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'How the Right Went Wrong'

James writes:

The following is a feature I wrote for the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine on my mentor, professor Jeffrey Hart. The article appears in the magazine's latest edition (January-February 2007). Following the article, I attach a letter from Hart in response.

UPDATE 12/22: National Review's Ramesh Ponnunu has also written a response, which I have posted here.

'How The Right Went Wrong"

Professor Emeritus Jeffrey Hart '51 doesn't lack for conservative credentials. But he's never been on board with the Bush administration.

by James Panero '98

Jeffrey Hart ’51 has the personality of a sportsman. A retired professor of English, now in his late-70s, Hart still attends every Dartmouth football game, he says, “until it gets freezing.”

Nearly 60 years ago, when he first arrived at Dartmouth as an undergraduate, Hart set out from his room in Topliff (“a god awful dormitory,” he says, “it’s like a prison”) for a round of tennis across the street.

“I saw a student waiting there. Nobody around. So we played a set. Not a real competitive set. I beat the guy. Turns out he was number one on the varsity. The coach showed up while we were playing. He said ‘You ask me before you go on the courts.’ I said, ‘You weren’t here.’ He said, ‘You wait until I'm here.’ Our relationship went downhill from there.”

This episode turned out to be a problem for the coach, who “played tennis in his old army trousers and black socks,” according to Hart, then ranked on his Junior Davis Cup squad but not yet a member of the Dartmouth team. “To be fair, I was not lacking in self confidence.”

After two years at Dartmouth, Hart transferred to Columbia, where he became one of Lionel Trilling’s best students. Diana Trilling, the wife of the literary and social critic, calls Hart one of the “Who’s Who of the gifted undergraduates of the thirties, forties, and early fifties.”

Hart also joined the tennis team at Columbia. “Playing number one at Columbia, I won my match at Dartmouth during Green Key Weekend, and was pleased to be congratulated by the Dartmouth coach,” he says. “I was polite when the coach congratulated me. I felt like saying a few other things.”

Hart retired in 1993 as one of Dartmouth’s most admired professors of English—and one of its fiercest. In that year he taught his final course, on Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and T.S. Eliot, to a roomful of 600 students. “It was given in Spaulding Auditorium,” he complains. “I had to use a microphone. I felt like Fidel Castro addressing a mob.”

Today Hart lives with his wife, Nancy, in a former schoolhouse in Lyme, New Hampshire, that was once owned by his father, Clifford (class of 1921). Nancy uses a corner of the house, by the stove, to keep the antique embroidery and quilts she sells at a stand in Quechee, Vermont. The other corners are filled with old paintings, mainly of ships. “Franklin Roosevelt’s personal sailboat is up there,” notes Hart, motioning toward the paintings.

Also visible are some less expected items—a manuscript called “Our Era Defined: Contempt for Fact,” and a dossier on “WMD Claims.” Hart’s dining room table displays an official-looking document called “The Constitution in Crisis: The Downing Street Minutes and Deception, Manipulation, Torture, Retribution, and Coverups in the Iraq War,” produced by the “Investigative Status Report of the House Judiciary Committee Democratic Staff.”

“I do my homework,” Hart mutters.

Typing away at his computer, Hart is now engaged in the game of his life, and his opponent is an unexpected one: George W. Bush.

A former speechwriter for Nixon and Reagan, Hart does not lack for conservative credentials. He has advised National Review longer than anyone except its founder, William F. Buckley, Jr. During his teaching days he flew to New York City every two weeks to attend editorial meetings as the magazine’s senior editor. He still holds the title but the frequent trips have ended. A mentor to generations of Dartmouth students, Hart has also seen a small army of them graduate and settle into the conservative circles of Washington and New York. They have landed jobs at National Review, The Wall Street Journal and in Republican administrations, including the George W. Bush White House.

The conservative Dartmouth Review—“Dartmouth’s school of journalism,” as Hart calls it—was founded upon Hart’s suggestion in his own living room in 1980. Hart continues to serve as the newspaper's advisor, lunching regularly with student editors at his new favorite restaurant, The Canoe Club on Main Street.

Yet in 2005, not long after Bush’s reelection, Hart fired his first volley against the administration. In the galley copies of “The Making of the American Conservative Mind: National Review and Its Times,” his history of the magazine, Hart included the following statement in his final chapter: “Bush will be judged the worst President in American history, from both a conservative and a liberal point of view, finding a consensus on the bottom, at last, and so achieving a landslide victory that evaded him in 2004.”
Hart’s strong words put him at odds with the editorial line of the magazine he was writing about and representing. His statements complicated plans to tie the book into the magazine’s 50th anniversary celebrations, part of which Bush was scheduled to take part in that fall—not as the “bottom among American Presidents,” but as the magazine’s honored guest.

