now playing: pyro sets a wildfire/swirling eddies
is president bush a conservative? the answer is: it depends on how that word is defined. there’s a fairly strong case to be made that he is extremely conservative on social issues of importance to groups generally thought to be deeply connected with “the religious right”. two of his three supreme court nominations would suggest this. the fact that the president is a Christian is also a strong indication in this direction. i would say that in this respect, he is conservative. but does he follow the rules of what i would consider to be traditional (small-government) conservatism in policy decisions? the evidence would suggest otherwise.
“THE PRESIDENCY OF GEORGE W. Bush has three years yet to run, but this season of scandal and disillusionment is an opportune moment for conservatives to start thinking seriously about the post-Bush era–and particularly how to fashion a domestic policy from the wreckage of Bush-style, big-government conservatism. Thanks to the abiding weakness of the Democratic party, Republicans haven’t yet paid a political price for insider-friendly appropriation bills, Medicare boondoggles, or the smog of semi-corruption rising from the party’s cozy relationship with KStreet. But even if the GOP’s majority survives the next election cycle, conservatives shouldn’t kid themselves: President Bush’s domestic policy looks less and less like a visionary twist on traditional conservatism, and more and more like an evolutionary dead end. “
read it here. the authors make some interesting suggestions for needed reforms in the status quo that the republicans would be wise to adopt for their own campaigns in 2006. reagan famously said that government is not the solution to the problem, that in fact government IS the problem…or something similar to that anyway. both liberals and conservatives are wrong when they consider making government the primary curative to what ails the country. the difference here is only in what kind of programs each side considers worthy of government largesse. the president isn’t re-inventing the wheel with his approach to spending and tax cuts. we have seen this act before, by more obvious culprits. president bush deserves much blame for any failures of his fiscal policy. but the democrats, who are so anxious to take the president to task on his foreign policy decisions, remain relatively silent on spending. why is that, do you suppose? the answer is because the democrats, and to some degree, the republicans, are complicit in the bad economic policy. both sides can’t say no to new spending and insist on some fiscal discipline, and somehow this is all the president’s fault.
fred barnes defines what he considers to be A ‘Big Government Conservatism’:
Big government conservatives prefer to be in favor of things because that puts them on the political offensive. Promoting spending cuts/minimalist government doesn’t do that. Mr. Bush has famously defined himself as a compassionate conservative with a positive agenda. Almost by definition, this makes him a big government conservative.
big government conservatism, as defined by barnes, is activist by nature. it may have more noble underlying objectives than the government activism suggested by liberals or moderates (although i suppose that is an open question), but the premise is still flawed. president bush is not as uncomfortable with using the power of the government to advance what he considers to be conservative ideas and values as he should be. using the government to bring about social equity or attempting to level the playing field for all americans in this way is an iffy proposition under any ideological banner.
take a look at the programs and proposals by the president during his first and second terms in office. it is the very essence of logic itself to believe that this president is not from the limited-government wing of the conservatives. he is very much all neo-con, and this has only a peripheral relationship to the war in iraq, although that’s part of it. dare i suggest bush 43 is in fact a slightly more conservative version of bush 41? (the difference of course being that bush 41 raised taxes after promising not to…and there’s that whole leaving saddam in power thing…) finally someone comes up with a logical definition for a neo-con…and apparently it doesn’t just mean republican war hawk.
Anti-Freedom Conservatism–from the future of freedom daily
So there you have it. Big-government conservatism, or its synonym, neoconservatism, stands for a powerful state in pursuit of conservative ends. There are problems, to be sure, with the Barnes-Kristol thesis. What are conservative ends? An older school of conservatism (which actually consisted of near-libertarians) would have said that chief among those ends was individual freedom achieved by restraining government power. But if thats so, it makes no sense to talk about using government to achieve those ends. They also understood that a government with interests not bound by geography is in fact an empire, not a constitutionally limited republic. Thus, big-government conservatism is either incoherent or a cynical attempt to appropriate a cozy-sounding label.
What about the moral case for self-ownership and against coercion? We never hear this issue raised by the neocons. They sometimes talk about intrusive government. But your meddling neighbor can also be said to be intrusive. The fundamental issue is the initiation of physical force. Transfers are, in Bastiats words, legal plunder. The advocates of big government either dont recognize that plunder is at the heart of the state. Or they dont care.
this sounds more like what i believe and far from bush’s view(except for the part about taxes):
“Fundamentally, compassionate conservatism is a form of political conservatism. In other words, compassionate conservatives believe that government should have a limited role in peoples lives and that competition in the marketplace is the most effective means of producing social and economic progress. Consequently, compassionate conservatives believe in low taxes, limited government regulation, and the vast power of the free enterprise system.”
“Big-government, one-size-fits-all solutions demean struggling individuals by treating them merely as members of aggrieved identity groups, passively awaiting government subsidies and restitution for crippling wounds inflicted by what is perceived to be an inherently unjust society.”
that’s the best argument against neo-conservatism in my view. it creates too many illegitimate victims. we do have a moral and ethical responsibility to help those who can’t help themselves, but i would argue that this category has been massively expanded to include more people that it should. the government has taken on more responsibility for attempting to cure social injustices than it can effectively handle. p.j. o’rourke, the official muse of this here blog once said: “A little government and a little luck are necessary in life, but only a fool trusts either of them.” he is a smart man. the president should take his advice.
Can’t last–Jan 8th 2004 | WASHINGTON, DC | From The Economist print edition