How Conservative Was Bush?

 

On his Facebook page, in the course of responding to an attack on Sarah Palin launched on Politico, Mark Levin has lodged charges against her detractors among those – such as Karl Rove, David Frum, and Peter Wehner – who served in the administration of George W. Bush. In this context, he argues,

Bush’s record, at best, is marginally conservative, and depending on the issue, worse. In fact, the Tea Party movement is, in part, a negative reaction to Bush’s profligate spending (including his expansion of a bankrupt Medicare program to include prescription drugs). And while Bush’s spending comes nowhere near Barack Obama’s, that is not the standard. Moreover, Bush was not exactly among our most articulate presidents, let alone conservative voices. I raise this not to compare Bush to Palin, but to point out only a few of the situational aspects of the criticism from the Bush community corner. (If necessary, and if challenged, I will take the time to lay out the case in all its particulars, as well as other non-conservative Bush policies and statements.  No Republican president is perfect, of course, but certainly some are more perfect that others, if you will.)

On the Contentions blog maintained by Commentary, Peter Wehner has come to W.’s defense, suggesting that in a great many areas W. was as conservative, if not more conservative, than his revered predecessor Ronald Reagan. Wehner is intelligent and thoughtful. His posts are always worth reading, and he has a case to make in almost every sphere – apart from the one cited by Mark Levin: spending (where he concedes that the younger Bush fell short).

He leaves out one issue, however, that I think paramount: McCain-Feingold. Bush rightly considered the bill unconstitutional, and he made his opinion known. After all, the First Amendment says that “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” How could the language of the Constitution be made clearer?

In signing McCain-Feingold, George W. Bush betrayed his oath of office – which requires that he uphold and defend the Constitution. We are fortunate that, under the Obama administration, the Supreme Court has chipped away at that malicious piece of legislation. But Bush left us to the mercy of Justice Kennedy, and that is hard to forgive. The liberals want to shut down talk radio, where they have proven unable to compete. They want to subsidize newspapers, which for the most part they control; they want to regulate the internet to their advantage; and they want to regulate expenditures on advertising that might affect the outcome of elections.

Freedom of speech really is our first freedom. It is our chief protection against administrative tyranny. And in a world in which greater and greater power is concentrated in administrative agencies that operate behind closed doors and issue regulations that in manifold ways shape our lives, it is our only bulwark. On the day he signed McCain-Feingold, President Bush disgraced himself.

Why he gave way I have often wondered but do not know. There is only one possible motive that I can think of. I suspect that a deal was done with John McCain to ensure the latter’s enthusiastic support in the general election. If so, Bush’s action was all the more shameful – for, if there was such a deal, it was the very model of what once was termed “a corrupt bargain” – the sacrifice of high principle for personal gain. Were I to learn that I am dead wrong in this suspicion, that Bush had some less reprehensible motive, I would be very glad – for, in many ways, I admire the man. When, in the face of almost universal opposition, he pressed on with the “surge” in Iraq, he had a moment of greatness.

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Members have made 57 comments.

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  1. Profile photo of Gus Marvinson Inactive

    There were many things to like about Bush. The way he spent my money wasn’t one of them.

    • #1
    • March 18, 2011 at 3:10 am
  2. Profile photo of Gus Marvinson Inactive

    Levin. Hammer. Nail. Head.

    • #2
    • March 18, 2011 at 3:13 am
  3. Profile photo of Jimmy Carter Member

    I never considered President Bush “Conservative.” He was a politician through and through.

    Conservatism is a set of principles that are non-negotiable. Period. 

    President Bush’s sails were blown by the wind between the margins. A history of tit-for-tat.

    • #3
    • March 18, 2011 at 3:20 am
  4. Profile photo of Jan-Michael Rives Inactive

    President Bush always seemed to me to be an unusually honorable and honest man. I seriously doubt that he would ever have considered such a deal. It’s more likely that he thought the law would be, on balance, an improvement on the state of affairs back then (increased disclosure and maximum individual contribution), and that the offending parts of the bill would be struck down in any case.

    • #4
    • March 18, 2011 at 3:34 am
  5. Profile photo of Michael Labeit Member

    In my opinion, Bush, as a whole, as a walking catastrophe. His record is available here and here for viewing. His accomplishments include the:

    No Child Left Behind Act of 2002

    Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003

    American Dream Down Payment Act of 2003

    Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002

    Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002

    Homeland Security Act of 2002

    Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act of 2005

    Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2007

    Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007

    Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008

    Economic Stimulus Act of 2008

    Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2008

    Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008

    Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008

    Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008

    And these represent the ruin of just his domestic policy.