Hart has always held certain views outside of the conservative mainstream. An advocate for stem-cell research, Hart debated another National Review editor on the subject in 2004. Early in 2005, Hart wrote a long editorial for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette called “The Evangelical Effect.” Finding fault in Bush’s evangelicalism—in 2000, Bush declared that Jesus Christ was his most influential political philosopher—Hart wrote: “The Bush Presidency often is called conservative. This is a mistake. It is populist and radical, and its principal energies have roots in American history, and these roots are not conservative.”
When his book finally appeared in hardcover at the end of 2005, after a rewrite, the Bush attacks were expunged, but a number of other position statements—on abortion, stem-cell research, and Iraq—still contradicted National Review’s editorial line and the line of the Republican Party. It was of little surprise that Hart’s book remained absent from his magazine's anniversary celebration. But Hart was only emboldened by the experience. By the end of 2005, he was engaged in the most controversial political match of his career.

After the episode over his book, Hart wrote an editorial on the conservative movement for The Wall Street Journal. Called “The Burke Habit,” it traced a line of conservative thought from Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) to Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind (1953).
Drawing on Pascal’s statement that “man is neither angel nor brute, and the misfortune is that he who would act the angel acts the brute,” Hart wrote: “The Conservative Mind, most of the time, has shown a healthy resistance to utopianism and its various informed ideologies. Ideology is always wrong because it edits reality and paralyzes thought.”

Point by point, Hart used this definition of conservatism to attack Bush and the Republican party platform for not being conservative enough, on the grounds of their “ideology.” He knocked the Republican record on the environment, suggested that a ban on abortion would never succeed, and lamented Bush’s neoconservative approach to Iraq. “Conservatives assume that the Republican Party is by and large conservative,” he concluded. “But the party has stood for many and various things in its history. The most recent change occurred in 1964, when its center of gravity shifted to the South and the Sunbelt….The consequences of that profound shift are evident.”

Reaction to the editorial was swift. In a little more than a week, Peter Wehner, director of the White House’s Office of Strategic Initiatives, a special staff unit that reports to Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, e-mailed to journalists a five-page rebuttal titled “Responding to Professor Jeffrey Hart.”
Hart called Wehner's response "a worthless regurgitation of 'democracy is breaking out all over the world.' Abstractions, abstractions."

Hart had more to say in a letter to Michael Ellis '06, a former editor of The Dartmouth Review who now works with Wehner in the White House: "First of all, everything Reagan attempted succeeded. Everything Bush has attempted has failed. Social Security, prescription drugs, budget, Iraq, Katrina. More 'ownership society' bunk is coming up in 'medical accounts.' On the policy of preemptive war in Iraq: "In contrast to Bush, Reagan was very cautious in his use of force... As Margaret Thatcher said, he destroyed the Soviet Union 'without firing a shot.' That was a major achievement. Iraq is a disaster."
Even while falling out with his party, Hart relishes the sport of his latest engagement, as expressed in a more recent series of editorials, including one for the left-wing Washington Monthly that ran in October. He also appeared on National Public Radio denouncing Bush on stem-cell research, and he used a book-signing at the Dartmouth Bookstore, which aired on C-SPAN, to attack Bush on national TV.

“Like the Whig gentry who were the Founders, I loathe populism,” Hart explains. “Most especially in the form of populist religion, i.e., the current pestiferous bible-banging evangelicals, whom I regard as organized ignorance, a menace to public health, to science, to medicine, to serious Western religion, to intellect and indeed to sanity. Evangelicalism, driven by emotion, and not creedal, is thoroughly erratic and by its nature cannot be conservative. My conservatism is aristocratic in spirit, anti-populist and rooted in the Northeast. It is Burke brought up to date. A ‘social conservative’ in my view is not a moral authoritarian Evangelical who wants to push people around, but an American gentleman, conservative in a social sense. He has gone to a good school, maybe shops at J. Press, maybe plays tennis or golf, and drinks either Bombay or Beefeater martinis, or maybe Dewar's on the rocks, or both."

While Hart has won some supporters on the right, conservatives such as George Will, Francis Fukuyama, and Buckley have questioned the prosecution of the Iraq war but have largely restrained from commenting on Hart’s broader claims of Bush’s evangelical ideology.

Hart’s former students have different perspectives on their teacher’s latest game.

“Bush has been fortunate in his enemies,” notes Joe Rago ’05, a former editor of The Dartmouth Review and now a member of the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal. “That’s not the case with Jeff Hart. His critique of the Bush administration, whether one agrees with it or not, is probably the most rigorous, utterly principled, and intellectually stimulating ever set down.”

