Last week I read what was in some ways an insightful essay on the need for Republicans to have a more positive agenda. Then I read this:
Particularly among libertarians and some of those conservatives who identify with the Tea Party movement, government overreach has found its mirror image in fierce anti-government fervor… It is justified by an apocalyptic narrative of American life: We are fast approaching a point of no return at which we stand to lose our basic liberties and our national character.
Then I remembered who wrote it.
Former Bush Administration officials Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner spent much of the last decade promoting the idea that the world would end if government didn’t take certain actions. The presidency of their old boss was an alarmist hit parade where if America didn’t go to war with Iraq, enact the Patriot Act, or bailout Wall Street, life as we know it might cease to exist.
Gerson was George W. Bush’s chief speechwriter and senior policy adviser until 2006. Many of us remember the President’s 2003 pitch for war with Iraq:
We are now acting because the risks of inaction would be far greater. In one year, or five years, the power of Iraq to inflict harm on all free nations would be multiplied many times over… We choose to meet that threat now, where it arises, before it can appear suddenly in our skies and cities… a policy of appeasement could bring destruction of a kind never before seen on this earth.
Of course, this fearmongering turned out to be false. No lessons learned, Wehner described the war on terror in the same apocalyptic terms in 2006 when 60 percent of Americans had already soured on the Iraq War:
They want to kill women and children and the elderly and the innocent. They want rivers of blood to flow from American cities and foreign capitals and other nations.
This is a war Islamic fascists started — and it is a war they intend to prosecute to the end…
Wehner would add, “Criticizing the surveillance of terrorists’ calls into and out of America is not a sufficient response. And weakening the Patriot Act is not a sufficient response.”
Not surprisingly, protecting constitutional liberties has not been much of a concern for Gerson in the age of Obama either, and Wehner’s main problem with NSA mass surveillance is that an untrustworthy Obama could ruin it for future Republican presidents. When President Bush bailed out Wall Street and the big banks in 2008 to avoid “another Great Depression” or to “save the free market,” such language was not regarded as over the top but accurate and praiseworthy.
Using hyperbolic language to promote government action is not peculiar to former Bush officials. Washington insiders in both parties do this regularly and on multiple fronts, where refusing to go to war with Syria, keeping the sequester or failing to pass gun control are framed as extreme abdications of governing responsibility.