    • #5
    • March 18, 2011 at 3:42 am
  6. Profile photo of Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe Post author
    Jan-Michael Rives: President Bush always seemed to me to be an unusually honorable and honest man. I seriously doubt that he would ever have considered such a deal. It’s more likely that he thought the law would be, on balance, an improvement on the state of affairs back then (increased disclosure and maximum individual contribution), and that the offending parts of the bill would be struck down in any case. · Mar 17 at 3:34pm

    Edited on Mar 17 at 03:35 pm

    If this is true — and, alas, it is not (Bush called the bill unconstitutional) — he betrayed his oath. To sign a bill that he knows to be unconstitutional in whole or in part is to subvert, not to uphold the Constitution. He knew what he was doing, and he did it. Look the maximum individual contribution itself is a limit on freedom of speech. When the Constitution says, “Congress will make no law . . .  abridging,” it admits no exceptions.

    • #6
    • March 18, 2011 at 3:54 am
  7. Profile photo of Matthew Osborn Inactive

     GW Bush may have been a hawk, but he was a very progressive big government spender. Michael’s litany above should be suffcient cause shudders in any conservative.

    • #7
    • March 18, 2011 at 3:56 am
  8. Profile photo of cdor Member

     Someone please help me. On his way out of office, after he had gotten TARP passed through Congress, Bush made an historic statement, the exact words are escaping me, but it went something like this, “I have to destroy capitalism in order to save capitalism”. That comment coming after he had broken his pledge to uphold the Constitution by illegally using those very same TARP funds, which were specifically disallowed by Congress for the auto industry, to bail out the auto industry…well that pretty much did it for me and GW. I still, however, admire his sincerely heartfelt respect for our troops.

    Mama Bush dissing Palin for no reason at all was another nail for the Bush family. I used to defend these people in conversation. Not so much anymore.

    • #8
    • March 18, 2011 at 4:01 am
  9. Profile photo of The King Prawn Member

    I defend Bush for 3 reasons:

    1. I grew up in Midland
    2. He was not Al Gore
    3. He was not John Kerry
    • #9
    • March 18, 2011 at 4:12 am
  10. Profile photo of Klaatu Thatcher

    No president will ever be as conservative as I would wish.  It is the nature of the office to compromise on certain issues.  The fact that there are those on the left that believe Obama is insufficiently pure in his liberalism shows this is true at the other end of the spectrum as well.

    For me there are two reason I will always consider Bush a conservative; Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito.

    • #10
    • March 18, 2011 at 5:17 am
  11. Profile photo of Larry Koler Member

    I think the election of 2004 was extremely critical for this country. I can justify a person doing what Bush did if this important election hung in the balance. I can’t answer that question fully, but if that was honestly the calculation he was making then I can support him. The Constitution was made for man not man for the Constitution… and of course, the old trope that is essentially correct: “The Constitution is not a suicide pact.”

    Letting an anti-American traitor like John Kerry be president would be almost as bad as letting an anti-American Marxist like Barack Obama become president. Here’s the difference, though, regarding Bush: the 2004 election was more important than the 2008 election. It was probably the most important election in my lifetime.

    • #11
    • March 18, 2011 at 5:50 am
  12. Profile photo of Hang On Member

    Paul Rahe,

    I could not agree with you more about Bush as far as McCain-Feingold. But what got me was how muted the criticism of Bush was from conservatives and Republicans when it happened. The other reason I liked Bush in 2000 had to do with his renunciation of nation building. That’s why I disagree with you about the surge and disagree about what we are doing in Afghanistan. If we had pulled out, there would have been a massive civil war. But that is what is going on among Islamic societies at the moment, and frankly who cares? American foreign policy should be for the material benefit of Americans. Period. All this democracy-building is a load of whooie. You can’t build a nation for other people. So on both domestic and foreign policy grounds, not only was Bush not a conservative, he was a disaster who tainted conservatives because they stuck with him far too much.

    • #12
    • March 18, 2011 at 5:55 am
  13. Profile photo of Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe Post author
    Klaatu: No president will ever be as conservative as I would wish.  It is the nature of the office to compromise on certain issues.  The fact that there are those on the left that believe Obama is insufficiently pure in his liberalism shows this is true at the other end of the spectrum as well.