Alston Ramsay ’04, a former editor of both The Dartmouth Review and National Review who now works for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, disagrees: “There is no doubt that Hart's encyclopedic knowledge of literature could make even the lousiest argument take on the sheen of verisimilitude. But in his recent writings the willingness to ignore contradictory evidence, the monopolistic way he defines his terms, the baffling dislike of Evangelicals—it all adds up, and even his legitimate points become hard to discern through the haze of his own internal contradictions. About the only thing Jeff Hart has convinced me of recently is that ‘conservatism’ is what Jeff Hart says it is. No more, no less.”

Hart’s young colleagues at National Review have been equally unsympathetic: “In every generation,” wrote Jonah Goldberg and Ramesh Ponnuru in the magazine, “some conservatives will lose the intramural debates, and it will be only natural for them to feel that they have lost them unfairly. They will maintain that they alone have stayed true to the faith. Liberals will, in turn, be delighted to tout these scolds as exemplars of a good conservatism.”

The amusing affectations of Hart’s teaching days—the meerschaum pipes, the “TR for President” buttons—are now notably absent, replaced by the resolve of a sportsman intent on a win. He has sworn off alcohol. His daily schedule takes him from writing editorials in the morning to Baker Library, where he conducts his research, to answering letters and sending e-mail in the afternoon.

Hart has just completed a manuscript of essays called “The Living Moment: How Literature Matters.” During the fall term, he audited Robert Hollander’s class on Dante. “He’s a major scholar in Dante, probably the best in the English speaking world,” Hart says of Hollander. “Very demanding.”

And Hart’s next project?

He’s considering a memoir, among other things. “I don’t know whether to do that next or whether to write a book called ‘How the Conservatives Committed Suicide by Forgetting Burke and Backing Bush.’ I'm going to see if I can get an advance from an agent on that,” he says. “I’ve got to do that quickly before it’s banal.”

It may not be match point, but Hart is clearly content to run the President, and the conservative movement, all over the court.
James Panero ’98 is managing editor of The New Criterion and co-editor of The Dartmouth Review Pleads Innocent (ISI), an anthology of the conservative student newspaper.


Jeffrey Hart responds:
December 17, 2006

Dear James,

I think your article in the Alumni Magazine is very good, and it’s fun to have it there. It does make me more colorful than I feel, so maybe I’ll have to ramp up my act a bit to live up to it. Though, in a recent Blog Andrew Sullivan did refer to me as a “legend at Dartmouth,” before approving of something I’d published.

In your article you use the tennis analogy very nicely, making it into a larger metaphor, and the whole piece works together like an especially skillful New Yorker Profile.

I may take out a “New York Contract” on the life of the illustrator who did that cartoon. There go my chances of displacing Brad Pitt.

I think your article will be very good for The Dartmouth Review, among alumni especially, since as you say I have been associated with it from the beginning, and my conservatism is of the common sense kind, or, as Jim Burnham used to say, a conservatism that depends upon “fact and analysis.”
“Fact and analysis” are not the strong suits of “conservatives” who back Bush.

The work you put into the article made it good, and also calls for some comments and information from my direction.

One word I’d have changed in your article is “expunged.” My first-draft analysis of Bush II contained criticisms that were not “expunged” during the editorial process but rather “softened” by being changed into questions rather than conclusive statements. This change might well have made the book more hospitable to many readers.

Buckley did object to my conclusion that Bush had been the worst American president in that earlier draft. He thought it too categorical, and, at the time I was writing, he was right. That was soon after the 2004 election. But much of the evidence now is in. And I’m sure that somewhere James Buchanan is throwing a champagne party. He’s no longer the worst.

One paragraph, however, did disappear altogether from my text; and I did not notice this until I looked at the printed copy. I had been commenting on the approval by California voters of $4 billion for stem cell research, and on the laboratories that were proceeding without federal funds, I said that the argument about stem cell research is over “for all practical purposes.” I meant “political” purposes, a large majority in Congress reflecting a large majority of Americans favoring the research and federal support. That paragraph disappeared. About the stem cell issue, more in a moment.

However, though softened, as I say, my analytical criticisms of Bush were clear enough for many reviewers, including George Will, who noticed them in his New York Times review.

I was amused by the statement you quote from Jonah Goldberg and Ramesh Ponnuru that I’m among the conservatives who have lost the “intramural” argument about what conservatism in fact is.

What they are maintaining is that Bush now defines conservatism, and that to deny this is to lose the “intramural” argument.

To be sure, Bush claims to be a conservative, and the media generally take him at his word. But the media are what Marshall McLuhan called “low differentiation” in terms of communication.

Bush is not a liberal, and he is not a conservative. He is a right-wing ideologue whose abstract imperatives across the board are characteristically disconnected from actuality. That is precisely the reason why he is a failed president.

