A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
Some conservatives want to blame it all on George W. Bush, and they say, no, it's not our fault. He's the one who betrayed the conservative movement. That is just a cop-out, because George Bush could not have done anything that he did without the support of the conservatives who controlled the House and the Senate and the Supreme Court at the time. In fact, he wouldn't even have been President without them. ...
I think they have ruined the economy. They've ruined the country. They've ruined our image around the world. And they've ruined the conservative brand name. I don't think they can or should ever be trusted with power again.
-- Bill Press, Author, Progressive Talk Radio Host, Political Commentator and Former Chair of the California Democratic Party
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He's a progressive talk show host, former chair of the California Democratic Party, political news analyst, reporter, and author. That means he's Bill Press.
Some people fault Bill for not being as emotionally driven as some of the progressive radio hosts (and we listen and like all of them -- except Lionel whose voice is just too annoying). But as we get BuzzFlash ready for the day in the early AM, we have come to really enjoy Bill's nationally syndicated program. Sometimes we even call in just for the heck of it.
Press is straightforward, fair, the reasonable lunch guest who isn't going to get all red in the face and lunge for your throat. He lets callers have their say in response to a question of the day and is respectful, but isn't hesitant at all to weigh in with his own perspective, in a tactful way.
Press has also gotten us to appreciate -- God forbid -- some mainstream journalists, such as CNN's John King. In short, as we get BuzzFlash all set up for the morning alerts and order the headlines, we learn a thing or two from the Bill Press program.
In this interview with Bill we discuss his forthcoming book Train Wreck: The End of the Conservative Revolution (And Not a Moment Too Soon). It will be out in April, and we'll be offering it as a premium in the BuzzFlash Progressive Marketplace.
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BuzzFlash: -- Your new book is Train Wreck: The End of the Conservative Revolution (And Not a Moment Too Soon). To begin, maybe we can clarify some terminology. What's the difference between conservative and, let's say, the Bush-Cheney right wing?
Bill Press: Well, the Bush-Cheney right wing has repudiated everything the conservatives supposedly stand for. So they're not, I don't believe, true conservatives. And they didn't start the end of the conservative movement, but they certainly brought it to a screeching halt. What I try to do in the book is expose the hypocrisy of the conservatives, starting from Newt Gingrich on, who assumed power and then proceeded to screw everything up, and deliver just the opposite of what conservatives preached. If you're talking about limited government, if you're talking about a non-interventionist foreign policy, if you're talking about fiscal responsibility, if you're talking about honesty and integrity in politics, conservatives have brought just the opposite.
BuzzFlash: Well, they call themselves conservatives, but they're really right wing. Your colleague on progressive radio, Stephanie Miller, who is the daughter of Bill Miller, who ran with Barry Goldwater, constantly brings up that Goldwater himself would be horrified at what has happened.
Bill Press: And I make that point in the book -- that Russell Kirk, Robert Taft, Barry Goldwater would all be horrified at where today's right wingers have taken the conservative movement, correctly. By the way, so was Bill Buckley, who, if anybody still represented true conservatism today, it was William F. Buckley, Jr. And he came out over a year ago and denounced the war in Iraq as a failed mission and a very non-conservative foreign intervention.
BuzzFlash: If we look back to before World War II, America didn't enter the war when Britain entered the war. We didn't enter the war until the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.
Bill Press: Right.
BuzzFlash: That's because the conservatives in the country, in the Republican Party in particular, were non-interventionists. They said we shouldn't get involved in Europe again. We had one war -- that was enough. That's their war, and we are not going to intervene abroad. We're concerned about defending America, so we didn't get involved until we were attacked. Now Bush has adopted this nation-building concept, preemptive war, and that we're the international police power. Clearly that's a big difference from the old conservative movement.
Bill Press: Yes. I'll address that directly, but first let me explain that the book makes three points. Number one, the conservatives assumed control of everything -- of the entire government -- the House, the Senate, the White House, and the Supreme Court. They controlled everything. Number two, they screwed everything up. Everything they touched, they trashed. And number three -- and I think maybe the most important point I make in the book -- is that, therefore, they can never be trusted to govern again. They should never be allowed to be in the majority again. Their permanent place, and where they really belong, is in the minority, preventing the majority from going too far.
There's no worse example of their total repudiation of conservative policy than the Bush doctrine, which repudiates everything, I think, that this country stands for, going back to George Washington warning us about not getting involved in foreign entanglements. Certainly our policy always has been that we will do anything to defend this country, but we don't go around the world, to use John Quincy Adams' phrase, seeking monsters to destroy. George Bush's policy is that we'll go anywhere in the world, anytime, to destroy anybody we believe to be a monster, even if they're no threat to the United States.
BuzzFlash: Your book has three parts, and each addresses a conservative principle that the modern right-wing movement has betrayed. Again, I want to emphasize that in the mainstream media, the terms are often intermingled -- that those whom they call conservatives are right wingers.
Bill Press: Right.
BuzzFlash: And many conservatives say, well, I'm really a conservative, I'm not like Bush and Cheney. They've betrayed my beliefs. Still, the press sometimes lumps these groups all together as conservatives. W need to make that distinction. And you point out that there is a conservative movement with some people still in that lineage, but that's not who's controlling the Republican Party now.
