Originally written October 26 2005

Leftist Bush-bashing is certainly nothing new, but recently the president has been getting an earful from his right flank as well. For some time now, a lively debate has been raging among conservatives over a variety of Bush administration policies and decisions.

For conservatives, criticism of the Bush administration centers not so much on style than on substance. ?Unlike the left’s scattershot attacks, the president’s appearance, past habits or religious beliefs are unlikely to figure in the equation. Disagreement exists over the war in Iraq, but conservatives are largely united in the belief that the war on terrorism is the preeminent struggle of our lifetime. ?Instead, contentiousness tends to center on domestic and security issues on which the administration seems inconsistent.

Probably the largest of these issues is illegal immigration. It’s difficult to imagine how the Bush administration can hope to pursue “homeland security” without securing the homeland. The border with Mexico is the elephant in the room that renders almost all discussion of true security insincere. This is a concern that crosses party lines, with a majority of Americans supporting tighter restrictions on both illegal and legal immigration.

When Democratic governors Bill Richardson of New Mexico and Janet Napolitano of Arizona declared a state of emergency in August over the skyrocketing costs associated with illegal immigration, it was proof that such issues are not limited to conservatives. Yet both governors continue to support such policies as giving illegal immigrants driver’s licenses and in-state tuition at colleges, somehow not seeing the connection between rewarding illegal immigration and furthering it. Similarly, Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton has been known to talk tough on the subject, but when pressed, she continues to pander to the illegal immigration lobby. Her wildly different approaches to immigration policy depend upon the audience at hand and do little to instill confidence in her convictions.

Unfortunately, the Bush administration isn’t stepping up to the plate, either. Their top priority seems to be maintaining the cheap labor pool that is in fact undermining our economy and society. Meanwhile, Bush’s ongoing quest to institute a temporary worker program (an amnesty by another name) has actually increased the number of illegal immigrants streaming across the border.

Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo has long been an opponent of the president’s temporary worker proposal, and now it seems that other Republican politicians are joining in. According to the North County Times (San Diego County), “Nearly one-third of the 231 Republican members of Congress, including several from North County and Southwest Riverside County and one Democrat have sent a letter to Bush, saying the government needs to enforce current immigration laws before enacting a guest worker program.”

So when the Bush administration suddenly began to show concern over illegal immigration last week, it sounded a lot like damage control. Along with comments made by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao, the president at last addressed the issue of border security. This was after signing a domestic security bill that included additional funding for law enforcement at the border. But it turns out that the administration sees these developments merely as one more component of the temporary worker proposal it insists on pushing. In the end, the test will come not with words but with action.

Slouching Toward Palestine

The Mideast peace process is another sore spot for some Bush supporters. While initially garnering the approval of Jewish Republicans and Christian Zionists over his pro-Israel stance, the Bush administration has since fallen short. Bush appeared to be the most pro-Israel candidate during the 2004 election, but in hindsight, his part in the so-called Roadmap to Peace and particularly the Gaza Disengagement Plan is no different than that played by Democratic presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton before him. It seems that whoever is at the helm, the United States’ policy is to push Israel into further concessions while requiring only lip service from the Palestinians.

Bush’s refusal to deal with the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was exactly what was needed in the situation. But all that changed as soon as the more camera-friendly Mahmoud Abbas came along. Despite all evidence to the contrary, the Palestinian president has been accorded a level of respectability by the Bush administration and the international community that is completely undeserved. The administration has also refrained from questioning Abbas about Hamas’ participation in Palestinian Authority parliamentary elections. As the terrorism and destructive behavior of the Palestinians continue even after the Gaza disengagement, it’s become clearer than ever that nothing’s going to change within the confines of the current Mideast narrative.

Uttering the “I” Word

?Bush did satisfy some of his conservative critics by finally naming the enemy during a recent speech at the National Endowment for Democracy. Instead of the vague “war on terrorism” that he’s employed since Sept. 11, Bush used the “I” word; that is, he made reference to the fact that the United States is at war not just with terrorism but with Islamic terrorism.

However, Bush’s annual (since Sept. 11) Ramadan dinner at the White House a couple of weeks later irritated some of the very same people. Bush took the occasion to formally announce the addition of the very first Koran to the White House library. While Bush continues to maintain that Islam itself is not part of the problem, this conclusion is far from decided among conservatives. The fact that the month of Ramadan has become a focal point of worldwide terrorist activity and incitement doesn’t help. In any case, Bush’s pandering to American Muslim leaders seems a tad excessive.

Big Spending and Supreme Snafu

Turning to domestic policy, it’s no secret that under the Bush administration federal spending has grown exponentially, and conservatives are less than thrilled with the results. While most understand the need to fund the war on terrorism, security and reasonable disaster relief, it doesn’t help that Bush has yet to veto a spending bill. Whether it’s the Medicare entitlement monstrosity or the pork-laden highway bill that just passed, under Bush the size of the government certainly hasn’t shrunk. The politicians on both sides of the aisle who come up with these bills are equally to blame.

As if all this weren’t enough for conservatives, the final insult came with Bush’s nomination of White House counsel Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court. While party loyalists are supporting the decision regardless of its flaws, more independent-minded conservatives are justifiably concerned.

This is one of those issues on which Republican politicians are hugely out of step with their base. ?Republican senators such as Lindsey Graham have accused “pundits” of trying to sabotage Miers because they don’t think she’s conservative enough, but he’s either missing or ignoring the point. It isn’t simply whether Miers is conservative enough, but rather that she doesn’t appear to be qualified to sit on the Supreme Court. While there are any number of brilliant conservative legal minds to choose from, Bush instead picked Miers apparently just because he liked her. Indeed, we’ve all been told repeatedly that Miers is a “nice person,” but when it comes to her constitutional or judicial prowess, conservatives are not supposed to ask questions. ?

Accusations of “sexism” and “elitism” against critics of Miers by various Republicans, including the usually well-liked Laura Bush, are particularly galling. Apparently Bush, in some sort of nod to judicial affirmative action, was set on replacing Sandra Day O’Connor with another woman. But it would seem the ultimate in sexism to choose a nominee simply because she’s a woman—and a “nice” one at that. It’s her qualifications that count for conservatives, not her personality or her gender. Such identity politics are the province of the left, not the right.

Senate Democrats are starting to complain that Miers isn’t forthcoming about her background, while some in the media are accusing the Bush administration of cronyism. I’d have to agree on both counts. The issue of Miers’ worthiness for the Supreme Court shouldn’t simply be a partisan one, because it concerns all Americans. As for cronyism (a habit that also seems to cross party lines), what else explains Bush’s misguided choice? ?

Perhaps Bush thinks that in his second term he can disregard the support of his constituency, but the repercussions for the Republican Party—and the country, for that matter—will linger long after his presidency comes to an end. The administration has grossly underestimated conservatives in thinking that all they want on the Supreme Court is a guaranteed vote. Conservatives want to see a candidate who makes a real contribution to the bench, not just an indentation in the seat.

While Democrats may be applauding discord within the Republican Party, they might want to forgo the celebrations. None of this means that Republicans will turn leftward, but rather that those registering independent or “decline to state” are likely to grow. Either that or some truly conservative Republicans will have to rise to the occasion.

In the meantime, the Bush administration still has several years to redeem itself. And conservatives will be watching. ?