Moreover, I would insist that the definition of “conservative” has been clear since Burke evolved it (if I’m still permitted to use that verb) in his Reflections (1790) and his Thoughts on French Affairs (1791). In the first, Burke was struggling against “ideology,” as we would say, or as he called it “metaphysical politics” or “abstract dogma.” That is, thought disconnected from actuality, and destructive of social institutions, which he saw as the habits of society. In the second appraisal (1791), Burke recognized that, quite apart from the philosophes’ abstract ideas, the Revolution had been inevitable. Too many intractable problems had accumulated. In 1790, Burke was centrally concerned with social structure, in the latter with social process. ( Russell Kirk grasps none of that.)

I would call Burke an analytical realist, despite a few operatic passages such as the one on Marie Antoinette (his friend Philip Francis warned him against those.)

Getting back to Goldberg and Ponnuru, and the “intramural debate” I’m supposed to have lost.

Reagan economic advisor Bruce Bartlett called his book on Bush economic policy Imposter. And rightly so. But “imposter” also describes Bush comprehensively insofar as he claims to be a conservative.

Goldberg and Punnuru are certainly correct in saying that I have lost the “intramural debate” among the ignorami who agree that Bush is conservative.

I certainly was not aboard that Ship of Fools, so-called “conservatives” as well as “neo-conservatives” – more correctly neo-trotskyites – who sailed with Bush right over Niagra Falls and smashed to pieces on the rocks of reality below.

Of course, Iraq has been the centerpiece of Bushism, but it’s not the only disaster.

Iraq was Wilsonian democratizing ideology plus Rumsfeld Blitzgrieg. There were no WMD, the claims were dishonest, and the war has been the greatest strategic blunder in American history. The Middle East is and has long been more important to American interests than Indochina could possibly be.

The “conservatives” and neo-trotskyites made no analysis of Iraqi history, failed to examine the fractured religious culture of Iraq, or its resistant culture generally – paid no attention to all of those Burkean considerations of social structure. And failing to do so they have been the architects of disaster. Abstractionists, “democratizers” in the teeth of history and fact, they have resembled, mutadis mutandis, Burke’s enemies the philosphes.

Far from being a democracy, Iraq is now in a Hobbesian state of nature. The only regime Bush changed was his own, in the 2006 election. He did not effect “regime change” in Iraq, because there’s no regime there at all now. Bush broke it, and he can’t fix it. And he may have destabilized the entire Middle East, as Iran backs the Shiites and the Saudis the Sunnis.

The real-world result of Bushism, what Goldberg and Ponnuru call conservative, is that Bush’s overall approval rating is 31% while Cheney’s approval rating is lost in the carpet. And 27% actually approve the war. Who the hell are they?

If Goldberg-Ponnuru have won the “intramural argument” among the ignorami, their boy Bush has lost the argument with actuality.

I wasn’t the only one who got off that Ship of Fools. So did Colin Powell, but only after he had been suckered into using bogus intelligence to sell the war to Congress and the American people.

Iraq has not been the only problem with Bushism. On signature issues:

1. According to a CNN/USA Today Poll, 65% of the American people oppose the repeal of Roe vs. Wade, less than half, 29% favoring its overthrow.

2. 82% of the American people were opposed to the intervention of the Republican Congress and Bush in the Terri Schiavo case. When there was a spike in the demand for “living wills” because of the intervention, Ponnuru in NR declared such will should be invalid as tantamount to suicide. Somehow even the Tom Delay Congress never took up that idea.

3. Embyonic stem cell research is supported in the nation by almost 2-1, 58% -- 31%. This year, before the November electoral blowout the Senate voted 63-37 for federal funding. Bush was there with his veto. The socially conservative state of Missouri approved Proposition 2, pro-stem
research. How the new Congress will vote remains to be seen.

While the $4 billion voted in California has been tied up in the courts. Governor Schwartzenegger, confident of legal success, has loaned laboratories $150 million to proceed.

South Korea, Japan and Singapore push ahead, while China is cooperating with the EU on stem cell research.

I would say that on this issue my assertion that “for all practical purposes the argument is over was completely correct, indeed self-evident.

What is not self-evident is why NR continues to beat a tin drum on this issue.

Never to be out-extremed, Ponnuru declared editorially in NR that a single embryo (e.g., fertilized egg) “must not be destroyed no matter how noble the cause.” No matter how noble the cause. In other words, the single cell is to be absolutized over every other consideration. WHHHHeeeeeeee! Even curing bubonic plague. Even end of the world!

It is a very peculiar kind of conservatism that values life only in utero.

In her article on stem cells in The Dartmouth Review, Emily Ghods-Esfahani quoted Professor Lee Witters (Biology, Medicine) to this effect:

“If you had a child with Diabetes Type 1 (debilitating, life-altering) and I told you I had a few cells that could cure her, would you turn this down?”

