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Most observers are predicting a rout of the Republicans in this fall’s elections. Some think the Democrats can even recapture both houses of Congress.

I hope so. Oh, how I hope so. May the Republicans perish forever. May vultures gobble their entrails. May their name be blotted out. In short, may they lose their shirts in November.

Yes, I’m disillusioned with the GOP. It was bad enough when I thought they were unprincipled. Now, however, it’s worse, because they do have a principle after all: war.

Two Bush administrations have proved that. War on Panama, war on Iraq, war on “terror,” war on Afghanistan, war on Iraq again, and war on Iran, comin’ up. And of course the recent Israeli war on Lebanon was waged with George W. Bush’s complicity. Am I leaving anything out? Oh yes, his father’s war on “drugs”; but let’s not even count that one.

Next to the violence of war, I hate the philosophical fallout. This Bush administration has managed to pervert the meaning of 保守主义: in most Americans’ minds, for the next generation, the word will mean, above all, militarism.

Not that this is wholly new. Goldwater conservatives supported the Vietnam war, originally a liberal project, even complaining that it wasn’t being waged with enough force. They began sneering at “peaceniks,” then equating peace with liberalism (and war with patriotism) and automatically favoring huge military budgets. Lyndon Johnson’s war soon became “Nixon’s war,” and the anti-war George McGovern redefined the Democratic Party.

By the Reagan years the old lines were redrawn. Quite a change from the days when Democrats wanted war on fascism and Republicans were accused of “isolationism” for preferring peace. Does anyone remember Robert Taft?

By identifying the conservative cause with war, the Republicans have given liberalism the finest gift they could possibly have bestowed on it. The popularity of war is intense but brief. Americans will support quick and victorious wars, but after a few months the thrill tends to wear off.

As late as 1976 grouchy Bob Dole, a bitter World War II vet, could still take a swat at “Democrat wars,” but the phrase sounded quaint. The amnesiac American public thought it was a contradiction in terms. When had the Democrats ever wanted war?

Today’s blowhard conservatives have no reservations about it. They suspect, and openly accuse, the “liberal media” of sympathy for the enemy so freely that you wonder why they don’t just call them the “Islamic media.” For these right-wingers, the Iraq war — not the Constitution, government spending, or abortion — is the defining issue dividing liberals and conservatives.

They even pardon liberal Republicans like Rudy Giuliani and Arnold Schwarzenegger (as well as the liberal Democrat Joe Lieberman) for supporting abortion and homosexual rights, as long as they support the war. That is, they count a liberal as a conservative, provided only that he’s for this war.

Being the most devastating of human activities, war would seem to be at the opposite pole from conserving anything. It’s a grotesque accident of history that it should have acquired even a verbal association with the philosophy of conservatism.

Just what is that philosophy? Is it a philosophy at all, or just a natural disposition to reject radical change? These questions have been debated for centuries, and I can only suggest an answer.

Briefly, conservatism is a more or less articulate sense of normality, whereas liberalism has been described (by G.K. Chesterton) as “the modern and morbid habit of always sacrificing the normal to the abnormal.” Conservatism can tolerate many abnormal things that can’t be eliminated from human society, but it doesn’t call them “rights” or confuse them with normal things. And, after all, few things are more abnormal than war.

So today’s alleged conservatives (and especially the misnamed “neoconservatives”) are aberrations. They delight in destruction; they are full of enthusiasm for violent and radical action; they lack the ironic and skeptical attitude of real conservatives, the prudent sense that precipitate acts bring “unintended consequences.”

The presidency of George W. Bush has been one long object lesson in unintended consequences. It’s amusing to recall that his father was kidded for using the phrase wouldn’t be prudent, an expression the son could profitably adopt.

Until the Republicans learn that peace is normal, they will deserve defeat and infamy.

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