May 3, 2006


George W. Milhous Bush?: Is Dubya the new Nixon? (Jonah Goldberg, 5/04/06, National Review)

[T]here is one area where we can make somewhat useful comparisons between Nixon and Bush: their status as liberal Republicans.

Nixon has a fascinating reputation as one of the most right-wing presidents of the 20th century. This impression is largely a product of the fact that few presidents have been more hated by the Left. But simply because the left despises you doesn't mean you're particularly right-wing. If LBJ were alive, you could ask him about this. Or just take a look at poor Joe Lieberman.

The truth is, Nixon was the last of the New Deal-era liberal presidents. He sponsored and signed the legislation creating the Environmental Protection Agency, the Water Quality Improvement Act and the Endangered Species Act. He oversaw the establishment of Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Nixon created the Philadelphia Plan, the springboard for racial quotas; pushed for Title IX (the women's "equality" law); and hired Leon Panetta (later Bill Clinton's chief of staff) as his director of the office of civil rights.

Nixon pushed aggressively for national health insurance that would cover 100 percent of the nation's poor children. He increased federal spending on health and education programs by more than 50 percent and massively boosted spending on the National Endowment for Humanities. He tried to increase welfare with his Family Assistance Plan and Child Development Act.

Economically, Nixon got along swell with the chamber of commerce crowd, but he was well to the left of almost any leading Democrat today, championing wage and price controls as a legitimate tool of state, and boasting "Now I am a Keynesian in economics."

I could argue that Nixon's amoral foreign policy is today alive and well in many corners of the Left, but that's a distraction from my central point.

Bush is certainly to the right of Nixon on many issues. But at the philosophical level, he shares the Nixonians' supreme confidence in the power of the state. Bush rejects limited government and many of the philosophical assumptions that underlie that position. He favors instead strong government. He believes, as he said in 2003, that when "somebody hurts, government has got to move." His compassionate conservatism shares with Nixon's moderate Republicanism a core faith that not only can the government love you, but it should spend money to prove its love. Beyond that, there seems to be no core set of principles that define Bush's approach, and therefore, much like Nixon, no clearly communicable message that explains why he does things other than political calculation and expediency.

It's odd that the neocons look down on the theocons as their intellectual inferiors but can't even figure out that compassionate conservatism is not just a comprehensive philosophy of government but one that has been tremendously successful not only here but in Britain, Canada, Australia, Japan, etc. as well, though under a variety of rubrics. Their silliness reached its pinnacle with David Frum's memoir, which argued that 9-11 had rescued the Bush presidency, but they've maintained a pretty high standard of nonsense for quite a while now.

The reality is that it was Ronald Reagan and his vice president, George H. W. Bush, who, like Nixon (and like him a child of the Depression), were the last New Deal liberals--taking sateps to preserve and extend Social Security and Medicare largely unchanged. It is Bill Clinton and George Bush who have brought to bear an entirely different set of Third Way principles--utilizing First Way (free market) means (welfare work requirements/school vouchers/HSAs/personalized retirement accounts) to effect Second Way ends (economic security)--to bear on social schemes that Ike, Nixon, and Reagan did just as much to enshrine as FDR, Truman and LBJ.

Meanwhile, though anti-government conservatives do indeed retain the same set of First Way core principles they always did, those principles have been rejected so overwhelmingly in every developed nation on Earth that they effectively serve to prop up the Second Way by not offering an alternative that's acceptable to more than a tiny sliver of the citizenry. They have the purity of Goldwater in '64 or Landon in '36, and just as little influence on the actual governance of the nation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 3, 2006 5:23 PM
Beyond that, there seems to be no core set of principles that define Bush's approach, and therefore, much like Nixon, no clearly communicable message that explains why he does things other than political calculation and expediency.

This is such utter nonsense that I don't know whether to laugh or to cry.

I can't think of another President in recent memory who acts more on principle and less on expediency than Bush.

Jonah used to have some insight. It's clear that he's spent way to much time hanging with the lightweights at NR/NRO.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at May 3, 2006 6:02 PM

Certainly Republicans were able to checkmate Clinton, since they finally got a (conservative) majority in the House, but I don't buy the argument that his instincts were as moderate as you suggest.

Bush has done his on "New Deal" move with the Drug benefits etc, but basically he has tried to lead on SS reform. And yes that alone is more "Conservative" than anything Reagan or H.W. Bush attempted.

Please don't get me started on Nixon. The only relationship that Nixon had with conservatism was that he was hated by Liberals. Why I'll never know why they hated him since he was more than willing to do the heavy lifting for Liberals.