In the world of common sense there is only one answer to that question: “of course not.”

4. On the Evangelicals, I have cited numerous examples of where evangelical influence has been ideological and destructive, on bogus teachings of all sorts by “faith-based” groups on condoms, the notion that AIDS is transmitted by sweat, on and on; and we could add the corruption of the FDA on “Plan B” or the “morning after pill,” delaying and delaying until the Senate threatened to block a new director.

One of my favorites is the book on sale in federally-owned bookstores at the Grand canyon, telling tourists that the Canyon was caused by Noah’s Flood.

For the whole Evangelical influence I will use a synecdoche: Bush has said that “Intelligent Design should be taught along with Evolution.” “Along with” I suppose means in Biology Class.

Wow. I guess I really have lost the “intramural debate,” if Bushism is what “conservative” means.

We will have to look for another word to designate the reality-based view of the world heretofore called conservative.

Thanks again for the very fine article. It brought forward a great deal that deserves to be more generally realized.





I met Jeffrey Hart when he was still a professor and I have to say that he was a really good professor and I learned a lot from him, nice post to honor this wonderful person!


As a conservative since 1978, I, of course, appreciate Jeffrey Hart. And, in following the example of the Dartmouth Review (1980) myself and two others began the South Florida Review in 1983 at USF in Tampa, FL.

And, I thoroughly concur with Hart that George W. Bush has never been a conservative. A "right wing idealogue" is close. He's just a mish mash of ideas.

However, Hart's problems with Bush, beyond the war, are so narrow and convoluted as to how they relate to conservatism, they impair his criticism of Bush. How Hart ignored the fundamental problems with Bush from a conservative perspective makes one wonder about any unity in the conservative movement. Further, Hart's definition of conservatism - through Burke - is esoteric at best.

The fundamental flaws with Bush, and with the conservative movement, relate to two particular areas: Liberty and Economics. The co-oping of the conservative movement by Evangelicals has created a paucity of sound thinking within the movement, unfortunately (I say this as I would be categorized as an Evangelical, but not a typical political one). Evangelicals have no understanding of liberty and small government. They are happy to restrict the rights of others and increase the size of government when it comes to their causes (e.g., sexual mores, war efforts; etc.).

The essence of conservatism - or as WFB once put it, "Classical Liberalism," rest in three areas:

1) Fundamental rights to life, liberty and property to each individual. Government's purpose is to simply defend & support these rights within the nation. To grow government for reasons beyond these categories becomes liberalism for the most part.

2) Limited Government. Government has a purpose but it should be far more limited. The larger the government becomes, the more powerful it becomes and the more likely it is to abuse the fundamental rights above - such has been the case for decades and Bush only contributed to this.

3) Free Market Economic principles. George Bush has no clue about this. His expansion of government, and government intrusion (I do not include in this enforcement of law) is THE fundamental problem with Bush - along with the Iraq war. Bush's lower taxes were a positive but his failure to intellectually back and push through a capital gains tax reduction (which demonstrated his misunderstanding of conservatism and free market economics) as well as his increased spending in all areas - creating a larger government and increased debt throughout his presidency - was tragic from a conservative perspective. By calling himself a conservative yet acting in such a way as to undermine a real free market system - has been self-destructive to the conservative movement.

It is in these areas that real conservatism is defined and that George Bush failed. Why Hart went to such narrow topics relative to these broad fundamental issues is a puzzle. Nevertheless, he is to be respected for his work in the conservative movement.

supra tk society

Describing the liberation of Iraq as Trotskyite seems a silly reference to Christopher Hitchens.


I had the pleasure and honor of meeting Jeffrey Hart when he was still a professor and I have to say that he was a really good professor and I learned a lot from him, nice post to honor this wonderful person!


It is amazing how Hart's views on Roe v. Wade, Shiavo (who?), Iraq and stem cells already seem so dated by the beginning of 2008. What kind of conservative exhibits such range of the moment opinions? "Old age should burn and rave at close of day" but shed light in doing so.

Robert Schwartz

I am sure Prof. Hart was a wonderful inspiration to his students, but after reading and thinking about the above, I find him less than appealing. I append my reactions below:

"'Like the Whig gentry who were the Founders, I loathe populism,' Hart explains."

He then goes on to catalog Bush's failures by citing poling data. I sense an internal inconsistency.

"A ‘social conservative’ in my view is not a moral authoritarian Evangelical who wants to push people around"

Tough call on that one. Is conservatism laissez faire on moral issues? I kind of doubt it. I won't be dogmatic about it, but just as I am opposed to the "War on Drugs", I still don't think there is a constitutional right to marry the critter of your affectional preferences.

