Thursday, September 16, 2004

Wrong Patient, Dr. Ferguson 

Has George W. Bush Killed Off Conservatism?
Andrew Ferguson

[...]As a guide either to governing or to politicking, conservatism is over, finished, kaput. [...]

The ``laundry-list'' technique that Bush used in that long first half was perfected by Clinton. And it is more than a rhetorical trick. The laundry-list speech, consisting of brief summaries of one program after another, is uniquely suited to a style of governing, and a philosophy of government, that Bush has happily embraced. [...]

Call it the omnicompetent state. Clinton didn't invent it, of course, but he was its pre-eminent salesman, even when he announced, as he did in his 1996 State of the Union address, that the ``era of big government is over.''

[Bush's] recent Medicare expansion alone, by some estimates, will cost $2 trillion over the next 20 years. And several speakers at this month's Republican convention -- including Education Secretary Rod Paige and retired General Tommy Franks -- boasted that for many programs (special education and veterans affairs among them) Bush had spent more in four years than Clinton had in eight. [...]

After opening his convention speech with a promise to ``restrain federal spending, reduce regulation'' and create a ``simpler, fairer'' tax code, Bush promised, in the next paragraph, to ``double the number of people served by our principal job-training program and increase funding for community colleges.''

In the paragraph after that, he said he would create ``opportunity zones'' by adding new provisions to the tax code.

Then he said he would ``offer a tax credit to encourage small business'' and ``provide direct help,'' also known as money, to low-income Americans to buy health insurance. [...]

Also, he'll build health centers in every community in America, and 7 million more homes in the next 10 years, and ``provide a record level of funding'' for education.

Don't forget Pell grants for the middle class, and early intervention programs for kids. And a new reform -- medical savings accounts -- that will further complicate the tax code.

Then he promised to simplify the tax code again.

At the end of his laundry list, Bush made an artful pivot. He attacked his opponent, John Kerry, for ``proposing more than $2 trillion in new federal spending.''

Those Democrats are such spendthrifts.

Like Clinton, Bush pretends all this frenetic governmental activism is revolutionary -- uniquely adapted to our unprecedented new era. (Every era thinks it is unprecedented.) There is much talk about ``expanding choice.'' Underlying it, however, is an idea that's not new at all: the citizen as client, a consumer who fulfills himself by coming to rely on the blandishments of government.

For reasons that aren't clear, Bush insists on calling his approach ``conservatism.'' Surely we can find a more accurate term. Has ``Clintonism'' already been taken?

Interestingly enough, Ferguson comes out with this article at the same time Ramesh Ponnuru of National Review is arguing that Bush's State of the Union speech contained a practical plan for crushing American liberalism and pissing on its corpse. Ferguson is wrong, Ponnuru is right. The expansion of Medicare was painful but you can bet it was going to happen anyway with over 70% of the public supporting it even when informed of the drawbacks. The choice for Republicans was either to make the best of it while they could or let the Democrats demagogue the issue and hand their butts to them in the future. Bush seized the moment and got us health savings accounts, which should do something about exploding health costs by lessening third-party payments.

Many of the other spending increases during the Bush administration have been unnecessary, but Bush has probably governed about as conservatively as he possibly could have, considering the divided electorate. Bush has gotten us fast-track trade authority and significant tax cuts, while working on reforming Social Security, cutting our bloated civil service down to size, and quite possibly completely overhauling the old income tax system (Stephen Moore points out that Bush's piecemeal and stealthy steps towards either a flat tax or a consumption tax have been brilliant).

Ferguson doesn't mention it here, but another frequent conservative complaint is that Bush supported steel tariffs. This is a chapter-and-verse example of how some conservatives are reluctant to engage in the dirty but necessary work of politics: Bush agreed to the tariffs as a bargaining ploy to receive fast-track trade authority, which conservatives have wanted for years. Bush received the authority, then used the looming prospect of a trade war as a convenient excuse to ditch the tariffs, thus cutting our losses. The strenuous criticism of Bush over an issue that no longer matters lends credence to the old stereotype of conservatives as the stupid party; truth be told, conservatives ought to give Bush a medal for pulling this off.

Bush's policy of making government more accountable to the people -- of subverting already-existing government policies to promote personal independence, of turning sheep into shepherds -- deserves at least a certain measure of awe. Modern liberalism cannot survive circumstances where people clearly perceive a link between their freedom to choose and their economic circumstances. Again and again, in both domestic and foreign policy, President Bush has lauded human freedom both for its power to liberate and for its power to serve. The Republic will be well-served by his re-election.


Thursday, September 09, 2004

Just In Case You Think the Media Really Has the Goods on Bush... 

Go here, here, here, and here. We'll see if those mea culpas keep coming (scroll down all the way).


Bush Bad, Murderous Ideology Good 

Harkin: Bush Lied To America

Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin had a strong reaction to newly released records about President George W. Bush's service in the Texas National Guard.

On Wednesday, CBS' "60 Minutes" reported that records kept by Bush's former commanding officer show Col. Jerry Killian was pressured to give Bush positive evaluations.
Bush told reporters that he received no special treatment.

Harkin said these records show that the president hasn't been honest.

"The documentation shows that the president was not being truthful," Harkin said. "The president lied to the American people in the Oval Office when he spoke with Tim Russert. That's why this is news. It goes to the character of George W. Bush."

Tom Harkin doesn't trust our president. Who does he trust? Well, Daniel Ortega, for starters.


Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Don't Be Fooled By Cheap Imitations! 

Former Dean campaign manager Joe Trippi thinks the GOP is deceiving the public:

Here at the Republican National Convention, you can tell with each passing day just how formidable, disciplined and unabashedly deceptive the Bush campaign will be as it wages political war with John Kerry. [my emphasis]

Trippi apparently wasn't at a certain political convention last month, where Le Partie Democratique -- most of whose partisans consistently rank national security near the bottom when asked to prioritize a list of national issues -- tried to sell the American people a cock-and-bull story about how tough they were on defense issues. Sorry, Joe -- those Republican clothes just don't fit.


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