    For me there are two reason I will always consider Bush a conservative; Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito. · Mar 17 at 5:17pm

    Those are two pretty good reasons.

    • #13
    • March 18, 2011 at 6:05 am
  14. Profile photo of Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe Post author
    Larry Koler: I think the election of 2004 was extremely critical for this country. I can justify a person doing what Bush did if this important election hung in the balance. I can’t answer that question fully, but if that was honestly the calculation he was making then I can support him. The Constitution was made for man not man for the Constitution… and of course, the old trope that is essentially correct: “The Constitution is not a suicide pact.”

    Letting an anti-American traitor like John Kerry be president would be almost as bad as letting an anti-American Marxist like Barack Obama become president. Here’s the difference, though, regarding Bush: the 2004 election was more important than the 2008 election. It was probably the most important election in my lifetime. · Mar 17 at 5:50pm

    Very interesting. Why do you regard the 2004 election as more important? My guess is that, if we had lost in 2004, Kerry would have quickly made such a hash of things that we would have been back in 2008. Obama, for all of his faults, is a more formidable politician. What was at stake in 2004?

    • #14
    • March 18, 2011 at 6:07 am
  15. Profile photo of PJ Member
    PJ

    You can’t compare Reagan and Bush 43 policy point by policy point because Bush existed in a post-Reagan world. Bush tried to give us amnesty even after the broken promises of 1986. Bush had a slew of reliable conservative jurists to pick from, carefully cultivated by the Federalist Society, which Reagan did not (and Bush still tried to give us Harriet Myers). This is not a hard question. Bush was a “compassionate conservative” who said when someone is hurting, the government has to move. Reagan was a conservative who said the scariest words in the language were “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.” Reagan was right. And Right.

    • #15
    • March 18, 2011 at 6:11 am
  16. Profile photo of Robert Promm Inactive

    Bush claimed to be a “compassionate conservative”.  To me this was code for a liberal who didn’t want to be labeled a liberal.

    Bush has this die-hard belief in the essential goodness of mankind.  This likely comes from his Armenian/Methodist Christian worldview.  Being on the other side of this doctrinal devide, I was always frustrated by his initiatives that I knew were doomed to failure.

    That being said, I think that he was always true to his Christian worldview.  It was the filter through which every action was passed.

    • #16
    • March 18, 2011 at 6:11 am
  17. Profile photo of The King Prawn Member
    Hang On: All this democracy-building is a load of whooie. You can’t build a nation for other people.

    I’ve contemplated our nation building/democracy planting doctrine quite a bit and I do not see anything really good coming of it in the long run. Democracy is more method than meaning. What makes ours work (or did) was a foundation of Western political/philosophical thought that most of the world either lacks or rejects outright. Planting democracy in a field not enriched by liberty is futile at best and dangerous at worst. To tie this all back into the conservative/non-conservative question: I think true conservatism is adherence to the fundamentals that underlie certain political policies rather than adherence to the policies themselves. If Bush adhered to the fundamental concept of liberty in his policies then he was conservative. If not, then not.

    • #17
    • March 18, 2011 at 6:37 am
  18. Profile photo of Ross C Member

    I think President Bush was conservative but made real efforts at bipartisanship in many areas.  (Examples would be No Child Left Behind and the Medicare drug benefit).  These are all areas where he will be criticized by conservatives.  I think he wanted to govern in an apolitical and statesmanlike manner.  I think this is why he did not defend himself as the left wing press ranted about him day after day.  A mistake if ever there was one.

    BTW the president does not rule alone, Republicans had control of the Senate for half Bush’ tenure and control of the house for 3/4 of that time.

    • #18
    • March 18, 2011 at 6:46 am
  19. Profile photo of Michael Labeit Member
    Ross Conatser: I think President Bush was conservative but made real efforts at bipartisanship in many areas.  (Examples would be No Child Left Behind and the Medicare drug benefit).  These are all areas where he will be criticized by conservatives.  I think he wanted to govern in an apolitical and statesmanlike manner.  I think this is why he did not defend himself as the left wing press ranted about him day after day.  A mistake if ever there was one.

    BTW the president does not rule alone, Republicans had control of the Senate for half Bush’ tenure and control of the house for 3/4 of that time. 