"an American gentleman, conservative in a social sense. He has gone to a good school, maybe shops at J. Press, maybe plays tennis or golf, and drinks either Bombay or Beefeater martinis, or maybe Dewar's on the rocks, or both."

I guess I cannot be a conservative as I never shop at J. Press, don't play golf or tennis, and drink Johnny Walker. This is seriously off-putting and really cannot be taken seriously. I hope Hart was joking, but I fear that he was not.

"Buckley did object to my conclusion that Bush had been the worst American president in that earlier draft. He thought it too categorical, and, at the time I was writing, he was right. That was soon after the 2004 election."

The conservative attitude towards historical judgment was best expressed by an old revolutionary, Zhou Enlai, Mao Tse Tung's long time right hand man. Henry Kissinger meet with Zhou in 1972 in preparation for Nixon’s trip to China. During a social moment in their schedule, Kissinger asked Zhou if he thought the French Revolution was a success.

"It is too soon to tell," replied Zhou.

"Moreover, I would insist that the definition of 'conservative' has been clear since Burke evolved it ..."

Needless to say Burke was a wonderful writer and a sharp thinker. But he was writing as a critic not as a philosopher. The application of his ideas to the American context, a nation "founded on a proposition" can neither be simple nor easy. I highly recommend "Is Conservatism Finished?" by Wilfred M. McClay in Commentary Magazine for January 2007.


Shops at J Press, drinks Dewar's. This means you can't be a coservative if KMart is your haberdasher or Miller Lite your drink. Loathesome? No, stupid.


Professor Hart is very near the mark in his assessment of GW Bush as the worst president in US history, and it misses the point to quibble with Hart's ideal conservative as an educated man who drinks martinis, or to make ad hominem assertions about his character on the tennis court at age 19.

The more important facts are right in front of us: Bush, in slapdash fashion, led the nation into nothing less than a war of choice; refused to take the strategic steps necessary to make it work (more troops, plans for the occupation, strict adherence to traditional moral/American policies vis-a-vis torture and detention, and a serious drive to decrease US dependence on oil); and has squandered his office divisively with grandstanding against the demonstrable facts of the world and the beliefs of an overwhelming majority of Americans on concerns like Terry Schiavo, stem-cell research, climate change, and evolution (a US president effectively against science and education -- astounding). Katrina exposed our preparedness for terrorist attack as frighteningly laughable; the economy is in debatable condition, certainly less well balanced than it was 10 years ago; and it has even become cloudy, as it never was under Reagan or even under Carter, just what America stands for in the world.

We need only take the results of Bush's blitz into Iraq, and compare them to Reagan and GHW Bush's truly conservative management of the collapse of the USSR and Gulf War I; those were magnificent pieces of conservatism in action, showing forethought, restraint, and careful adherence to the limits of national interest and power.

Personally I might call Bush only the 3rd worst president, but ask me again in 2015. For now it is clear that Buchanan and Bush share a ruinous trait: clinging to a "principle" long after its utility has plainly expired. In Buchanan's case, this led to the breakup of the Union over disputes in which he felt he had no place to intervene; in our time, Bush's "principles" have led to many things, of which "plus up" (aka more of the same) is only the latest of 1000 examples; the fallout from Bush's "principles" will be tumbling down upon us for another decade at least. Whereas Bush's other rival for worst, President Pierce, in some ways the opposite of Buchanan, nevertheless also shares traits with Bush, as Pierce exhibited a combination of cynicism and incompetence in his national misadventures that, as they failed spectacularly, paved the road for those catastrophes that so boggled Buchanan.

So, yes: Bush like Pierce teed up the problems, and then Bush like Buchanan let them all go to hell. Whatever Bush is, he's no conservative, and he's no success story. And the problem is, it's a problem for all of us.


Not sure which is worse- the arrogance of Big Government Bush Conservatism, or the arrogance of Hart's description of the "acceptable" social conservative: "He has gone to a good school, maybe shops at J. Press, maybe plays tennis or golf, and drinks either Bombay or Beefeater martinis, or maybe Dewar's on the rocks, or both."

Both are loathsome.

Mark Williams

Professor Hart hasn't made any assertions that conflict with conservative ideology. I hope that he and men like him are able to defend conservatism from further denigration in the minds of the electorate. The conservative foundation for his views is undeniable; while the Republican response is woefully predictable.

The party reacts to plain spoken truth as though it was something offensive. Denying and lying is caving in on the perpetrators, as it is prone to do. More of the same just makes things worse.

Conservatism has been so badly corrupted that conservatives themselves see it as being foul. For the first time in 42 years I voted for a Democratic the last election. Voters give this adminstration a 30% approval rating which is suppose to be the hard core Republican baseline.

Right now "conservatives" are jumping up and down on thin ice. Arrogance and childish rants don't win elections. Effective policies and honest accounting do. If conservative cannot regain control of the Republican Party soon, it's going to get mighty cold.


I must say I don't understand Hart's turnaround on abortion. He used to be on the editorial board of Human Events, probably the most pro-life publication in the United States, and throughout all his years with National Review, I never remember him dissenting from the magazine's editorial position on abortion. His comments on evangelicals also seem very like snobbery, unusual for such a normally genial man. Hart is not just dissenting with regard to Bush - he's also broken with much of what Goldwater and Reagan believed in. Very strange...


There are no Yankee conservatives. They may seek to "conserve" various artefacts of their ancestors' creeds, but those creeds, more or less, are statist, interventionist, and Puritan. Hart may not like evangelicals, but he is pissing on his own foot when he excoriates them. The original evangelicals hail from New England and their detestable influece on American history is indelibly stamped on its politics. No doubt Mr. Hart has a picture of Lincoln somewhere in his home.


As someone who sparred with Prof. Hart many years ago as a student, around South Africa, Chile, Indian symbols, and the like, it's *most* entertaining to see him described by one poster as a campus lefty.

The incoherence of his critics above is in its own way eloquent. I might suggest though, Terry G, that the "Trotskyite" bit was probably a reference to the administration's neocons, who moved from left to right without giving up any of their certainty that they knew how to fix up the world.

It's been a topsy-turvy few years, hasn't it? Around the Schiavo case, you had "conservatives" arguing against an independent judiciary; around Iraq "conservatives" adopted the nation-building ambitions they had a few years earlier mocked liberals for.

While Paine still stirs the blood, I have grudgingly to admit that Burke was smarter and has more to teach us, especially now. One thinks of his stuff on India.

Mark Johnson

I don't think Iraq is a disaster. The Muslims needed to learn that attacks on the U.S. would not go unpunished, and that they have. The MSM like to portray Iraq as a defeat, as if we couldn't completely flatten Baghdad but that our national human decency prevents us. In any case, if we have been defeated, it wasn't by Saddam or the Taliban, both of whom we soundly routed. And if we have been defeated, it's only in the sense that we may get sent back home, and the Iraqis may not get a democracy. It's a complete victory in that there has not been a single major terrorist attack on Americans since 9/11. This seems perfectly obvious yet is a point of view you will simply never hear in the MSM.


Hart is brilliant, and I love his curmudgeonly turn. The comments of Jim B are startling and reflect a typical Republican incoherence of conservatism, which is exactly Hart's point.

Furthermore, evangelicals are not openminded and are almost completely non-creedal (as Hart points out) and have more to do with Finney than Luther, a difference that is important and which explains the gullibility of the average evangelical to the ideological magic espoused by Bush.

But Hart's most important point has to do with Bush's radical populism (which is the subject of John Lukacs's recent book), which is something that thrives on ignorance, fear, and hatred, none of which are conservative because none reflect a life worth living or conserving.


What Jim B said. This guy's off his rocker.

Jim B

Professor Hart is certainly entitled to contend that the essence of true conservatism is found in support for massive government funding of stem-cell research, contempt for evangelical Christianity, a resigned acceptance of abortion on demand, unquestioned fealty to scientific materialism, a fascination with left-wing conspiracy theories, and poll-driven political opportunism. However, he should hardly be surprised when some of us suggest that he has not only lost the conservative intramurals, but that he wasn’t even in the game. I haven’t read “Noah’s Flood” at the Grand Canyon bookstore, but I’m willing to wager that it is a more credible read than most of the “We’re fighting for Halliburton” tracts in the professor’s study. I also imagine that most people would find your average evangelical to be far more normal, rational and open-minded than your average tenured-can’t-be-fired-never-had-a-real-job-these-kids-hang-on-my-every-word English professor, particularly the ones who own meerschaum pipes, “TR for President” buttons, and the collected works of John Conyers. The sobering thing is that Professor Hart was almost certainly the most conservative member of the liberal arts faculty at any ivy league college in the last forty years.


When the msm caters to the Bush haters, I wonder why they are suprised at how much the polls agree with them. Then, the Bush haters say they have proof to back up their biases. See these polls and these msm headlines.

This is what Prof. Hart did and what many like him do.

The msm pander to their audience's biases. They have revenues from ratings, not getting the story right.

Recently I read a blog of a headline on a poll that Europe believes religion is what is wrong with the world. The writer of the blog went over the statistics of the poll and found it was not a valid conclusion.

I tried to enlighten my family about what I have learned about Iraq and Iran. My mom, 81, was hysterical. She called me names, sent to me Bush Bash stories, but said do not email her again. All of the stories were so old that I had difficultly finding data.

