Conservative Bush
An effective and pioneering president.


He implemented deregulation across all government agencies.

He ordered every department of government to assess points of cooperation with faith-based initiatives.

He signed into law prescription drug assistance for the elderly — the first and only health-care reform in modern history to win a nearly 90-percent approval rating and to come in substantially under budget.

This prescription-drug reform also pioneered a new way to include the disciplines and incentives of market mechanisms in federal programs. This signal success should help pave the way for similar reforms throughout the health care, welfare, and Social Security systems. Such methods work to maximize personal responsibility and freedom of choice, while providing people with the support of a compassionate government. Some object that this “compassionate government” bit is not conservative, but it is in accordance with Ronald Reagan’s modified acceptance of the welfare state.

And with regards to the courts, in just six years President Bush has nominated and seen confirmed 30 percent of all sitting federal judges, as well as two very intelligent and solid conservative jurists on the Supreme Court, Justices Roberts and Alito.

President Bush has defined a new kind of conservatism. It is legitimate to criticize it, even to oppose it vigorously. But to do so honestly and accurately, one must note the change in method that President Bush has quietly and successfully been enacting. As often as possible, in as many ways as possible, he is using as the dynamo of personal choice and the methods of the market, not direct state-management, in order to make government programs more effective and more efficient. That is why Democrats, both of the old New Deal-type and of the new Clinton-type, oppose him so fiercely. They seem to see what he is up to better than many uneasy conservatives do.

Try to imagine the conservative future as Bush is trying to: Old-age assistance is mostly achieved by personal tax-exempt pension accounts. Medicare and other health expenses are paid for by means of personal, tax-exempt medical accounts (partly used for catastrophic insurance, mostly for ordinary health spending, and with a new incentive to watch over normal expenses carefully). Parental choice and market mechanisms help to weed out failing schools, replacing them with better ones.

Note that these new pension, medical, and school mechanisms deeply affect families, not simply individuals. This greater reliance on familial choice re-introduces a reliance on family, rather than on the state, as the chief agent of health, education, and welfare.

Bush has begun a major turn from the state toward the “little platoons” once celebrated by Burke, the “mediating institutions” that Peter Berger and Richard Neuhaus emphasized twenty years ago. This is a profoundly conservative impulse.


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