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Is President Bush A Conservative--Sullivan's Question
Andrewsullivan.com ^ | July 21, 2003 | Andrew Sullivan

Posted on 07/21/2003 8:14:50 PM PDT by publius1

The Liberal Within Is Bush A Conservative?

Is president Bush a conservative?

It may sound like a stupid question but the dizzying mix of policies that this president has pursued - domestically and in foreign affairs -is surprisingly immune to coherent ideological analysis. Where it does seem to make sense, it certainly doesn't look like the classical conservatism of the Regagan-Thatcher years, or the revolutionary conservatism of the Gingrich period. And in some critical ways, it's far less traditionally conservative than the administration of Bill Clinton.

Take a couple of obvious differences between this administration and the last. The Clinton years will rightly go down as a period of intense fiscal sobriety. The president wasn't solely responsible for this: he was backed into a balanced budget (and then surpluses) by a Republican Congress. But the spending record of the Clintonites was extremely tight. Compare that to the Bush record. In a mere two years, this administration has turned an annual surplus of $167 billion into an annual deficit of over $400 billion. In 2001, the projected fiscal future until 2008 was estimated at accumulating $2.9 trillion of surplus - room to tackle the baby-boomer retirement crunch. Last week's White House estimates of the same future period showed a projected increase in government debt at $1.9 trillion. In other words, the Bushies have added a projected extra $4.8 trillion in debt to the U.S. government. In two short years.

Some of this was hardly Bush's fault. The economic impact of 9/11, the sluggish world economy, and expensive wars in Afghanistan and now Iraq all took a bite out of government finances. You could even argue that the big tax cuts Bush has passed have also helped cushion the U.S. and therefore world economy from slipping into a recession. But that still doesn't explain the huge lurch into debt. Even on non-military, non-homeland defense matters, the Bush administration enacted a 6 percent increase in government spending in 2002 and almost 5 percent in 2003. Government is growing strongly as a sector in American life - and Bush is now proposing the biggest new entitlement since Nixon: free or subsidized prescription drugs for the elderly. When you add all this up, you come to an obvious conclusion: the Bush administration is actually a big government liberal administration on fiscal policy. It likes spending money; it takes on big projects; it's quite content to borrow till the fiscal cows come home. Perhaps you could argue that Bush's deficits are designed to restrain future spending growth: but then why add another huge entitlement to the mix? And why not restrain spending now, when you can?

You can see the difference even more vividly when you compare the Africa trips of president Clinton and his successor. Clinton was lionized and loved - but he did virtually nothing on HIV and AIDS in the developing world in eight long years. Clinton did little to stop the holocaust in Rwanda; and did less to ensure adequate treatment for millions of HIV-positive Africans. Bush, in contrast, has proposed the biggest single project for treating AIDS in Africa ever put forward, garnering gushing praise from the likes of Bob Geldof and Bono, but precious little credit in the American, let alone European, press. So who's the conservative?

In foreign policy, Bush's instinct for unilateralism or bilateralism over international bodies has won him a reputation for conservatism. But the scale of his ambitions is anything but conservative. For eight years, Bill Clinton played a conservative game with regard to Middle East terror and conflict: defensive pin-prick strikes against al Qaeda, missiles in the Sudan, a peace-process in Israel, containment of Saddam. Obviously, 9/11 changed the equation dramatically. But the way in which Bush has chosen a strategic and systemic response - deposing the Taliban, ridding the world of the Saddam regime, taking on the enormous task of nation-building in Iraq, isolating the murderous mullahs in Tehran - is the mark of a radical, not a conservative. Bush is far more Gladstone than Disraeli in his approach to the developing world.

On trade, Bush speaks the right words, but has often failed to live up to them. His most notorious decision - to slap high tariffs on imported steel - has been rightly found illegal by the WTO. But Bush is appealing the judgment, thereby weakening the entire apparatus of free trade. Again, he seems to see little benefit in global arrangements designed to treat all countries equally in order to maximize trade between them. Compared to Bill Clinton, who stared down his own party's left to embrace NAFTA and the GATT, Bush is an old-style one-sector-at-a-time protectionist.