Bill Press: Exactly. They're not controlling the Republican Party at all. And there are some people who really have remained true to what I would call pure conservatism. I think Pat Buchanan is one, for example. He and I have talked about this a lot. He agrees that the conservative movement that he was once a part of doesn't exist anymore.
But one word of caution here. Some conservatives want to blame it all on George W. Bush, and they say, no, it's not our fault. He's the one who betrayed the conservative movement. That is just a cop-out, because George Bush could not have done anything that he did without the support of the conservatives who controlled the House and the Senate and the Supreme Court at the time. In fact, he wouldn't even have been President without them. So it wasn't George W. Bush and Dick Cheney alone. It was Bush with the so-called conservative leadership of the House, the Senate, and the Supreme Court.
And here's the problem. When you start out hating government, you can't make government work.
BuzzFlash: If you think government can't work, then your goal is to make government not work. That's the one thing they've succeeded at.
Bill Press: Exactly. They failed at everything they said they were going to do, whether it's trying to limit the size of government, or trying to balance a budget, or trying to run a responsible or a "humble" foreign policy.
BuzzFlash: In Chapter 7 you write about "the party of fiscal responsibility." Historically we associate conservatism with fiscal restraint, and balanced budgets. So what's happened here? When Bush came in, he hardly had any debt. And now it's over $9 trillion.
Bill Press: Right. And 23% of that is owned by foreign governments. The Republican Party is no longer the party of fiscal responsibility. Period, end of story. The only president in modern times to have balanced the budget is Bill Clinton. Ronald Reagan didn't. Bush '41 did not. And Bush '43 -- his legacy as a Republican president will be the biggest federal government ever, the biggest work force ever, the biggest federal budget ever, the biggest federal deficit ever, and the biggest national debt ever.
BuzzFlash: You mentioned ownership of our debt by foreign governments. What are the implications of that?
Bill Press: The implications of so much of our paper being owned by foreign governments is that they're holding us hostage. At any time, they could wreck the U.S. economy. They could lose confidence in the U.S. and decide to cash in their investment, at any time. That puts the United States in a very perilous financial position vis-à-vis foreign governments.
BuzzFlash: In essence, foreign governments can call in their debt at any time, and our economy would collapse.
Bill Press: As others have said, we are borrowing from the Chinese to buy oil from Saudi Arabia. That's the essence of the Bush economy.
BuzzFlash: Your last chapter is titled, "Less Power to Washington." That would be, again, the historically conservative position, not the modern right-wing position.
Bill Press: Right.
BuzzFlash: We know that the symbolic centralization of authority in Washington has become the concept of the unitary authority, or complete Executive Branch control of the three branches of government. The Bush Administration even has attempted to overrule what has been a traditional -- the most traditional -- conservative policy in many ways vis-à-vis government, which is states' rights. We have a White House that believes in supreme Executive Branch federal authority. What happened there?
Bill Press: There are two issues here. First of all, states' rights don't exist anymore. To the extent that they still did recently, they ceased to exist with the Supreme Court's Bush v. Gore decision, where, again, the conservative leadership yanked from the State of Florida the right to hold and conduct its own elections and count its own vote.
I give several other examples where the conservative Supreme Court and the Bush Administration, if they don't agree with a state policy or a state action, then they have demanded that the federal government come in and overrule the state. So they only believe in states' rights when the states are doing what they think the states ought to be doing.
On top of that, the Bush-Cheney Administration came into office with the idea that Nixon gave away too much power, and that the presidency has been weak ever since then. They were determined, and they set out, to restore the power of the executive. The so-called "unitary executive" means that the President has all the power he believes he needs to do anything. That's a very bold kind of goal or statement. But 9/11 gave them the opportunity they were looking for, and they have used 9/11 to assert breathtaking new executive authority across the board. Whether it's wire-tapping without a court order, or whether it's torturing prisoners in violation of international law, they don't believe that they are bound by the law, period.
And this is the final thing. The unitary executive, when the Founding Fathers talked about it, they were debating are we going to have one president, or a little panel of presidents? They said, no, we want one president. We want a unitary president. Bush and Cheney have taken that phrase "unitary" to mean unlimited power. That's not what the Founding Fathers meant.
BuzzFlash: Finally, the title of your book refers to "The End of the Conservative Revolution." Is that because, in essence, the right wing has ruined the conservative brand name?
Bill Press: Yes. That's a good way of putting it. I think they have ruined the economy. They've ruined the country. They've ruined our image around the world. And they've ruined the conservative brand name. I don't think they can or should ever be trusted with power again.
Of course, this is a timely question. With this election, people are going to be saying, it's not conservatives that are at fault. It's just George Bush. So we get him out of there and we put in another conservative, if you can call him that -- John McCain -- and everything's going to be okay. And I strongly disagree with that. The book is a refutation of that point. No matter who the conservative is, they have proven that, given the opportunity, they have a generic deficiency and are incapable of governing.
BuzzFlash: Bill, thank you so much. It's a great book, and everyone should read it.
Bill Press: I'll be reading BuzzFlash, and I hope you'll be listening to my show, too.
BuzzFlash Interview conducted by Mark Karlin.
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Bill Press Bio (at tmsfeatures.com)
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW