Politics & Policy

Rating Bush’s Slump

A Bush defeat would be a defeat for conservatism.

I don’t really like George W. Bush that much. I never have. He talks funny, isn’t particularly intellectual or humorous, and he doesn’t drink. (Which you should do if you’re not brainy or funny; that way people won’t think you talk weird either, they’ll just assume you’re drunk. It works for me.)

Don’t get me wrong, Bush is a nice and decent guy, but I don’t look at him and say, “Wow, that’s one righteous dude.” The candidate I liked was John McCain. I liked his manly, inspirational rhetoric, and I think he’d be a cool guy to hang out with. My problem with him was that he was bad on a lot of issues, especially campaign-finance “reform.” See, I’ve always thought Bush was better on the issues. Admittedly, I despise his rhetoric. Compassionate conservatism is a crock. And I would like nothing better than to discover that the fringe Left is exactly right when they say it’s a con. I hope George Bush is just saying “nice doggie” until he can find a rock.

So in this sense I have the opposite view toward Bush than the conventional wisdom says I should. I think George W. Bush is the substance candidate. He is the issues candidate. Of course, he’s more likable than Al Gore. To say George W. Bush is more likable than Al Gore is to say almost nothing at all. It’s like saying a guy on a respirator is smarter than Alec Baldwin, or Minnesota Fats was a better pool player than Helen Keller.

But while Bush is running on personality, he’s the best choice because of what he stands for. He has staked out the boldest positions in a presidential election in decades. If implemented (a big if), his proposals would have the same effect on the American public sector that a year-long diet of bran would have on Jerry Nadler’s innards. Bush favors school vouchers, an idea the Right has been developing into a movement for over a decade. Bush favors partial privatization of Social Security, perhaps the most radical public-policy proposal to be offered by a major-party candidate in modern memory. Bush favors real Medicare reform, crafted by Senator Breaux, a Democrat — reform that Bill Clinton cynically vetoed last year. Bush offers a tax cut whose appeal is intended to be political, but its effect is vital in terms of public policy. If our money is left in the hands of Al Gore and the Democrats — or in Washington at all — they will blow it like a pimp at a fake Rolex fire sale.

There are also important philosophical arguments, with real-life consequences, at stake in this election. Al Gore trash-talks business and free enterprise like an East Coast rapper whose songs have been ripped off by Weird Al Yankovic. More than any Democratic candidate since — since Hubert Humphrey? George McGovern? William Jennings Bryan? — Al Gore spits out the word “profits” the way Bill Clinton says “dietetic rice cake” or “sexual abstinence.”

It’d be really bad news if a man who believes profits are immoral gets in the White House. For example, I know people who follow the biotech and pharmaceutical industry who think that real human progress (you know: cures of diseases, longevity, the ability for humans to grow really cool prehensile tails which we could use to carry groceries or change the channel) will be set back by at least a decade if Al Gore becomes president. Gore fervently believes, despite this weird thing called “evidence,” that the government is better at developing drugs than the private sector.

Al Gore denounces the “outrageous record profits” of drug companies. And yet, for every drug that makes billions in profits there are hundreds of drugs which lose billions and never even make it to market. If he takes away those profits, he takes away the resources available for more research. AIDS — to pick one example — is no longer a death sentence, because of the breakthroughs of the private sector. And yet, ribbon-wearing AIDS activists support Gore when what they should really do is trade in their ribbons for stickers which say, “This activist made possible by Dupont.”

Al Gore has managed to convince people that “specifics” and “substance” and “merit” are all synonymous. At rally after rally Gore smugly screams to the crowds, “If you don’t want specifics you should leave!” and “Do you want specifics or do you want generalities?” (See here.) As if somehow a gaseous fog of bogus numerical pledges were superior to a single good idea.

Look, I can give you the “specifics” about how to make a car out of balsa wood, old newspapers, and grizzly-bear semen, but that doesn’t mean my blueprint would be better than the one from a guy who said, “Let’s ask an engineer,” or “Leave that bear alone.”

There are real arguments, winning arguments, behind George Bush’s positions. But the Bush campaign is either unwilling or unable to make them. And that is a scandal, morally, intellectually, and politically. It infuriates me to the point where I want to start kicking cats again. Personally, I don’t care if Bush or Karl Rove is discredited by a loss this November. But if Bush loses, the ideas will lose too. It will be all the harder the next time around for Republicans to run on strong conservative ideas.

Al Gore says his ticket represents the “New Guard” while George Bush and Dick Cheney represent the “Old Guard.” This from a guy who won’t change a single government entitlement put in place by FDR or LBJ except, of course, to expand them. Al Gore talks about “fighting for the people over the powerful,” as if “Big Business” were the enemy of the people these days. News flash: Corporate America is neither right-wing, nor is it an exploiter of the working man. In fact, big corporations are, if anything, too beholden to the gitchy-goo precepts of the suburban Left. Nonetheless, the truth is that public scrutiny of business — by dozens of federal and local agencies, by the press, by rapacious trial lawyers, and by the market itself — is a fact of American life. If you don’t believe me, just ask the CEOs of Ford and Firestone.

No, the outposts which have been sheltered from the winds of change, the gnarled and fatty tubers of American life are the bastions of the social-control Left. When Florida Gov. Jeb Bush implemented a system that would result in more minority kids going to college, activists staged a sit-in and sang, “We shall overcome.” Jesse Jackson spends his time mau-mauing lynchings that never happened and defending the self-esteem of high-school thugs. The National Council of La Raza (“the Race”) and the teachers’ unions (“the bloated”) rail against the racism of teaching Hispanic kids in English even though it works better for the kids and the parents want it. Ted Kennedy stands in the well of the Senate and denounces the idea of giving poor black kids private-school scholarships. The Davis-Bacon Act, passed in 1931 to keep blacks from getting good “white” jobs, stays on the books because the unions want it that way. These groups live in the past, and they should take their act to Colonial Williamsburg or Brown University or some other land of kitsch and make-believe.

Al Gore fights for these powerful people. He guards their interests. He is fighting for them. Meanwhile, Bush is staying above the fray, when he should be a helicopter of fists.


1. I am not known to brag (though I should tell you I am the most handsome brown-haired fat man whose last name rhymes with Shmoldberg to write a thrice-weekly English-language conservative Internet column). But, I would like to call your attention to the inestimable Camille Paglia’s wildly generous appraisal of National Review Online and my own efforts here. I knew that Ms. Paglia was an occasional reader, which was flattering enough, but this has me blushing more than a nun at a Eminem pool party. Click here.

2. I know this is a bit of a rude request, but could you guys be a little more selective in your e-mails to me. I am getting press releases, recipes, snippets of water-cooler conversations and countless essays, conspiracy theories, and — most of all — BCCs of letters-to-the-editor. Right now, I have 528 e-mails I haven’t even opened yet. I welcome feedback, both positive and negative. But the quickest way to get me to ignore all of your e-mail is to send me regular dreck, even well-intentioned dreck. I’m also eager to get tips and scoops from you guys, but not every high-school term paper is a tip and not every press release is a scoop. This goes double for Instant Messaging. Unless you’re I.M.-ing me to say “turn on the TV! a stow-away grizzly bear is terrorizing the space-shuttle crew!” just put it in an e-mail. Thanks.


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