Bush, Iraq Lead a Conservative to Question

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Commentator Rod Dreher has been a conservative since he was 13. Now on the cusp of turning 40, he's still a conservative, but is so dismayed at the way President Bush is handling the Iraq war that all of his prior beliefs have come into question.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

Commentator Rod Dreher has been a conservative ever since he was a teenager. He came of age in the 1980s. A Generation X'er who never understood the Baby Boomer protest generation. Well, now on the cusp of turning 40, he's still a conservative, but he's so dismayed at the way President Bush is handling the Iraq war, many of his prior beliefs have come into question, and he thinks the anti-war crowd may have been onto something after all.

ROD DREHER: My first real political memory came in 1979. It was listening to Jimmy Carter tell the nation about the failed hostage rescue mission. I hated him for that. I hated him for the whole Iran mess, shaming America before our enemies with weakness and incompetence.

When Ronald Reagan was elected president the next year, I stayed up late to hear his victory speech. America was saved. I was 13 years old, and I was a Reaganite from that moment on.

My generation came of age politically under Reagan. To me, he was strong and confident. Democrats were weak and depressed. Like so many other Gen-X'ers, I disliked people I thought of as hippies, those blame America first liberals so hung up on Vietnam. They surrendered to the communists back then, just like they want to do that. Republicans were winners, Democrats defeatists. What more did you need to know?

On Sept. 11, 2001, I stood on the Brooklyn Bridge and watched in horror as the World Trade Center collapsed. Thank God we have a Republican in the White House, I comforted myself. As President Bush marched the country toward war with Iraq in 2003, even some voices on the right warned that this was a fool's errand. I dismissed them angrily. I thought them unpatriotic.

But almost four years later I see that I was the fool. In Iraq, this Republican president for whom I voted twice has shamed our country with weakness and incompetence. And the consequences of his failure will be far, far worse than anything Carter did. The fraud, the mendacity, the utter haplessness of our government's conduct of the Iraq war had been shattering to me.

It wasn't supposed to turn out like this. Not under a Republican president, not after Reagan. I turn 40 next month. Middle-aged at last, a time of discovering limits, finitude. I expected that. What I did not expect was to live to see the limits in finitude of American power revealed so painfully. I did not expect Vietnam.

As I sat in my office last night, watching President Bush deliver his big speech, I seethed over the waste, the folly, the stupidity of this war. I had a heretical thought for a conservative - that I've got to teach my kids that they must never ever take presidents and generals at their word. That their government will send them to kill and die for noble sounding wroth, that they have to question authority.

On the walk to the parking garage it hit me. Hadn't the hippies tried to tell my generation that? Why had we scorned them so blithely? Will my children, too small now to understand Iraq, take me seriously when I tell them one day what powerful man their father once believed in did to this country.

Heavy thoughts for someone who's still a conservative despite it all. It was a long drive home.

SIEGEL: Commentator Rod Dreher is a columnist at the Dallas Morning News and the author of "Crunchy Cons." He also blogs at BeliefNet.com. He lives in Dallas.

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NORRIS: David Beckham kicks Europe and takes a quarter of a billion deal to play soccer in Los Angeles. That story and your letters just ahead on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

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