Politics & Policy

A Conservative President?

It amounted to a thoroughgoing exaltation of the state.

Aw, gee. He’s our guy, I like him, and his performance since 9/11 has proven brave, steadfast, and completely admirable. But this speech? It was well-written–in places actually beautiful–and well-delivered. (I dissent from Jonah Goldberg and others who fault Bush for his delivery on the ground that they’re forgetting to multiply his score by the degree of difficulty. Just try standing outdoors, in freezing weather, using a sound system that echoes, and then delivering a speech to an audience that consists of more or less the entire planet. Denny Hastert couldn’t even administer the oath of office to the vice president without misspeaking. Bush delivered his entire text without a flaw.) But the speech was in almost no way that of a conservative. To the contrary. It amounted to a thoroughgoing exaltation of the state.

Bush has just announced that we must remake the entire third world in order to feel safe in our own homes, and he has done so without sounding a single note of reluctance or hesitation. This overturns the nation’s fundamental stance toward foreign policy since its inception. Washington warned of “foreign entanglements.” The second President Adams asserted that “we go not abroad in search of monsters to destroy.” During the Cold War, even Republican presidents made it clear that we played our large role upon the world stage only to defend ourselves and our allies, seeking to changed the world by our example rather than by force. Maybe I’m misreading Bush–I’m writing this based on my notes, and without having had time to study the text–but sheesh.

On domestic policy, a “broader definition of liberty?” Citing as useful precedents the Homestead Act, the Social Security Act, and the G. I. Bill? Compare what Bush said today with the inaugural address of Lyndon Baines Johnson and the first inaugural address of Ronald Reagan and you’ll find that Bush sounds much, much more like LBJ. He as much as announced that from now on the GOP will be a party of big government. I can only hope that Chris Cox, Dana Rohrabacher, and other Republican members of Congress standing on the platform behind the president today were thinking to themselves, “Not so fast, buster.” Bush may yet win critical conservative victories in this second term–notably by managing to enact private retirement accounts. But his “broader definition of liberty” makes me mighty nervous.

Tell me I’m wrong. Please.

Peter Robinson, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and host of Uncommon Knowledge, is author of How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life.

Peter Robinson — Peter M. Robinson is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution.

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