Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Heaven is reserved to the faithful

Bruce Bartlett has been fired from his position as a senior fellow at the conservative think tank, the National Center for Policy Analysis. His sin was writing a forthcoming book, entitled Impostor : How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy.

The title would tell you a bit about what to expect from the book even if you have not been following Bartlett's columns. According to the New York Times, he was fired after the Center's president saw the manuscript.

Needless to say, the Center denies firing him because of the book's point of view. Rather, they were concerned that it offers "an evaluation of the motivations and competencies of politicians rather than an analysis of public policy."

Yeah, right. Next thing you know, Bartlett will be accused of playing "the blame game."

By the way, Bartlett's conservative credentials are pretty strong. He served in the Reagan Administration, promoted supply side thinking, and has been a big consumption tax advocate for many years. He supports Social Security privatization. His basic critique of the current Administration, also a theme of mine although I do not line up on the same side of the ball more than 40 percent of the time, is that they aren't conservatives. This is hard to dispute if you interpret "conservative" in the traditional quasi-libertarian, classical liberal, small-government, free market sense. On the other hand, the Bush Administration clearly is "conservative" if you interpret the term to fit, say, Brezhnev in the 1960s Soviet Union or the Nazis in 1930s Germany.

Think tanks with conscious ideological orientations certainly have the right to drum out people who cease to be consistent with their point of view. Thus, I suppose it stands to reason that Bartlett would have been fired had he, say, decided that "socialism with a human face" was his thing. But it is sad if conservative organizations no longer tolerate what I would say is true conservatism in its best sense. And even if one disagrees with Bartlett from a conservative standpoint in evaluating the Bush Administration, it is disgraceful that dissent within the ranks is evidently not allowed. This is storm trooper conservatism, not the leave-me-alone conservatism that the likes of Grover Norquist pretend to support.

I also note the following sentence from the Times article: "In response to a question about whether the administration had pressed the organization about Mr. Bartlett, [the Center's President] relayed a reply through a spokesman saying he had never had any conversation about Mr. Bartlett with anyone in the White House."

Okay, maybe one shouldn't make anything of this. It was a natural question to ask, and if the answer was no then of course they would say so. [Although is it merely one of those carefully drafted non-denial denials? After all, one needn't personally have a "conversation" with anyone, least of all anyone officially "in the White House," in order to receive and follow White House orders.]

But then again, if the answer was yes they would also say no. So the answer inevitably fails to convey any useful information. Its only significance is its putting them on record so they are liars (hairsplitting aside) if it turns out to be false.

I wish I felt less cynical and skeptical about this point, since I have no actual information suggesting that this was a White House-associated political hit. But does anyone want to bet that it wasn't?

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