    True, but all bills developed by Congress must receive approval from the President in order to become laws.

    • #19
    • March 18, 2011 at 6:53 am
  20. Profile photo of Scott R Member

    Bush’s country wasn’t conservative, which is why he couldn’t expand HSA’s without  granting prescription drugs, which is why he got hammered trying to reform Social Security, which is why he had to fight wars with practically no one behind him, which is why he suffered politically for not over-stepping his constitutional prerogatives during Katrina, which is why he (unwisely and against his better judgment) relented to a  popular campaign finance reform bill, etc.

    Should he have stood his ground more? Sure. But the underlying problem, as always, was with us, not him, and the Mark Levin’s of the world would grasp this fact good and fast if they ever actually had to govern. Which of course they never will.  

    • #20
    • March 18, 2011 at 7:05 am
  21. Profile photo of The King Prawn Member

    Good points, Scott. I still wish he would have found his veto pen some time before the ’08 campaign started.

    • #21
    • March 18, 2011 at 7:20 am
  22. Profile photo of Jan-Michael Rives Inactive
    Paul A. Rahe

    Very interesting. Why do you regard the 2004 election as more important? My guess is that, if we had lost in 2004, Kerry would have quickly made such a hash of things that we would have been back in 2008. Obama, for all of his faults, is a more formidable politician. What was at stake in 2004? · Mar 17 at 6:07pm

    Thirty million Iraqi civilians, for starters. But also at stake was people’s faith in the cause of freedom. If Mr. Kerry had had his way, Iraq today would have made the killing fields look like a student protest. No one could ever again have suggested that we do more good than harm when we secure through force of arms the liberty of other human beings.

    • #22
    • March 18, 2011 at 7:42 am
  23. Profile photo of Franco Member

    Let’s start with illegal immigration. Levin has excoriated Bush for being weak on illegal immigration — but Reagan, at least by the Levin standard, was far weaker. Reagan, after all, signed a bill granting amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants, something Bush never supported. And in a 1984 campaign debate, Reagan went so far as to say, “I believe in the idea of amnesty for those who have put down roots and lived here, even though sometime back they may have entered illegally.”

    I can’t understand how anyone can compare the Reagan amnesty in the 80’s with what Bush tried to do 20 years later and pretend to be intellectually honest: Reagan was a conservative and in 198X he signed into law X legislation, therefore anyone who does the same (or more) two decades later is also a conservative.

    We learned from Reagan’s amnesty that it doesn’t solve the problem, and actually created bigger problems. We tried it – it didn’t work. It is conservative to learn from past mistakes.

    Second, at the time America could afford to try an amnesty plan as there were only 2 million illegals (not 20 million) here at that time.

    • #23
    • March 18, 2011 at 8:46 am
  24. Profile photo of Ross C Member
    Michael Labeit
    Ross Conatser: . 

    True, but all bills developed by Congress must receive approval from the President in order to become laws. · Mar 17 at 6:53pm

    My point entirely, Bush (wrongly as it may be) did not see himself as the gatekeeper  over the popularly elected congress.  He was their partner.  He did not veto many bills although there were some real losers he vetoed.  Bush was the kind of bipartisan president that people often say they want, but apparently hate when they get.

    • #24
    • March 18, 2011 at 8:53 am
  25. Profile photo of Steven Drexler Inactive
    Edited on Mar 17 at 03:35 pm

    If this is true — and, alas, it is not (Bush called the bill unconstitutional) — he betrayed his oath. To sign a bill that he knows to be unconstitutional in whole or in part is to subvert, not to uphold the Constitution. He knew what he was doing, and he did it. Look the maximum individual contribution itself is a limit on freedom of speech. When the Constitution says, “Congress will make no law . . .  abridging,” it admits no exceptions. · Mar 17 at 3:54pm

    Edited on Mar 17 at 03:55 pm

    I hated McCain-Feingold as much as the next guy. But there’s a very good argument on the side of “money=/=speech”. I don’t agree, but it’s an honest point of view. Similar to my own opinion of “flag burning=/=speech”.

    And, yes, signing an unconstitutional bill is high on the list of the worst things that Bush 43 ever did.

