Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Tuckered Out

David Tucker (see below) expresses with his usual dyspepsia the skepticism many conservatives have had toward Bush since before he was elected in 2000. I had a conversation with Rich Lowry of National Review last spring in which we agreed that we needed to get Bush safely re-elected on November 2, and then begin attacking him on November 3 to slow up his big government conservatism.

To David’s question about whether there is a strategy to ebb away from "big government conservatism" (which is merely low budget liberalism, and not all that low-budget any more), the answer is emphatically Yes. Bush’s "ownership society" theme, and the specific policies that flow from it, should be taken more seriously. Remembering the lesson we learned during the Reagan years, Bush knows that a direct assault on government programs is unlikley to succeed. So, to reduce the supply of government, it is necessary first to reduce the demand for it. One way of reducing the demand for it is to transform by degrees entitlement programs into equity programs, i.e., Social Security privatization, and especially health care, with private, portable accounts, etc.

Whether Bush can get this through Congress, and then whether it will have the desired political effect in the fullness of time, may be doubted. But is does constitute a serious conservative governing strategy within the constraints of public opinion today. Combine this with Bush’ proposal to privatize many federal services (why should the folks who mow the Pentagon lawn be federal employees??), which is aimed not only at saving money but also at weakening public employee unions, and you can see a strategy for weakening the infrastructure of liberalism further.

Discussions - 7 Comments

Steve, thanks for reminding us about Bush’s "ownership society" vision.

IIRC, it was the theme of the whole first half of his great acceptance speech at the convention--the pundits of course yawned over it, but I don’t think voters did.

To connect a couple of dots:

A key part of Bush’s vision is to promote home ownership. If all goes well, won’t this tend to translate into more and more growth of the "exurban" America of families owning their own homes that is now such a big part of the GOP base.

Peter’s post yesterday on the NYT story about the steamroller GOP ground game in Pasco County, FL, is very much a case in point. Pasco is a representative slice of exurban America (growing like topsy, and filling up w/ young stakeholder families who have invested in owning the place where they live, and are raising kids).

So "ownership society" means more and bigger Pasco counties, and hence a stronger GOP. If Bush can pull this off, it sounds to me like it could be a big deal. Maybe Ruy Texeira will have to rewrite his book.

Maybe some conservatives were so busy attacking the Prez that they actually missed the Ownership Society? Just a thought. :) The American people have made it pretty clear they don’t want a Gingrichian/libertarian minimalist state. The question for conservatives, then, is how to provide a social safety net without creating dependency on government. It seems the Prez is ahead of the intellectuals on this one.

A decent article from the New York Times. Text is pasted below.

ROUND 8 p.m. Tuesday, a gloomy mood was settling over the dozen conservative stalwarts gathered with martinis and glasses of red wine in an office in Arlington, Va., to watch the returns. Early exit polls showed President Bush trailing, and Richard Viguerie, dean of conservative direct mail, thought he knew who was to blame: the neoconservatives, the group associated with making the case for the invasion of Iraq.

"If he loses, they are going to have a bull’s-eye on their back," Mr. Viguerie said.

Ronald Godwin, a top aide to Dr. Jerry Falwell, agreed. "I see a real battle for the Republican Party starting about Nov. 3," he said.

The euphoria of Mr. Bush’s victory postponed the battle, but not for long. Now that Mr. Bush has secured re-election, some conservatives who say they held their tongues through the campaign season are speaking out against the neoconservatives, against the war and in favor of a speedy exit.

They argue that the war is a political liability to the Republican Party, but also that it runs counter to traditional conservatives’ disdain for altruist interventions to make far-off parts of the world safe for American-style democracy. Their growing outspokenness recalls the dynamics of American politics before Vietnam, when Democrats first became identified as doves and Republicans hawks, suggesting to some the complicated political pressures facing the foreign policy of the second Bush administration.

