinous levels of taxation and spending that merely enhance the powers of the federal leviathan to Himalayan heights. His support for homosexual marriage and his record in supporting “gay civil unions” in Vermont when governor are morally and constitutionally repellent. His position on mass immigration—like every other Democratic candidate, he supports total amnesty for all illegal aliens and offers no change of any kind on immigration law and policy—is suicidal.
Mr. Dean’s recent remarks about the need for the Democrats to gain the support of “guys with Confederate flags in their pick-up trucks” should not be interpreted by real conservatives as betraying any genuine sympathy for such strata of American society. Mr. Dean, being the clever politician he is, merely understands the need for the Democrats to regain the votes of white middle- and working-class voters that they have lost through 40 years or more of support for cultural revolution. To this end, he has recently been banging the religious drums in preparation for his campaign in the South, in the belief that white Southerners are dumb enough to give their votes to a man who has steadily shunned any public discussion of religion throughout his career.
But his main stratagem for winning what neoconservative Charles Krautham-mer calls the “white trash vote” (i.e., the middle-class and working-class whites whom people such as Krautham-mer hate) is to play to such voters’ greed and to nurture among them the delusion that the federal government should give them something for nothing. Indeed, that tactic used to work well for the Democrats among just such voters, but it may have exhausted its possibilities and, in any case, is now regularly exploited by the Republicans just as shamelessly.
What the Democrats need to do is abandon the cultural warfare and revolution they have practiced for decades, dump their allies in the Dominant Culture of Hollywood and Manhattan, and seriously align themselves with the real cultural mainstream of the country. Whenever Democratic candidates have effectively pretended to do that—Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton—they have done well and are able to compete with Republican candidates who make the same pretense—Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush. It’s just that, in this respect, the Republicans have for once pretended more persuasively than their rivals.
It seems unlikely that either party this year will nominate any candidate for whom authentic conservatives can vote enthusiastically, and there is no reason that this should be surprising. Real conservatives—those who defend the real traditions and identity of their nation’s people and civilization and their real interests abroad—can debate among themselves which alternative candidates and parties, if any, they should support, but they need to avoid being deluded by such fake conservatives on the “right” as George W. Bush and by their no-less-fraudulent rivals on the “left” who make appealing noises about one or two issues. A real and serious conservatism can advance only if those who espouse it articulate a complete vision of what their country and civilization have been and should be. There’s no evidence that either Howard Dean or any other major figure in today’s political theater does so or is capable of doing so.