Conservatives on Parade


WASHINGTON, D.C.—In a few days, the unhappy news from South Asia will be forgotten as George W. Bush opens the inaugural festivities in what amounts to a Republican silver jubilee here. It’s been 25 years since Ronald Reagan stormed into Washington at the head of the New Right conservative movement, which in succeeding years laid the foundation for Bush Junior’s rule.

Meanwhile the tsunami catastrophe already is being muted by Indonesia’s announcement that its economy won’t be badly affected, and reports that tourists are returning to South Asian beaches. Doctors Without Borders is saying it does not need more money for its tsunami relief efforts—a sign that Americans are not stingy and that we don’t have to give anymore.

Washington is well prepared to meet tens of thousands of well-heeled Red Staters in an atmosphere that resembles a West Point ball. The nation is at war, and it makes for a fine theme. Revelers will be protected by thousands of police officers, undercover and uniformed federal and local cops overseen by the Secret Service. In past years the marching bands and units from the military academies were the highlight of the inaugural procession. This year, the military splendor is to be enhanced by a special ball designated to celebrate America’s fighting men and women.

As for the residents of Washington, the great number of them black or brown and overwhelmingly backers of John Kerry, they will be, as always, supporting actors. The less seen, the better.

The Bush revelers can celebrate not only victory over Kerry but a receptive atmosphere for institutionalizing a deepeningly conservative government.

With William Rehnquist near death, the president can look forward to appointing a new chief justice, with Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia high on conservative lists. And with sure majorities in both houses of Congress, he can move toward filling the key lower federal bench with loyal right-wingers.

Already, plans are moving forward for key conservative legislation:

The demise of Social Security is just over the horizon. Bush wants to cut benefits and open individual accounts to management by Wall Street, whose executives, already ridiculously wealthy, are to become rich in a sense America has never before known.

Getting rid of the income tax, another GOP goal, will take more time. But an aim that conservatives could once only whisper longingly about is now a real prospect.

Breaking up and getting rid of the federal bureaucracy is another important step that’s now within much easier range. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has promised to eliminate thousands of union positions from his department, arguing that such things as janitorial help can be obtained with less expense in the private sector, e.g., hiring piecemeal from the lines of low-wage immigrants forming every morning all over the city.

Bush’s mandate pretty much ensures business as usual for Big Medicine. The most that could happen to that industry is the introduction of a system resembling the existing federal health care program, which offers employees a chance to shop from a wide range of insurance plans. And the president’s consistent attack on malpractice lawsuits might result in a cap on settlements, something the industry would be happy to see.

The opposition Democratic party has been quiet since the election. Obstacles to Bush rule lie not within the U.S. but beyond America’s borders—with the growing presence of China’s booming economy, the gathering force of the European Union, and the seemingly uneasy holders of American debt in Asia and other parts of the world. The U.S. economy makes many nervous—just consider the dollar’s continuing loss against the euro, our rising trade deficits, and the soaring deficits in our federal budget. Economic reality may well be the most powerful player when it comes to curbing the president’s conservative ambitions.