March 12, 2006


Crashing the party: President Bush's policies have reawakened a GOP identity crisis (Daniel Casse, March 12, 2006, LA Times)

Rather than trying to unite his party behind less contentious issues, Bush has been steadily steering the Republican Party into policy areas where it never has never been very confident but that can no longer be ignored: healthcare, immigration, retirement. Coupled with national security, they have become some of the most contentious, pressing and divisive issues the country faces.

Most of the loudest Bush critics within the Republican and conservative world believe that the party must return to its Reaganite, shrink-the-government roots. "The Republican Party needs to start a dialogue that will get it back on track as the party of small government before it loses what is left of its principles, reputation and heritage," Bartlett writes in "Impostor."

Bush, however, seems to have recognized that tackling these difficult and long-term issues requires Republican imagination to go beyond "limited government." Replacing our Social Security system with individual, private savings accounts, after all, requires more government spending, at least in the short-term. Increasing border patrols, administering a guest-worker program or hiring more Arab-language linguists at the CIA and FBI requires larger, more expensive government. The much-derided Medicare drug plan actually has, buried within it, the first seeds of means-testing and market competition among health plans, which conservative Republicans have long sought. But to get even this, Bush had to sign on to a very expensive entitlement expansion.

This tension between the modern conservative agenda of promoting accountability, competition and individual choice on the one hand and the Reagan vision of small government on the other is rarely acknowledged by Republican leaders. But it is at the heart of many of the disputes between Bush and his conservative critics.

For his part, Bush has never successfully packaged his ideas as a new vision for the Republican Party. "Compassionate conservatism," the line he used during his first campaign, died an early and much-deserved death.

Nevertheless, the basic framework for a new kind of conservative, Republican politics is out there. In addition to his support for accountability and choice in domestic policies, Bush has indirectly advanced the case for what I have called "strong government" — harnessing the power of the federal government to achieve conservative ends, domestically as well as abroad.

Strong government may in some cases require bigger government. But it is in stark contrast to the large, inept and weak government that characterized Democratic programs for decades. Bush's strong government recognizes that the U.S. has no choice but to lead the fight against Islamic terrorism and to try to promote some form of democratic government in the Middle East. But it also recognizes that laissez faire is an insufficient response if the policy goal is accountability in schools or a transformation of our entitlement programs.

Alas, it is hard to identify anyone in the elected Republican world beyond the White House who has championed a philosophy of this type of strong government. In fact, the most damning critique of the Bush administration is that it has failed to foster political surrogates and intellectual allies. There are few "Bush Republicans" out there. When controversy arises, the White House press spokesman is often the only one making the case for the president.

His natural successor is obviously Jeb, but he's not interested in running in '08. Fortunately, his realistic successor, John McCain, has no platform of his own to run on so finishing immigration reform, implementing SS privatization, expanding education vouchers and HSAs and continuing to shift the tax code to favor savings and investment gives the Senator a ready-made agenda that makes him an ideal bridge from W to Jeb.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 12, 2006 11:12 AM

Fortunatly for our country OJ, you're the only one that likes him.

Posted by: NC3 at March 12, 2006 11:48 AM

I don't, but I'm perfectly happy to use him.

Posted by: oj at March 12, 2006 11:57 AM

I like him, even though he's a j****ss. But if you think he doesn't have a platform (which I'm not certain is entirely true), wouldn't he be very likely to flounder like Bush Sr. and pave the way for a Democrat in 2012?

Posted by: Brandon at March 12, 2006 1:05 PM

Oh boy; another Bush.

Posted by: Genecis at March 12, 2006 2:54 PM

"Spend less money" is not actually a principle, conservative or otherwise.

Posted by: David Cohen at March 12, 2006 4:06 PM


No, the GOP will have over 60% of the House and Senate, something GHWB could only dream about.

Posted by: oj at March 12, 2006 4:12 PM