On my previous post, TPM Reader MO says the following …
Perhaps I’m only fairly sane as well, but I do think the GOP has a point. If you take Goldwater and Reagan as the baseline for conservatism, and perhaps H.W Bush as a reformed conservative, it’s pretty easy to see why people like Sullivan, etc. don’t consider the Bush years as conservative ones.
My earlier post was more assertion than argument, so let me expand on the point. There are many flavors of conservatism. And among them are many people who can look at President Bush’s eight years in office and point to policies they didn’t like. But that’s not the standard. Or in any case it’s a foolish one. The question is just how President Bush’s actual tenure in office differs from previous Republican leaders who remain firmly in the pantheon.
I would start by casting off Goldwater because you really cannot compare candidacies, which are inherently aspirational and since they have no power can combine all sorts of totally contradictory impulses and be all things to all people. Along the same lines, political philosophies aren’t based in pundits or really good books. They’re a matter of political movements — parties, records in office, political institutions, all of which exist in the fallen world of constrained options in the real world. So let’s focus on the obvious counter-example, Ronald Reagan.
My sense is that for the vast majority of Republicans, their current and alleged beef with President Bush is that he espoused some sort of ‘big government conservatism’. He was profligate with the nation’s finances and left the country settled with huge structural deficits.
How is this different from Reagan’s time in office exactly? They’re actually surprisingly similar.
Both presidents pushed through big tax cuts, squeezed domestic discretionary spending, though never as much as opponents feared or supporters professed to hope for, and spent lavishly on defense. Having two big wars gave President Bush more to spend on. But the broad pattern is very similar. And both ended up leaving the country with really big deficits, though Reagan did a bit in the latter years of his administration to even the balance. Again, very, very similar. So either Bush is well within the conservative tradition or Reagan is another phony.
Perhaps you could argue that President Bush was too big government on the civil liberties and state power front. But it’s the rump GOP which has staked its reputation on a principled embrace of torture, warrantless wiretapping and various other kinds of extra- and unconstitutional actions. So that doesn’t strike me as credible. How else did President Bush’s Republican party get away from its conservative roots.
Late Update: TPM Reader MS adds some snark …
It’s even more amazing that there were precious few voices on the right pointing out Bush’s conservative heresy.
If only the right-wing had some sort of mass media outlets at their disposal - you know, a book publisher or wonkish magazines or a cable TV news channel, just to pull three totally hypothetical examples out of thin air - to get the word out during Bush’s time in office - when something could have been done about this heresy, in real time - that he was betraying conservatism.
Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.