On contentious domestic matters, Bush is also no hardline right-winger. In his term of office, there has been no attempt to restrict the number of abortions in America; and the Supreme Court has ratified affirmative action and constitutionalized gay privacy. Bush actually supported the Court's affirmative action ruling and has stayed mum on gay issues, for fear of alienating either the center or his religious right base. In both areas, his policies are very hard to distinguish from his predecessor's - who also supported modest affirmative action and only rhetorically backed gay equality. Sure, Bush has named some worrying fire-breathers to the lower courts. But my hunch is that his Supreme Court pick (if he ever makes one) will be firmly centrist. All in all: the record is socially moderate.

In some ways, Bush is the JFK to Clinton's Eisenhower. After eight long years of fiscal sobriety and foreign policy caution, a young aristocratic president, after a knife-edge victory, cuts taxes and throws American weight around in the world. He has a global vision and some wonderful wordsmiths to craft it. He seems to care less about balanced budgets than moving the economy forward; he's less concerned about the minutiae of intelligence estimates than the broad moral and strategic case for intervention abroad. His typical action is risk-taking - like the war in Iraq or the two big tax cuts. Perhaps his policy mix, like that of many others', is merely a blend of opportunism and gut instinct.

More likely, Bush's conservatism is of a type that is simply more comfortable with the power of government than conservatives usually are. He certainly has little hesitation in using it for conservative ends. That makes sense for Bush, a man who was used to walking around the White House corridors long before he ever won the presidency. To more small-government types and libertarians, it's distressing. To Bush, it's merely full speed ahead. Meanwhile, the government he hands off to his successor will be bigger, more expensive and far more powerful in its anti-terror powers than anything he inherited. Whatever else that is, it's hardly a conservative achievement.


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Foreign Affairs; Government; Miscellaneous; News/Current Events; Philosophy
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To: nyconse
I mean partial birth abortion (should have used the preview).
61 posted on 07/21/2003 9:45:58 PM PDT by nyconse
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To: AntiGuv
Reagan didn't veto many spending bills.
62 posted on 07/21/2003 9:46:18 PM PDT by Consort
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To: nyconse

That's not an argument for massive drug subsidies.

That's a dodge.

63 posted on 07/21/2003 9:46:50 PM PDT by Jhoffa_ (BREAKING: Supreme Court Finds Right to Sodomy, Sammy & Frodo elated.)
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To: Jhoffa_
"And it's shameful. You should be ashamed, and if you had any sense, you would be."

Why should I be ashamed? I pay 39.5% in fed taxes and I bet I pay your way as well. Medicare won't come in to my live for another 25 years. You totally took my bait and went with emotion on spending and ignored the facts 100%

64 posted on 07/21/2003 9:47:19 PM PDT by america-rules (I'm one proud American right now !)
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To: nyconse
But, hey.. so long as you get your drugs.. Right, Mr. Conservative?
65 posted on 07/21/2003 9:47:49 PM PDT by Jhoffa_ (BREAKING: Supreme Court Finds Right to Sodomy, Sammy & Frodo elated.)
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To: poet
Bottom line, there is only one party and they take turns. Different approaches, different names, same results.

And there you have it.

66 posted on 07/21/2003 9:48:02 PM PDT by Joe Hadenuf (Are these people for real?)
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To: Jhoffa_
Since, medicare is a subsidized plan. Obviously tax dollars are spent. However, the plan is not free to subscribers. If Bush is elected in 2004 and helps elect more Republicans to congress, social Security and Medicare are going to be privatized.
67 posted on 07/21/2003 9:50:20 PM PDT by nyconse
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To: america-rules

LOL! So your fellow taxpayers OWE you prescription drugs?

I see. Do you want food stamps also?