Posted by: h-man at May 3, 2006 6:20 PM

His instincts weren't, his governance was.

Posted by: oj at May 3, 2006 6:25 PM

Thank you for your thoughts H-man. Clinton' instincts were for power & popularity. Translates as moderate in America. Nixon, like Bush Sr. was an admin weenie, but honest. He got Alger Hiss, and the press never forgave him....

Posted by: Robert Mitchell Jr. at May 3, 2006 6:28 PM

Nixon is like Hitler; comparisons to either are always out of order and meant to stop conversation rather than help it along. It's too bad to see Goldberg go there, but he's pretty up front that he's a movement conservative rather than a Republican. He wants to make the case now that Bush isn't a conservative so that Bush's failed presidency -- now clear to the entire beltway -- doesn't take conservatives down. He's the Paul Weyrich of his generation.

But it's also silly to say that Reagan was a New Deal President. Reagan, like W, understood the limits of what could be accomplished politically and that the entire structure of the government didn't have to be reformed in 8 years. Reagan did make a mistake the W seems determined to avoid: he chose the wrong successor.

Posted by: David Cohen at May 3, 2006 6:33 PM

Reagan didn't want to reform the New Deal.

Posted by: oj at May 3, 2006 6:45 PM

Sure he did. He didn't want to destroy it, but he wanted to reform it.

Posted by: David Cohen at May 3, 2006 7:48 PM

He did neither, and neither will anybody else. The New Deal will lumber on until it bleeds out, just the same as any other welfare state.

Posted by: joe shropshire at May 3, 2006 7:54 PM

He never proposed a reform as significant as those Clinton and W have signed into law.

Posted by: oj at May 3, 2006 8:01 PM

Jonah has made a fundamental mistake: Nixon believed in power for government's sake. And for power's sake. When Bush says the government needs to be strong to help, he really believes it. That is quite a difference.

Now, many "conservatives" wouldn't be happy unless Bush builds a wall, shuts the government down, and arrests the White House press corps (for stupidity). But you can only do stuff like that once. After that, it's Evan Meacham territory.

What is troubling is that there is never an inclination for government to stop (and precious few advocates for doing so). Just yesterday, the WSJ mentioned that new farm bailouts are being proposed. The farm bill in 2002 was supposed to avoid such largesse EVER AGAIN. This is where the GOP is losing the battle on Capitol Hill - such proposals should be scotched immediately. The Democrats can posture all they want, but nothing should get on an official committee agenda. Of course, the high priests of appropriation (Jerry Lewis and the 35 other Republicans on the House committee) don't look at it that way.

It's pretty simple - win the war, confirm the judges, cut the taxes, control the spending.

But simple isn't sexy.

Posted by: jim hamlen at May 3, 2006 8:09 PM

Well, let's see. Reagan reformed Social Security by cutting benefits and increasing FICA. Reagan brought us the Earned Income Tax Credit, by far the best and most effective welfare program for the working poor and a clear progenitor of compassionate conservatism. Reagan championed workfare, which he introduced in California. Though he didn't get far federally, he laid the groundwork for welfare reform once a Democrat got onboard. His biggest win was gutting CETA, a Ted Kennedy special that was incredibly wasteful, and then replacing it with JTPA.

Posted by: David Cohen at May 3, 2006 9:40 PM

That's not reform--it's tinkering with the status quo in order to avoid reform. The key to understanding Reagan is that he really believed he was an FDR Democrat abandoned by the party.

Posted by: oj at May 3, 2006 10:18 PM

I thought that the GOP congress got rid of most farm subsidies back in '95 or so. That they are still around and being discussed (and expanded!?) shows how hard they are to kill.

And why I just can't get excited about all the "Porkbusters" talk. It's never worked in the past, so what makes these people (you know who I'm talking about) think it'll work this time? At best, it'll produce a backlash whose result will be to put into power a bunch of clueless backbenchers from a party even more willing to spend wastefully. The real problem there is that they want to treat the easysymptoms, spending, when the disease has shown itself to be extremely resilient.

I think the only real solution is to fight for fixed spending that isn't tied to revenue. Stop the automatic ratcheting and maybe there will be a chance, especially if coupled with attempts to lower the amount coming in. There's no one constituency for any particular cut in spending, hence the futility, but there are enough of us who'd support tax cuts.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at May 3, 2006 10:26 PM

Bring back Gramm-Rudman.

Posted by: oj at May 3, 2006 10:31 PM

If the Third Way is merely applying the prescriptions of the First Way, incrementally, to areas of society the Second Way-ers had claimed as their own, why is that a 3rd way? It seems like pragmatic First Way-ism.

