The Corner

The Bush Backlash?

I was already noodling a column on how some of the Tea Party’s enthusiasm can be understood as a delayed backlash against the Bush years. Then a reader just alerted me to this odd attack from the Economist.  It’s not clear whether “B.G.” thinks I’m disgusting for running from Bush when his poll numbers tanked or simply because I pointed out the Nixonian elements within Bushism. If it’s the former, I should at least note that I was criticizing domestic Bushism when he was still riding high. I was giving speeches like this in 2003-2004 (forgive the now dated Howard Dean riff at the beginning). And I’ve been beating up on “compassionate conservatism” since the day I heard the term.

As for my point about the Nixonian element running through Bushism, I see no reason to back off that claim since it only seems more true to me (even if B.G. lamely tries to dismiss it as “weirdly counterintuitive”). When I say “Nixonian,” I’m not referring to dirty tricks or break-ins, but a conception of the role of government. Nixon believed in an activist, compassionate, “just-do-something” Federal Government. It was often a very politicized and partisan conception, but it wasn’t purely so (and neither was Bush’s). Bush had no use for Buckleyite conservatism and said so. Nixon thought the Buckleyites were more dangerous than the Birchers and his hostility to the Goldwater faction is well known.

But I’m not a Bush hater and if a poll-taker asked me whether I had a favorable view of the man, I’d probably say “yes,” for all sorts of reasons.  Similarly, there were lots of things about Bill Clinton liberals hated or disapproved of, but most (I assume) would still answer that they viewed him favorably. B.G. wants to make the fact that 57% of Tea Party supporters are favorably disposed to Bush as proof of either their  “cognitive dissonance” or the fact that they just don’t like Barack Obama and are lying about their budget-balancing motives. He writes:

….Despite what Mr Romney and Mr Goldberg tell themselves, the base never punished Bush for his ideological failures. The Tea Partiers, 57% of them, still love them some unfunded-entitlement-spending, TARP-bail-outing, compassionate Bush. They just don’t like Barack Obama. I used to think that the Tea Party consisted of well-meaning budget hawks, peppered, like all movements, with crazies who own markers. But now they feel more and more like Grandpa Simpson, who, when left alone too long would eventually arrive at

I’m thirsty! Ew, what smells like mustard? There sure are a lot of ugly people in your neighborhood. Ooh, look at that one. Ow, my glaucoma just got worse. The president is a Democrat!

Lord knows I don’t object to Simpsons quotes in political commentary, but this is all so underwhelming. Perhaps the better place to spot cognitive dissonance is on the part of B.G. who can’t seem to grasp that it is both possible to express a favorable view of president Bush and lament what happened to the size of government on his watch.

Of course, there’s some merit to the fact that conservatives and Republicans didn’t complain loudly enough about Bush’s big government policies (though there was far more complaining than many claim to remember now). But why this should mean conservatives can’t legitimately complain when Obama grows government far, far more is beyond me.

Update: From a reader:

Sounds like B.G. doesn’t allow room for Tea Party types to have a nuanced perspective that regards Bush favorably despite his conservative (and libertarian) shortcomings.  I guess only elite intellectual liberals have the prefrontal cortex that enables parsing complex ideological spectra.

Exactly. Also, B.G.’s argument works in reverse very well. Now that Obama has broken promises on Iraq, the Patriot Act, Gitmo etc.  I guess we can no conclude that types were never seriously against the war. Just didn’t like Bush.

Update II: From a reader:

In response to the Economist writer’s claim:  “the base never punished Bush for his ideological failures”

The base punished Republicans in 2006 and 2008 by not showing up on election day.

Jonah Goldberg — Jonah Goldberg is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a senior editor of National Review. His new book, The Suicide of The West, will be released on April 24.

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