The facts don't like you tonight. Because the fact is, you're just another (ahem) "Conservative" looking for a subsidy from uncle fed. No wonder you don't have a problem with this, it's right up your alley.

And, it's shameful..

68 posted on 07/21/2003 9:51:57 PM PDT by Jhoffa_ (BREAKING: Supreme Court Finds Right to Sodomy, Sammy & Frodo elated.)
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To: nyconse
I think Bush's reelection will hinge 100% on the economy. If voters perceive economic growth & stability , he'll win a landslide; if voters perceive economic decline & insecurity, he'll near certainly lose (though perhaps not to Dean or Kerry). I'm uncertain what my personal solution will be but I may very well throw away my vote as I did in 2000 (I wrote in someone).
69 posted on 07/21/2003 9:54:01 PM PDT by AntiGuv ()
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To: AntiGuv
I guess since Congress has never sent him a big spending cut - and Bush has never asked for one, much less made a decision on signing one - then we'll never know for sure...

Good, so what's the big deal? Which Dem do you prefer over Bush? Are we just venting here, or what? There is a big, powerful government in Washington. Who do you want in control of that power: Democrats with a bunch of Socialists members or Republicans with some Conservatives members?

70 posted on 07/21/2003 9:54:03 PM PDT by Consort
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To: nyconse

Oh! I see.

You know, that doesn't sound much like the way you described it previously.

I see. IOW, it's just backed with taxpayer dough..

I have absolutely no reason to believe that.

Looks to me like you and your "conservative" friend just want a big, fat, taxpayer handout..

71 posted on 07/21/2003 9:55:19 PM PDT by Jhoffa_ (BREAKING: Supreme Court Finds Right to Sodomy, Sammy & Frodo elated.)
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To: Jhoffa_
You haven't taken on one fact in my argument and have taken to personal attacks on me.

You are just an armchair wacko who doesn't know anything except the gov't is evil no matter what.

Make a decent argument on the facts or shut up on matters you are ignorant about!

72 posted on 07/21/2003 9:56:11 PM PDT by america-rules (I'm one proud American right now !)
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To: DoughtyOne
I do believe that there are examples of Reagan not toeing the conservative line on every issue.

Outside of military spending, Reagan cut government growth, and got our economy turned around from the dark depths of despair and pessimism dominant during the Carter years. And there was no doubt about Reagan's philosophy. He wasn't a stealth president with a secret conservative agenda. He knew he had better ideas he he beat liberals and Democrats over the head with them.

73 posted on 07/21/2003 10:00:03 PM PDT by Moonman62
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To: nyconse
Also, I think Bush needs to feel some pressure from the base and where else is that gonna come from if not forums like FR. Otherwise, I keep an open mind between now & Election Day. If it turns out Bush policies look to have improved the nation then I'll be supportive; if not, I won't. I'm perfectly content to support no one if need be. Bush needs to draw the spending line at this prescription drug benefit and pressure from the base will ensure that. He's got one more budget cycle to win alarmed fiscal conservatives like myself back onto the plantation. Let's see how he does....
74 posted on 07/21/2003 10:02:08 PM PDT by AntiGuv ()
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To: america-rules
What facts? You're whining about how you, a (ahem) "Conservative" deserve subsidized drugs because you pay so much in taxes.

I know you probably HATE the thought of such a handout, at the taxpayers expense.. but you're willing to take it to get Dubya re-elected.

That's you're whole argument.. What's left to debate?

I know a Four Hundred BILLION DOLLAR boondoggle when I see one. And the above is the best you can manage as a retort?

"Well, you're just dumb man.. and, and I like deserve the subsidy and stuff.. Yeah! But, I am only going to take it so's Dubya can get re-elected!"

LOL! Your's is the most bizzare line of reasoning I have ever come across.

In a just world, a lightning bolt would puncutate that statement.

