The president has laid out his agenda. Call it bold, brilliant, audacious or outrageous. But donít call it "conservative."
Real conservatives promote fiscal prudence, public accountability and limited government. But the agenda promoted by Mr. Bush and his party, as outlined in the State of the Union speech, is a sad parody of those values. Bush and company are running a con game -- they seek to gain our CONfidence by assuring us they are CONservative. But their desire to hold political power has trumped genuine public-spirited principle and the values they profess.
Fiscal prudence? The keystone of todayís "conservative" agenda is a dedication to tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans, even though doing so will increase the deficit. Thatís short-term thinking at its worst. Because of those tax breaks, the faltering economy and the war on terrorism, some economists estimate weíll have deficits of $300 billion a year for the foreseeable future. The next generation of Americans will bear the burden of that debt. Thereís something profoundly immoral about financing tax breaks for todayís wealthiest Americans by borrowing money from the unborn.
Accountability? Today's "conservatives" want to spend hundreds of billions on the Star Wars missile defense fantasy -- a system that so far has only proven effective in lining defense contractors' pockets. But whatever one thinks of missile defense, no one worthy of the label "conservative" would exempt the Star Wars program from the cost and performance accountability requirements that every other weapon system must undergo -- but Mr. Bush has done just that.
Limited government? The Bush administrationís Total Information Awareness program will let the Pentagon monitor our personal lives -- ATM deposits and withdrawals, credit card purchases, travel plans, Internet surfing, e-mail and anything other electronic transaction. Bush is nominating, and the GOP-run Senate will confirm, federal judges who will allow government to control womenís reproductive health decisions. Call that right or wrong, but you canít call it limited government.
Real conservatives know what "investment" means. If the nation needs a near-term economic stimulus, a real conservative might say itís a perfect time to spend public money rebuilding our urban infrastructure, expanding mass transit for choked cities, or -- as unemployment continues to rise -- for job training initiatives. Both the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the National League of Cities have recently asked Washington for help like this. Besides creating jobs for Americans in the near term, such programs repay themselves over time -- theyíre investments.
Teddy Roosevelt understood that environmental protection is an investment, but itís a lesson lost on current "conservatives." Take the Clean Air Act: Between 1970 and 1990, improvements in air quality driven by the Act produced $23 trillion in health benefits for the nation, according to the American Lung Association. Those savings far exceed the cost to industry of complying with the Act, and the nation as a whole became richer and healthier as a result.
Today's "conservatives" show their true color -- the money-green of polluters' political patronage -- by attempting to gut the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and other environmental statutes. In their energy policy, they ignore research that shows how a dollar invested to improve energy efficiency or develop renewable energy creates more jobs than the same dollar invested in fossil fuels. They would rather we use our money to buy oil from Saudi Arabia than spend it to create energy independence and jobs at home. Thatís short-term thinking unworthy of the conservative label.
Over 40 million Americans are without health insurance. Joblessness is rising. The public school system -- the institution responsible, as much or more than any other, for boosting our national wealth over the last century -- is crumbling. Our standing in the community of nations increasingly rests on military might more than leadership and respect.
Where are the REAL conservatives today? Theyíre not leading the Congress. Not in the White House. Poseurs are stealing from the future, and thereís nothing conservative about that.
John Moyers is Editor-in-Chief of TomPaine.com.