Posted by: pj at May 3, 2006 10:38 PM

Hush, if a First Wayer hears you use the word pragmatic he'll fetch the tar and feathers.

Posted by: oj at May 3, 2006 10:42 PM

Nixon held the belief that almost all liberals held in the 1960s -- that the left was on the inevitable winning side of the domestic policy issue, so when he came to office he felt it was his job merely to ease the transition as much as possible and at a slower pace following LBJ's Great Society (the foreign policy corralary was the belief by Henry Kissinger that the Soviet Union's continued existance was inevitable, which led to the policy of detente). Reagan's belief was more that liberalism had gone too far domestically starting around Truman's second term and that it should be rolled back, but not rolled back all the way to pre-FDR day (foreign policy was another matter, and the Afghan invasion gave him all the amunition needed to junk detente when he got into office).

Bush's policies seek to roll the existing structure in a different direction that shifs control away from the central government and towards the individual. How that works out depends on how well protected the rights of the individuals are in the new rules, so that if Democrats regain power at a future date, they can't simply eliminate things like vouchers that they don't like.

Posted by: John at May 3, 2006 10:53 PM

Porkbusters is simplistic and I can't understand why alleged smart people like Glenn Reynolds are supporting it. Pork is our way of getting things done. Of course there are excesses, but those get evened out in the end too.

Posted by: erp at May 4, 2006 11:57 AM

Thank you for your thoughts Erp. If I had to guess, I would say that getting rid of a million dollar set aside(until it's put back in the next budget) is easy. Quick, Fun, and Egoboo. Reforming SS is Work, Hard, and people will hate you. No Egoboo. They only reason they are getting any mileage is because they are getting played by the Democrats, who are using these kebitzers to stop the Republicans in a version of Zeno's paradox.

Posted by: Robert Mitchell Jr. at May 4, 2006 12:35 PM

I can imagine NRO screaming the bloodiest murder about a President who jacked up taxes big twice, signed an immigration amnesty for at least three million illegals, sponsored abortion reform as a governor that led to a huge increase in legalized abortions, sold arms to Iran in a secret deal, nearly doubled government spending during his time in office, and bugged out of a military intervention in the Middle East because things got tough.

Oh, wait a minute. That was Reagan. He's a saint at NRO.

It really is too bad NRO wasn't around in the 1980s. (They should have sped up development of the Internet.) We could have a swell time quoting their blasts at Ronnie. And, brother, would they have clobbered him. I can almost hear the self-styled racist Derbyshire ripping that idiot in the White house for the 1986 amnesty. And Goldberg calling him a sellout for the Iran arms sales. And K-Lo fainting over his record on abortion in California. And...

Posted by: Casey Abell at May 4, 2006 1:49 PM

This South Dakota native has been reluctantly forced to agree with a statement his hometown Rapid City Journal made in an editorial: "One man's pork is another man's constituent service." At least the RC Journal was honest.

Unlike Glenn Reynolds. Since I've now committed heresy, let me go further by saying Glenn can be forced off this Porkbusters track. Simply mention to Glenn that he is a beneficiary of something called TVA, which gives him the nation's cheapest electric rates. Which were subsidized by small-town South Dakotans and Jerseyites alike.

Didn't some guy by the name of Goldwater once state that TVA should be sold. Wonder how well that would go in Knoxville now, Glenn?

Posted by: Brad S at May 4, 2006 2:01 PM

What is Porkbusters?

Posted by: oj at May 4, 2006 2:06 PM

Instapundit is pushing a group of bloggers sniping at 'Pork' in the federal budget. Lots of leveling the mole hill and ignoring the mountain. Same people who want to get rid of McCain for being a RINO. The 'politics is too important to be soiled with politics' crowd.

Posted by: Robert Mitchell Jr. at May 4, 2006 2:30 PM

One's unseriousness about federal spending is directly correlated to one's belief that discretionary spending cuts would matter:

Posted by: oj at May 4, 2006 2:45 PM

Tell me. All you need to do now is get a cute little icon.

Posted by: Robert Mitchell Jr. at May 4, 2006 2:55 PM

TVA is no longer subsidized by Uncle Sam - hasn't been since the early 1980s (and maybe even earlier, I can't remember exactly). I think they have also foresworn tapping the Treasury (at a lower interest rate than commercially available) as well.

Their rates are not as low as they used to be, and they are selling bonds at rates that many other utilities would not, but they have $20 plus billion of debt (circa 1998 - it should be lower now) to get rid of.

This just applies to their power generation portion; other parts may still be tied into the D.C. trough.

Posted by: jim hamlen at May 4, 2006 10:54 PM