I must admit that after almost a decade of writing political commentary, I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a bigger reaction than my claim that Hillary Clinton wouldn’t be much different from President Bush or his potential Republican successors. And I think I understand why.

Imagine walking onto the field at Williams-Brice Stadium during the Clemson-Carolina football game this Saturday and declaring that the entire game doesn’t matter and that despite who wins, it really won’t change a thing. You would be insulted, physically abused, and possibly lynched. After all, you tried to ruin the game.

Like equating Clemson to Carolina, my declaration that Hillary Clinton is identical to her Republican contemporaries isn’t necessarily incorrect — but it does ruin the game. Common sense tells us that Clemson vs. Carolina isn’t about careful reasoning, but the passion of the rivalry. The same goes for the mainstream Republican and Democratic parties.

If they were honest, Republicans upset that I would ruin the “anybody but Hillary” game for them would admit that it’s really the only thing they have left. Or as Andrew Sullivan writes in The Times (London), “Over the past few months, in a divisive and dispiriting campaign on the fractured right, Clinton has become essential to Republican fund-raising … In this surprising primary campaign, the woman they love to hate has turned out to be not so anathema to them after all.”

Pollster Scott Rasmussen agrees, or as he is quoted in The American Conservative‘s Oct. 22 cover story “It Takes an Agenda: Conservatives cannot live by Hillary-hate alone,” “Hillary is a unifying factor for Republicans, and Republicans aren’t otherwise unified.”

Rasmussen is right. The principled, historic Republican party of Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan doesn’t exist anymore. Rhetoric about smaller government, a strong defense, and balanced budgets has been replaced by a big government GOP, using, abusing, and overstretching our military for dubious purposes, making the Bush presidency perhaps the most economically reckless administration in American history.

The government of the allegedly “conservative” Bush administration resembles that of the allegedly “liberal” (to listen to talk radio) Clinton administration more than it does Reagan’s or even the presidency of a so-called moderate like Dwight Eisenhower a half century ago. As for the bedrock conservative philosophies of Goldwater or “Mr. Republican,” Sen. Robert Taft, they’re nowhere to be found in today’s GOP.

Let’s face it, since 9/11 there’s really only one issue that Republicans seem to care about — war. Rudy Giuliani is a Northeastern liberal? Who cares — he wants to bomb Iran. Mitt Romney was a staunch anti-gun, Massachusetts governor? So what — he supports torture. Fred Thompson voted for amnesty for illegal aliens in 1997? That’s OK — he supported Bush in Iraq.

Ironically, it is this single-issue mentality, that all American wars are inherently good despite the result, that demonstrates just how close Clinton and the Republican establishment are politically.

As Sullivan says, “Among the neoconservatives there is obviously sympathy for her (Clinton) against the most decisively anti-war candidates, Obama and Edwards. Many publicly prefer her to the insurgent anti-war candidate in their own ranks, Texas congressman Ron Paul. Privately some neocons see her as an important substantive successor to Bush, perpetuating and retroactively legitimizing the Iraq occupation. She did vote for it, after all, they tell themselves. And her constant attempt to stay to the right of her opponents in the primaries has led to the bizarre spectacle of some well known Republicans showering her with thinly veiled support on Fox News.”

Sullivan’s assessment is correct. Neoconservative praise for Clinton, however muted, makes sense because she isn’t different from Bush on any substantive level. And while Giuliani, Romney, Thompson, McCain and Huckabee might be too embarrassed by Bush’s unpopularity to bring up his name, each has essentially the same political platform as the president and promises four more years of the same.

If anyone would honestly like to see a continuation of the Bush presidency, then by all means pick Clinton or any of the anointed Republican frontrunners as your candidate. If your respective parties have become so vapid and empty that the only thing you have left is blind, illogical hatred for George Bush or Hillary Clinton, then don’t let me (or reality) spoil your fun.

As for me, I don’t have time for games. I have my country to worry about.

Catch Southern Avenger commentaries every Tuesday and Friday at 7:50 a.m. on the “Morning Buzz with Richard Todd” on 1250 AM WTMA.