Mourning the Decline of American Conservatism

Witnessing the continuing decline of American conservatism, I can’t help but think — what if the Bush-Cheney administration had shown Colin Powell the respect he deserved as Secretary of State in 2001-2004?

Powell could easily have gone on to be the Republican nominee in 2008. Win or lose, he would have represented American conservatives well — and we would be a better country for it.

For a reminder regarding the circumstances of Powell’s resignation, here is a good read: From “The Truth About Colin Powell” — Brookings Institution, 2004:

“On Iraq, Powell made clear … that he had real reservations about the war and that he warned the president and other Cabinet members how costly an intervention in Iraq could be. But once it became clear that Bush was going to act, Powell decided to try to shape the strategy rather than oppose it. As his friend General Anthony Zinni put it, Powell concluded that ‘we’re going down this road and he wants to keep steering the train.’

“The problem, however, is that Powell did not end up steering the train but simply going along for the ride. The administration used Powell’s credibility and public relations skills to help oversell the case for war and to reassure worried allies, while the Pentagon ideologues violated the ‘Powell Doctrine’ by sending too few forces, ignored State Department advice on postwar planning, and mismanaged the occupation.”

Cheney-Rumsfeld’s disregard for Powell’s wisdom began a trend that has led to years of conservative decline. Rather than admitting their own mistakes, conservative leaders and media have consistently opted to cast blame everywhere else, finger-pointing and lashing out at whoever’s available.

Trump is the perfect manifestation of the resulting conservative style — devoid of substance, unwilling to take responsibility for its own mistakes, surviving only by fear and resentment.

If American conservatism has a future, it’s going to need to begin with repentance for past mistakes. (Especially for the years 2003 – 2016.) And it’s going to have to rebuild on the basis of leaders — and arguments — demonstrating seriousness, substance, and character.

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