BUSH AND THE BASE

Dodd Harris has a good post on the “Bush is betraying the right” meme that’s been circulating of late. Yes, he’s proposing a lot of silly, expensive programs that violate the tenents of Goldwater-style small government conservatism. Yes, this is annoying to some in the base.

Whether these programs reflect the “compassionate” side of compassionate conservatism or are mere pandering really doesn’t matter in this context. And the fact that it’s unlikely to actually work is merely ironic. The fact is that the vast majority of the public–and even of the smaller subset that turns out to vote–actually want big government. That’s just a reality of American politics.

What’s especially ironic is that, while the base is angry that Bush is being too conciliatory and leftist, the Democrats continue to believe Bush is a right-wing ideologue. Brad DeLong, challenging Matt Yglesias’ assertion that perhaps Bush is not evil incarnate,

Yes, there are bound to be Republican presidents. But there is a big difference between a Republican president whose foreign policies are those of Brent Scowcroft and whose domestic policies are those of Paul O’Neill, and a Republican president whose foreign policies are those of Richard Cheney and whose domestic policies are those of… well, it’s not clear who is making domestic policy: Bozo the Clown?

Remember, it’s not just Democrats who are out here in the Gamma Quadrant. Paul O’Neill, Brent Scowcroft, and James Baker are out here too.

As I note in Brad’s comments section, the Bush-Bozo domestic policy is rather strikingly like Bill Clinton’s.

Update (1354): Craig Henry argues that Clinton looked moderate because he had to deal with a Republican Congress. True enough. The fact that Bush is advocating so many social spending programs is even more noteworthy given that the GOP has majorities in both Houses of Congress, albeit a razor thin majority–and a filibuster prone minority–in the Senate.

Update (1459): Dean Esmay weighs in as well.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2004
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. OF Jay says:

    Doc, I’ve just come to terms with the idea that The Bush Extravagance that many to the right of myself are angry about isn’t half as bad as the Extravagance that a Dem president would have.

    Now, what I wonder about is whether the “Bush is a RW Ideologue” meme folks do it because they want more (or everything) or if it is because it’s Bush in the office.

  2. McGehee says:

    I’m thinking “both.”

    I’ve never heard a liberal complain about too much spending except in the Pentagon. And when the Cold War ended where did liberals want the “peace dividend” (savings from reduced defense spending) to go?

    Those who guessed “the taxpayers”, please toggle SARCASM OFF. Leaving it on is kinda like not turning off your turn signal on the highway…

  3. Brad DeLong says:

    Bush’s domestic policy is not so much ‘left’ or ‘right’ as simply incompetent. The deficit provides perhaps the best register of the degree of incompetence, after all.

    I am not by nature tremendously partisan: I could get very enthusiastic about, say, a broaden-the-base-and-lower-the-rates tax policy. I could get enthusiastic about a “privatization” of Social Security that would stop Congress treating Social Security revenues as the equivalent of general revenues to be spent on today’s programs.

    But that’s not what we have on offer, is it?

BUSH AND THE BASE

The Washington Times carries a story that is especially amusing given the “Bush is an extremist” argument made by many of the Democratic contenders:

President Bush is beginning to anger certain hard-line conservatives, particularly over fiscal issues, the way his father did in the year before he lost to Bill Clinton in 1992.

It’s not clear how deep the dissatisfaction goes, and whether it will translate to damage at the polls in November.

“I’m hearing a lot of anger,” says Richard Viguerie, the guru of conservative political direct mail. “I’m beginning, for the first time, [to hear] people talk about ‘it would not be the worst thing in the world if Howard Dean were president,’ because the size of government would stay still rather than increase 50 percent under a second Bush administration.”

***

Pat Buchanan, whose challenge of President George Bush in 1992 is credited by some conservatives as leading to the Clinton presidency, says that if it weren’t for the ongoing war the current president would be facing a primary challenge.

I agree with Buchanan and Viguerie and share their frustrations. But, unlike them, I understand that one can’t be a pure ideologue and succeed as president. For one thing, governing in a Republic is partly representative, and the American people as a whole are neither particularly ideological nor overwhelmingly conservative. While most Americans don’t want to pay high taxes, they do seem to have an near-unending appetite for governmental programs. Furthermore, as a practical matter, the Republicans don’t control the Senate. The Democratic minority is an effective check on any impulse Bush would have toward radical conservatism.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2004
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Steven says:

    Not to mention that it simply wouldn’t be the csae that the government would “stay still” under a Dean administration. Further, Bush has substantial cover on the fiscal front that his father did not have: massive tax cuts.

    I would amend Buchanan’s remarks and state that had it not been for 911 and all the aftermath (including Iraq), that there might have been a challenege. Truth is, the world would be radically different sans those events, so who knows if there would have been a challenge or not?

    For that matter, sans the Iraq war, Dean probably wouldn’t be the front-runner for the Deams.

  2. The Brookings Institute concluded that “the era of big government is back,” thanks to the Bush Administration. The think tank released a study which found that the “number of full-time employees working on government contracts and grants has zoomed by more than one million people since 1999, bringing the overall head count to more than 12.1 million as of this past October.”

    The study contends the expansion is both stealthy and permanent. The use of grant and contract employees (rather than civil servants) “reflects a deliberate strategy by both Congress and the president to disguise the true size of government.”

    A growing number of conservatives dismayed about such growth under the Republicans’ watch: “We are now seeing the biggest expansion in government since Lyndon Johnson was in the White House,” Mr. Moore said. “It is pretty much an across-the-board mushrooming of government. We have the biggest education, foreign aid and agriculture bills in history, and bigger expansions are on the agenda.”

    Mr. Mitchell called the growth of government under Mr. Bush “very troubling for conservatives.”

  3. James Joyner says:

    Well, Bush has only been in office since 2001, so any trend starting in 1999 isn’t all his. And, of course, we’re fighting a massive war at the moment, which is rather expensive. I don’t disagree that he’s contributed to an expansion of the welfare state, but most of the spending is for the GWOT and related nation-building activities.

    And the use of grant and contract employees rather than permanent bureaucrats is a good idea if the increase is to be temporary, no?