"Clearly, the war in Iraq was a drag on votes, and it is threatening to the Bush coalition," said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform and a strategist close to the administration who had not spoken up about the war’s political costs before. He contended that the war reduced Mr. Bush’s majority by 6 percentage points to 51 percent of the vote.

Mr. Bush now has two years to "solve Iraq" to protect Republican candidates at the midterm elections, he said. His suggestions: withdrawing United States troops to safe citadels within Iraq or by "handing Falluja over to the Iraqis and saying, ’It’s your headache.’ "

On Thursday, Paul Weyrich, founder of the Heritage Foundation and chairman of the Free Congress Foundation, issued a call to conservatives for a serious debate about the administration’s foreign policy. "The consequences of the neocons’ adventure in Iraq are now all too clear," he said. "America is stuck in a guerrilla war with no end in sight. Our military is stretched too thin to respond to other threats. And our real enemies, nonstate organizations such as Al Qaeda, are benefiting from the Arab and Islamic backlash against our occupation of an Islamic country."

Proponents of the war, however, argued that Mr. Bush would not have won re-election without it because Americans did not want to change the commander in chief. "Bush’s foreign policy decisions seem to have been exactly why he won this huge victory that he did," said the neoconservative David Frum, a former Bush speechwriter and a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. He argued that candidates who opposed the war - Gov. Howard Dean the most, and Senator John Kerry to a lesser extent - suffered the biggest losses.

IF the Democrats have silenced some of their loudest complaints about the war, however, some on the right said they were turning up the volume on their own previously muted objections.

"A lot of the antiwar conservatives had to hold their tongue during the campaign because the No. 1 goal was to get Bush re-elected," said Stephen Moore, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and an important conservative fund-raiser.

Even on the eve of the election, William F. Buckley Jr., founder of the National Review, was decorously edging closer to full-throated opposition to the war. "At War With What or Whom?’’ was the headline of his column on Oct. 19.

A few months ago, Donald Devine, a vice chairman of the American Conservative Union, publicly apologized to Mr. Bush after it was reported that in disgust at the war he had failed to applaud a presidential speech. But in a column shortly before the election, Mr. Devine wrote that conservatives should vote for Mr. Bush precisely because he was likely to withdraw from Iraq sooner than Senator Kerry would.

Arguing that the president had dropped hints like a quickly retracted statement in a television interview about the impossibility of winning a war against terror, Mr. Devine argued that "the president’s maddening repetition of slogans" about the war was the "only politically possible tactic for a candidate who has already made up his mind to leave at the earliest reasonable moment." He added: "The neoconservatives will be devastated."

But Trent Duffy, a White House spokesman, dismissed those theories, pointing to the president’s statement in his post-election news conference that troops would stay in Iraq as long as needed: "Our commanders will have that which they need to complete their missions," the president said.

Or, to put it in the terms of the war on terror, he’s "draining the swamps" of liberalism.

A question for the readers and writers of No Left Turns: is the "ownership society," with its emphasis on personal responsibility, the one Bushian theme capable of keeping the libertarians and social conservatives more or less on the same page? Is it enough to hold the 11/2 coalition together, enabling GWB to govern effectively until he actually is a lame duck?

In response to Joe’s question. I think he can hold them together. I think that there are a lot more people out there who are willing to have government programs (and benefit from them) among Bush’s supporters than there are intellectually libertarian folks who want no government. The libertarian may provide a useful intellectual reminder of the dangers of too large a government, but a prudential conservative politicians should manage the growth of the federal state wisely and channel it into proper uses.

Increased home ownership will slowly translate into increased business start ups, because those homes will be mortgaged to find the cash to start up new business ventures. Thus slowly increasing the scope and reach of the ownership society. The left depends upon what can be accurately called a dependency culture and society. Conservatism has always flourished where private ownership is plenteous. However, is the pace of the changes the President proposes the answer to our problems. I think not. We need more radical transformation.

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