The leadership of George W. Bush: con & pro.

Author:Bottum, Joseph

Joseph Bottum writes:

After six years of President Bush--thought by nearly every observer to be the most socially conservative president of recent decades--where does social conservatism stand? No one can deny there have been some bright spots: the defeat of the Democrats' Senate leader Tom Daschle in 2004, the nominations of Justices Roberts and Alito to the Supreme Court in 2005, a few successful state referenda in 2006.

What isn't so clear is what it all amounts to. The noise has been overwhelming since George W. Bush took office. Abortion, euthanasia, stem cells, public Christmas displays, same-sex marriage, pornography in the movies, faith-based initiatives, immigration, visible patriotism: We've been warned by the media, over and over again, that Republicans are reshaping America into a Puritan's paradise. But, at the end of the day, the media mostly won and the Republicans mostly lost. Social conservatism is in little better shape now than it was when Bush was first elected. In many ways, it is in worse shape.

In truth, no branch of conservatism has prospered much under Bush, particularly since the beginning of the Iraq War. Economic conservatives have had several victories, particularly with tax cuts, but on their fundamental worries about bloated government spending, they've been routed. From 2000 to 2006, the Republican Congress proved as financially undisciplined as its Democratic predecessors--and occasionally even less disciplined, as the prescription-drug entitlement and Katrina relief showed. And that's to say nothing about the scandals involving Tom Delay, Jack Abramoff, Mark Foley, and all the rest. The Gingrich Republicans used the long parade of congressional corruption to help defeat the Democrats in 1994, but they seemed all too ready to join it themselves once they had held power for a few years.

Even the neoconservatives have suffered. The original agitators for the toppling of Saddam Hussein--and the first to see clearly the threat of global Jihadism--they seemed to the media to have gotten what they wanted with the invasion of Iraq. But the Bush administration did not give them the kind of war, much less the kind of peace, for which they had called.

Why, these days, should the Sudanese government fear the United States will intervene to halt the slaughter in Darfur? Why should the Iranians worry about an American strike against their development of nuclear bombs? Shortly after the success of the initial invasion of Iraq, Libya announced it would dismantle its weapons of mass destruction. It's hard to imagine any Middle Eastern country doing the same now. Since 2003, the neoconservatives have been the whipping boys of a left invigorated by the floundering Bush administration--all while that same administration has systematically rejected their policy suggestions, culminating in the disheartening appointment of the self-proclaimed realist Robert Gates as the nation's new secretary of defense.

So why were conservatives supposed to cheer the president's State of the Union address this January? If we haven't yet demonstrated to the world that we can successfully oppose the Jihadists, if we haven't yet brought government spending under control, if we haven't yet established any permanent advances on the life issues--if all that Republican government has successfully managed over the past six years is to inspire a rabid opposition at home and abroad--then many opportunities have been squandered. Every conservative I know is depressed these days, and they are fight to be. Under President Bush, conservatism has won only in the sense of not losing as quickly as it would have under a President Gore or a President Kerry.

The common turn among commentators, once they've recognized Bush's weakness, has been to declare the betrayal of some form of authentic conservatism. In book after book--from Bruce Bartlett's Imposter and Patrick Buchanan's State of Emergency to Jeffrey Hart's The Making of the American Conservative Mind and Richard Viguerie's Conservatives Betrayed--a number of self-declared conservatives have announced the apostasy and treachery of George W. Bush. Thus Bush is an ideologue where sincere conservatives are pragmatists. Or Bush is a spendthrift where true conservatives are budget-balancers. Or Bush is an expansionist where genuine conservatives are isolationists. Or Bush is a religious believer where real conservatives are religious skeptics.

Some of these commentators, particularly the economic conservatives, have valid complaints, though like the rest of us they must face the fact that things would have been even worse under a Democratic administration. But their conclusion that the White House has flown under false colors is ludicrous. In all that he has tried to do--reform education, fix social security, restore religion to the public square, assert American greatness, appoint good judges--Bush has proved himself a conservative. Of course, along the way, he has also proved himself hapless. The problem isn't his lack of conservatism. The problem is his lack of competence.

Apart from the still not certain pro-life views of the two new Supreme Court justices, where is there a major success to...

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