The Corner

WFB on GWB

“I think Mr. Bush faces a singular problem best defined, I think, as the absence of effective conservative ideology. He’s a man who ran as a conservative, was accepted as a conservative alternative. And when he took power he had a Republican Congress and a Republican Senate and a mostly Republican Supreme Court. But he then failed to refine conservative purposes with the result that he ended up being very extravagant in domestic spending, extremely tolerant of excesses by Congress, and in respect of foreign policy, incapable of bringing together such forces as apparently were necessary to conclude the Iraq challenge.” There’s more. (Via George Conway.)

The CBS headline has Bill saying that Bush is “not a true conservative”; that’s not far off, although I think Bill’s actual formulation (“the absence of effective conservative ideology”) is better. Bush has served some conservative purposes and frustrated others. My own assessment of the balance would be more positive than Bill’s–I would, for example, put more weight on Bush’s accomplishment in making the Supreme Court more conservative than he does–but judgments will differ. Where I disagree with Bill is that I don’t think that Bush ran as a conventional ideological conservative in 2000. In particular, he didn’t run as a government-cutter. And the reason he didn’t run as one, and hasn’t governed as one, is only partly explained by his not being one.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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