Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

GWB and conservatism

Jonah Goldberg calls our attention to Ross Douthat’s meditation on "the lessons of Bushism," which he and I both enjoyed. While I’d love to be able to defend the misunderstood consistency of the Bush Administration, I can’t. Some of that is due to GWB’s admirable focus on the central challenge of our time, post-9/11. (Of course, I can’t claim that the response was consistently well-executed, though I’d love for someone to give me evidence of an American war that, by contrast, was.) But I think the failures of the Bush Administration’s domestic policy stem from at least three sources--its own distraction and incoherence (with different elements of the administration pulling in different ways--again, hardly unusual, however deplorable); its pragmatism, both in dealing with Democrats and dealing with big business; and third, its failure to persuade Congressional Republicans to follow its lead, either with respect to the faith-based initiative and, more importantly, I think, with respect to social security reform.

It’s fashionable to blame Bush and his supporter (hard to speak in the plural any more) for everything, but many of his failings are really failings of the Republican Party, which followed Tom DeLay’s lead in governing like a typical governing party--spreading out the pork and attempting to punish opponents--rather than consistently attempting to reconstruct itself and the federal government to meet the challenges of the new century. The other things with which conservatives like to find fault are as attributable to the business wing of the Republican Party as they are to Bush on his own. Anyone want to claim that the business wing isn’t enamored with comprehensive immigration reform, big government approaches to health care, the moderate embrace of affirmative action (how could we forget?), and No Child Left Behind? Anyone who wants to call out Bush and his supporter had better be willing to call out Wall Street as well.

If you care or need to read more, you can go here (for a misunderstanding, willful or otherwise, of the best case for compassionate conservatism) and here (for an articulation of what might have been said on behalf of compassionate conservatism, if it had continued to be fashionable to offer it).

Discussions - 8 Comments

I place more blame for the GOP doldrums on Bush than on the congressional party. It is rarely remarked, but nonetheless true, that the Republican House did a pretty good job of passing good legislation. I also think the heavy pork-barreling was in considerable measure -- of course, not wholly -- a result of two factors, also rarely noticed, that were not the Republicans' fault. One,
we never had a majority large enough that we could be confident of retaining the majority in the next election. That situation lends itself to pork-barreling, since voters do crave local projects and special-interest spending. Blame the American people more than the Republicans, even if it doesn't seem nice or nonpartisan or whatever we're supposed to be. Two, Tom Daschle, in particular, made the Senate Democrats into a hard, don't give an inch, ideological liberal bloc on most issues. With the filibuster option, that meant that little of a conservative nature could get through the Senate even if literally all Republicans had stuck together. And there's an additional point: Much of the Republican mess is due to their discomfort with power and their lack of understanding of the ruthlessless of the national Democratic party. They're just not that good at politics, and therefore not that good at government. They're also too soft. Some on this blog will find these things praiseworthy. I don't. But they have a great deal to do with the squandering of the Republican window of opportunity in 2001-2006. President Bush is really Republican naivete, lack of imagination, and (often) cowardice writ large. The Republican party, if it is to avoid disaster in 2008, must explicitly repudiate this president AND his incomprehension of politics.

Just to clarify my second explanation of the excessive pork: Rather consistently stymied by the hard Democratic bloc in the Senate, the House Republicans realized that despite their best efforts, they weren't really able to legislate, that they were spinning their wheels. Therefore, they retreated into the bastard version of power: pork. In addition to providing short-term political security, it gave them something to do, and it made them feel important. Never underestimate people's need to feel important as a factor in politics, and especially in what otherwise seems to be self-destructive behavior. Ego explains a great deal.

Douthat is right. Bush's "compassionate conservatism," by that name or any other, has been -- certainly in practice, and I believe also in concept -- nothing of an ideological nature. It is simply moderate, country-club Republicanism. There is no need to grapple with it philosophically. It is the vapid product of a mediocrity who couldn't or wouldn't do any hard thinking, who does not understand the fundamental dynamics of statism, of social liberalism, or of the times in which we live, and who damages the Republican party the longer he remains its symbol and an object of deference among other Republicans.

The faith based initiative was minor, what Dick Morris would call a micromeasure, a micropolicy.

Again, the party took it's lead from their Captain, who in this case was George W. Bush.

Congressional spending ballooned because GW sent the signal that he wouldn't veto any of it. Has any President made such little and feeble use of his veto powers? And this Presidency has demonstrated itself elsewhere to be a stickler on Presidential authorities and prerogatives.

Had Bush demonstrated a determination to adhere to Republican platform positions, then the Party wouldn't have gone soft, wouldn't have grown "fat, dumb and stupid."

Rove has been a problem. He had an inflated sense of his own importance, and had an inflated sense of his own political value. Crunching numbers in every single district in this country is an accountant's task, but weaving politics, policy and foreign affairs into a coherent, wise and poetic whole is the stuff of genius. And Rove, for all of his skills at number crunching, is still at heart, a petty number cruncher.

This is the kind of post that I would really need to respond to at length.

But here's a final anecdote. Bush was interviewed not long ago by Lawrence Kudlow, {just another one of those guys who should have found a place in Bush's economic team, but was left to sit the bench while Bush went with the junior varsity and the not-ready-for-primetime players..., but that's another tale...}, and Kudlow asked him about spending, and Bush and Kudlow fell into an agreement where both just expressed amazement at the level of Congressional spending. And Bush, NOT ONCE, demonstrated any clue that he had a responsibility to hold down that level of spending. It's as if he thought that WHATEVER Congress passed, he had some obligation to sign. Now that's a NOVEL departure from historical understanding of Presidential authority and responsibility.

Now my question is: WHERE in the hell did he EVER acquire such a kooky notion?

And how the hell was the GOP supposed to know that GW had gone out there and acquired some weird understanding of the role of the President in keeping down spending. Reagan vetoed spending bills all the time. GHWB used his veto powers constantly, and to good effect. So how were we to know, BEFOREHAND, that El Jorge here, had gone off and gotten some unheard of ideas into his head?

Much of what this guy has done has come as a shock, an absolute shock.

So yes, the WHOLE GOP has a great deal of blame to shoulder. But cut us a break, not everything could have been known prior to.

I know some people criticize Jonah for being a light weight and lacking depth, and when he first started some of that criticism was fair. But I actually think he is one of the more insightful commentators in the NRO orbit at present. He is at least a reasonably bright guy. So I know he knows what paleoconservatism is. So why does he persist in acting as if he is puzzled by it? The implication is that it is such a minority viewpoint that it is lost on him. Putting it in quotes for example. But I think he would rather ignore it or just scoff at it than deal with it. It is certainly a minority viewpoint in numbers, but it is not in intellectual terms.



I am sure he doesn't have to deal with too many paleos in the NYC circles he runs in, but he has had enough run ins and dressing downs by Gottfried, Francis, Larison, etc. that I am sure he knows what it is all about. It would serve him well if he would seriously address it.



If you see him again maybe you could pass that on to him.



And I tend to agree with Larison that compassionate conservatism has generally been a euphemism for what was in effect moderation. The motivation of some was high minded, but for some I think it was just rhetoric to mask abandoning an emphasis on small government.

Bush is no conservative. He's neoliberal / neoconservative swine. And like all neocons, he's a fifth columnist globalist. He supports the third-world invasion of the U.S. and thus should be impeached, arrested and tried for treason.

Real Conservative, are you for real?

Your comments suggest that you are not.

Dale, I am real. A proud paleoconservative. You probably have never met a real conservative, especially if you mostly hang around at this site.

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