Looking into some of the bad statements told about Bush, it usually comes up empty, either invalid supporting facts or at a place where you can not prove a negative. In some cases, the bad statements were just that -- it was stated by whom had something to gain.

One reply she did make was 'it was a lie that Iraqis are dying for their country'. One week I had sent the numbers on the Iraqis that were tortured and killed that were waiting to sign up to be policemen. After further research, I found the total is 180,000 Iraqi deaths since 2003. Her response to this assertion was none.

Bush is not central to the world. All of us are. We must want to help others from killing dictators and hateful countries working on nuclear bombs.

The further surprising was the silence of the rest of the family.

Can you hear me now?

It seems only if we can realize it could be bad for us, do we want to do something about it.

This is why Christianity is so good. If we are all God's children, then we want to help all of our fellow brothers and sisters.


His old tennis coach is most likely very old or hanging out with William J Casey and Gerald Ford. It is not courageous to discuss in unflattering terms those who cannot defend themselves. Bob Woodward has been giving lessons.

Jim Belna

My first thought after reading the article, and more particularly Professor Hart’s letter, is that I would sure like to hear his old tennis coach’s side of the story.


One has to wonder if Mark manifests the same lazy reliance on irrelevant factors in dismissing the arguments of blacks or hispanics, that he clearly maintains for those advanced in years.


One has to wonder at a poll-driven thought process. Might that be a function of being too old to think?

Terry Gain

It's unfortunate that Professor Hart did not proof read his response.

He describes the Bush presidency as populist and yet describes it as failed because its position on various issues is a minority position.

Hart describes himself as a conservative and yet he engages in the classic leftist practice of name calling- describing those who would dare to disagree with him as ignorami.

Hart describes Iraq as a disaster less than one year after Iraqis have assumed full responsibility for their future. In doing so he eschews both historical precedent and one of the principal characteristics of conservatives which is the capacity to take a long term view of an issue.

Hart's use of Colin Powell as somehow justifying his position is ridiculous. Powell sat silent and let the Bush administration endure daily attacks in the media over the Plame affair when Powell knew all along the role of Armitage in the "outing" of Plame. This is a fact one might take into account is assessing the worthiness of Mr. Powell.

Describing the liberation of Iraq as Trotskyite seems a silly reference to Christopher Hitchens.

Even if the current level of violence in Iraq continues for decades describing Bush as a worse president than Jimmy Carter is absurd.

Bush was dealt a difficult hand with 9/11. He decided the problem of rising Islamism could not best be attacked by continuing the policy of the Clinton administration of dealing with it as a law enforcement issue.

Bush's critics conveniently overlook the fact that because they chose to intervene in Iraq in order to impose their will rather than allow Iraqs the right to make democratic choices and because of their tacics in pursuing that goal the war in Iraq has been a disater for al Qaeda. They have been decimated, both in terms of fighters lost and their reputation and popularity among Muslims.

Of course, given the unpopularity of the war and the daily misrerepresentaions of the liberal MSM only a true conservative would have the ability to see the entire picture.

David Smithson

I was happy when Saddam's statue came down. Prior to that I was very disturbed when the World Trade Center tumbled. I feel that those the first event resulted in the second. Wilson, Plame and the attempt to discredit WMD's is not reality based. Someone was not following their fantastic adventure, apparently.
Sunnis and Shiites can work together when it serves their purposes. Congress voted in the 90's and again after 9/11 to overthrow Saddam. Bush clearly made the rounds before he went to war.
All these facts are ignored. I have read Professor Hart and admired his genius. But he overlooks the simple facts of the case. He is more interested in President Wilson than he is in the diplomat Wilson. Intellectuals sometimes lose their way while they are absorbed in themselves and their gifts.
Sometimes you have to fight. And Bush is losing support because he will not fight Iran. I will not be surprised if his level of support continues down to the teens if he continues to ignore our enemies who are killing our children as they prove their bravery in that godforsaken land. Bush is not losing support because he is an Evangelical or a non-supporter of stem cell research.
I will join with Andrew Sullivan or anyone else before too long if Bush doesn't respond to Iranian provocations.
A single cell is not the issue here. Billions of cells were lost during September 11, 2001. They were all part of something that deserves protection. This war is meant to convince our enemies that bringing an atomic device to NY City and detonating it would not be a good idea.
Bush was doing a fair job in this regard. But he, also, has lost his way.
This is the problem with our political and intellectual leaders. They are human. They fail us, also.


I grew up reading Hart and Buckley at the NR. They were the of the few 'credible' voices of conservatism in the seventies and eighties. The prior thinking was just that conservatives were dumb and hated change. Kirk made us see why we were right philosophically, and Buckley, politically.

Conservatism is a winning ideology. It comports with the opinions of Americans. But politically, conservatives need to unify upon a singular strategy which unifies its populace..

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