The Corner

Bush & Nixon Cont’d

A basic point some missed, probably because I undersold it, is that I think Bush’s problems and Nixon’s problems are related in this sense: When you stand on a clear principle, clearly expressed and understood, you get credit even from those who disagree with you. And to be fair to Bush, he has stuck to principle in defiance of the prevailing winds of opinion on a host of issues. But when it comes to a vast swath of domestic policy, there seems to be no principled boundaries to his thinking. Much like Nixon and other presidents in the Progressive tradition, public policy is driven by pragmatism and do-gooderism rather than classically liberal principles about the role of the state. I didn’t give Bush credit for his Social Security plan — in part because it failed so miserably, alas. But that plan when put alongside his Medicare plan certainly demonstrates that there is no binding set of rules which govern Bush’s approach to domestic affairs. This creates a trap unique to conservative presidents. If you refuse to “help” the poor with Plan A, but you have no objection to a similarly statist Plan B, critics and friends alike have to look to something other than philosophy to explain your support. Critics will opt towards explanations of cronyism, corruption and hard-heartedness. Friends, over time, will assume political expediency. Both sets of explanations may be unfair since they tend to simplify factors. But, I think the political dynamic is real. Diehard defenders need something (like the war on terror and judicial appointments) other than personal loyalty to hang their support on (in part because when a president gets into trouble, the only fuel he has left to burn is personal loyalty).  

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