75 posted on 07/21/2003 10:02:23 PM PDT by Jhoffa_ (BREAKING: Supreme Court Finds Right to Sodomy, Sammy & Frodo elated.)
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To: Jhoffa_
"I wouldn't even go so far as the "Social Conservative" end of it...AWB, Steel Tariffs, not backing the marriage amendment, amnesty...He's a military hawk and a tax cutter, I suppose that counts for something."

I never said Dubya didn't confuse the h*ll outta me ;-)

IMO, the litmus test for gauging this President's "conservative rating" ultimately will lie in his SC appointments.

76 posted on 07/21/2003 10:03:36 PM PDT by F16Fighter (Ann Coulter for Attorney General... Joe Scarborough for VP...Tom Tancredo as Homeland Security Chief)
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To: AntiGuv
You're right about the 18.4% of GDP in 2000, but in 2003 its at 19.9% and is estimated to drop to 19.7% in 2004.

A significant part of that increase is in the area of Human Resources, which has gone up from 11.5% in 2000, to 13.2% in 2003 and 13.1% in 2004.

Defense spending has gone from 3.0% of GDP in 2000, to 3.5% in 2003/2004.

77 posted on 07/21/2003 10:03:51 PM PDT by Reagan Man
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To: F16Fighter
I agree, the SC is kind of his saving grace, thus far also.

That's why I voted for him in 2000.

With lifetime appointments, you just can't play games in this department.

78 posted on 07/21/2003 10:05:47 PM PDT by Jhoffa_ (BREAKING: Supreme Court Finds Right to Sodomy, Sammy & Frodo elated.)
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To: publius1
To me, it's odd that the question is being raised now, and not during the last presidential campaign, when President Bush made promises about tax cuts and prescription drugs.

It was raised over and over during the campaign and election. W is NOT a Conservative. He is conservative is some areas, but is not a Conservative.

From my point of view, it is unfortuante that so many Republicans and freepers prefer to support him persnally instead of politically. By supporting and identifying with him personally, they support his moderate and liberal and democrat appeasing policies while railing on those who criticize his actions. They view criticism of his medicare plan as an assault on him, and by extension, themselves.

There was a great deal of skepticism about Bush's Conservative credentials during the campaign, but the overriding view was that people wanted ABG, Anyone But Gore. They won't admit it now, because they think that voting for the election winner somehow makes them a winner, but IMO those ABG voters are the ones that put Bush over the top, not the NRA or any specific campaign platform stance.

Bush's stragety of co-opting the democrats positions has resulted in more democratic agenda items than if the the democrats were actually in power. The Communist party stopped running candidates while clinton was in office because there was no point in runnign against themselves. I wouldn't be surprised if the Democrats did the same thing in the next election. Why waste the time and money running a candidate when they can get 80-90% of what they want with Republicans holding both sides of Congress and the White House?

79 posted on 07/21/2003 10:06:40 PM PDT by Eagle Eye (There ought to be a law against excessive legislation.)
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To: Jhoffa_
Actually, it's Mrs. Conservative. I am not old enough for medicare so I don't receive any free drugs. Do you consider prescription drugs recreational? I can think of many better plans than the present social security/medicare system. I wish social security and medicare had never been invented, but they exist. The reality is we can't get rid of them. Therefore, I would rather mold the plan in a way that is as conservative as possible: I expect Bush to push privatization in a second term.

My Mom lost money in the stock market-as did many of us. Her income was greatly reduced. She was on medicare and could not afford her prescriptions. She was too proud to ask for help from her children. Although, we visit often, none of us knew. She ended up in the hospital for three weeks because she had stopped buying her medicines. She came darn close to dying. The hospital bills were huge. Medicare paid far more than the prescriptions would have cost. There are five of us and we made sure Mom had her medicines after that. What about older folks who don't have anyone to help? I know you will sneer at me, but the thought of the elderly not able to afford their medicine and eat at the same time bothers me. Also, in the end it costs medicare more. Paying for prescriptions is cheaper than paying large hospital bills.
80 posted on 07/21/2003 10:07:36 PM PDT by nyconse
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