The Corner

Noonan on Bush

I confess myself deeply puzzled by Peggy Noonan’s column today, in which she doubts President Bush has a philosophy:

 I agree with Mr. Buckley’s judgments but would add they raise the question of what Bush’s political philosophy is–I mean what he thinks it is. It’s not “everyone should be free.” Everyone in America thinks everyone should be free, what we argue over is specific definitions of freedom and specific paths to the goal. He doesn’t believe in smaller government. Or maybe he “believes” in small government but believes us to be in an era in which it is, with the current threat, unrealistic and unachievable? He believes in lower taxes. What else? I continually wonder, and have wondered for two years, what his philosophy is–what drives his actions.

Does he know? Is it a philosophy or a series of impulses held together by a particular personality? Can he say? It would be good if he did. People are not going to start feeling safe in the world tomorrow, but they feel safer with a sense that their leaders have aims that are intellectually coherent. It would be good for the president to demonstrate that his leadership is not just a situational hodgepodge, seemingly driven and yet essentially an inbox presidency, with a quirky tilt to the box.

This is a very odd criticism. If there’s anything George W. Bush has, it’s a philosophy, and an intellectually coherent one. He believes that the individual has inherent freedom and dignity, and that this should be the hallmark of all efforts by government. That’s a philosophy, and it extends from “compassionate conservatism” to the Bush doctrine.

It’s true, however, that its policy implications aren’t necessarily clear immediately. For example, you could argue that a philosophy centered around inherent freedom and dignity requires a radically limited form of government because only then can the individual fully exercise his freedom and dignity. But you can also argue that the freedom and dignity of the individual require an extensive safety net, especially for those like children and the elderly who cannot fully excercise them.

In any case, it’s bizarre to say this is an “in-box” presidency. The “in-box” presidency was his father’s, which was about as divorced from this one as Arianna is from Michael.

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