Conservatives have not been happy with George W. Bush. For each brand of conservatism, there is a different critique. Not so with Ronald Reagan, whom conservatives uniformly praise for various reasons. Seventy-nine percent of those in attendance at last week’s Conservative Political Action Conference said they would prefer a candidate who is a Reagan Republican. Three percent would go for a G. W. Bush Republican. One gets the impression that Bush isn’t even considered a conservative.
I argue with Joseph Bottum in the most recent First Things
over whether President Bush should be seen as a disaster for conservatism. I think not; Bottum thinks so. Chief among his criticisms is that, while Bush may be conservative in principle, in practice he has been simply incompetent. Bush may have wanted to advance the conservative cause, but instead has just made a mess.
Bottum’s criticism has been knocking around in my mind since I tried to respond to it, and I just don’t think it holds up. There are numerous accomplishments by Bush that belie Bottum’s claims. Yet Bush has also been a conservative in a more fundamental way, as he has changed the way in which government gets things done.
Some say that Bush’s budget deficits prove he is not a conservative. It is true that under his watch the federal government’s debt has grown, but the enormous expenses incurred after September 11 must be taken into account. That autumn, the whole U.S. economy took a powerful hit — airlines, restaurants, business meetings, banking, investments, jobs, monetary values. It took more than three years to restore the transportation, banking, and investment systems to pre-9/11 levels. Bush deserves at least some credit for leading the country from a severe trough to almost unprecedented prosperity.
Also, the war against jihadists in Afghanistan and Iraq required huge financial outlays. These war-expenses have been sound investments in the nation’s future, since the nation’s survival depended on them.
Nevertheless, a swollen federal budget is not a conservative practice. Admitted.
Yet perhaps there are better indicators of how conservative this president has been. There must be some reason why he maddens liberals to the frothing point.
Many call attention to the president’s eight substantive tax-cuts. I especially value the lower taxes on venture capital expended to establish new industries. These new capital funds have created millions of new jobs. That is the best bottom line when it comes to political economics: the number of new jobs created.
No president has ever been so strongly conservative on the pro-life front as President Bush. He has consistently labored to protect the human rights of the unborn, and has acted similarly when it comes to other important pro-life matters.
Bush signed the Partial Birth Abortion ban and the ban on funding abortions through UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund). He also restored and expanded the Mexico City agreement.
He capped, by executive order, federal funding for embryonic-stem-cell research and vetoed legislation that would have violated this boundary. (He did not prohibit private embryonic stem-cell research, but, rather, he acted according to the Jeffersonian principle that it is odious to tax people for actions that they morally abhor.)
He dedicated unprecedented funds to abstinence education through the Department of Health and Human Services.
And on family legislation?
Bush endorsed the Federal Marriage Amendment, which defines marriage as a contract between one man and one woman.
He repeatedly speaks of the family as the “unseen pillar of civilization.”
He was the first president to sign a school-choice bill to give parents greater freedom in deciding where their children will be educated.
He has committed his administration, through the Departments of Justice and State, to halting sex trafficking and modern forms of slavery throughout the world, and he has appointed an ambassador to oversee such reforms.
He has dedicated funding to prepare prisoners for productive lives after they leave prison.
And on big domestic issues?
He signed the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, which will curb Medicare/Medicaid spending by $11 billion over the next five years.
He braved the “third rail” of American politics in his attempt to reform Social Security.