    • #25
    • March 18, 2011 at 9:07 am
  26. Profile photo of Franco Member

    The other aspect of the argument advanced by Peter Wehner centers on the idea that the Bush – McCain immigration bill was not “amnesty”. It wasn’t – in the same way that Obamacare is not single-payer health insurance, but that result is inevitable.

    Why can’t someone who writes for an esteemed journal like Commentary see that if you legitimize millions of people within your borders, but deny them the right to vote, that this would quickly become a huge political issue? They would be taxed but not represented. Anyone think of a pithy slogan they might come up with? Who among us is prepared to argue that point? Not me. Once you have a huge population legitimately working here and paying taxes you can’t deny them the vote in a truly Democratic country. 

    • #26
    • March 18, 2011 at 9:08 am
  27. Profile photo of Larry Koler Member
    Jan-Michael Rives

    Thirty million Iraqi civilians, for starters. But also at stake was people’s faith in the cause of freedom. If Mr. Kerry had had his way, Iraq today would have made the killing fields look like a student protest. No one could ever again have suggested that we do more good than harm when we secure through force of arms the liberty of other human beings.

    Nicely said. My thoughts exactly. Also, I really thought Kerry’s lies (and Hilary Clinton’s, too) denouncing President Bush for lying about WMDs to be the most egregious type of conduct that a sitting Senator can make. Especially considering that he had earlier supported removing Saddam and received the same intelligence reports that the president did. It undermined America when we had troops in harm’s way. I am convinced that this dithering that he and others very deliberately promulgated in America helped our enemies, prolonged the war and killed or injured more of our troops. This action was as bad as Kerry’s Winter Soldier stuff: a stunt done only for notoriety. Massachusetts has MUCH to answer for. We didn’t dare elect him and especially not in 2004.

    • #27
    • March 18, 2011 at 9:20 am
  28. Profile photo of Klaatu Thatcher
    Franco: The other aspect of the argument advanced by Peter Wehner centers on the idea that the Bush – McCain immigration bill was not “amnesty”. It wasn’t – in the same way that Obamacare is not single-payer health insurance, but that result is inevitable.

    I will admit to being torn on the immigration issue and I believe that a conservative can come down on either side and still be a conservative. That being said, I strongly disagree with the use of the term amnesty to characterize what Bush supported.  Words have meaning and when you intentionally misuse a word for political effect (consider how the left uses “choice” and “investment”) you engage in a sort of intellectually dishonest argument.

    • #28
    • March 18, 2011 at 9:32 am
  29. Profile photo of Chris O. Member

    I strongly agree with Larry and Jan-Michael. With everything that is going on now, it is easy to think less was at stake in 2004. If you consider a Kerry presidency and the ramifications of weakness in the face of outside interference in Iraq, it seems clear that, at least in terms of security, we would be much worse off.

    The President has six basic powers: negotiate treaties, commander-in-chief, appoint ambassadors, cabinet selection, appoint judges and the veto. Three of the six concern themselves largely with security/international affairs. And I give W a lot of points for the appointments of Roberts and Alito. I wanted to see the veto more. Of course, he had terrible Republican leadership to deal with in Congress. It is mainly Dennis Hastert that comes to mind. W could have used the bully pulpit to rein Congress in a bit, but that would have been dependent on media…

    Where does it serve our current interests to impeach the record of the Bush administration, anyway? There are things going on now that require solutions. I’d only add that property rights are what all other freedoms flow from, not freedom of speech.

    • #29
    • March 18, 2011 at 10:17 am
  30. Profile photo of Franco Member
    Klaatu
    Franco: The other aspect of the argument advanced by Peter Wehner centers on the idea that the Bush – McCain immigration bill was not “amnesty”. It wasn’t – in the same way that Obamacare is not single-payer health insurance, but that result is inevitable.
    I will admit to being torn on the immigration issue and I believe that a conservative can come down on either side and still be a conservative. That being said, I strongly disagree with the use of the term amnesty to characterize what Bush supported.  Words have meaning and when you intentionally misuse a word for political effect (consider how the left uses “choice” and “investment”) you engage in a sort of intellectually dishonest argument. · Mar 18 at 9:32am

    Edited on Mar 18 at 09:36 am

    Misleading is crafting legislation that is sure to lead to a certain result, and denying that result would happen merely because you avoid using a certain term. Then when rational people call you on it,  say they are wrong because it technically isn’t “amnesty”.

    • #30
    • March 18, 2011 at 10:22 am
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