October 6, 2005

WHO'S ON FIRST?:

An old dilemma (Paul J Cella, 10/06/05, RedState)

A question that all of us on the Right are now wrestling with, and that many of us have been wrestling with for some time, is, Do we trust the leadership of President Bush and the governing coalition he leads? The proximate cause of the new intensity surrounding this question, of course, is the nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court. I will not rehearse the specifics of the dispute over this nomination (any reader of this website, and a hundred others, will be familiar enough with them), except to say again that it comes down to an issue of trust — trust in its very special application to the political leadership of a republic. The Right has seen its men carried in victory to the highest governing authority in America, has seen its leaders become the nation’s leaders, in politics and to some degree in the vast apparatus of opinion and public discussion surrounding politics, and yet the Right finds itself facing a lacerating question: Can we still trust them?

The answer to Mr. Cella's question would seem to have been obvious since 1999, when George W. Bush distanced himself from the Gingrich Congress and pronounced himself a compassionate conservative: The Right that envisions going back to a pre-New Deal epoch, a First Way restoration, should not trust this President. He is a revolutionary, not a reactionary. Paleocons dream of an America where government stays completely out of our economic lives, locks down the borders of our nation so that only those who are born here enjoy the benefits of citizenship, and ignores everything that goes on outside our own borders. They are in the great tradition of those who see America as a Promised Land that can only be contaminated by contact with the outside world and the tradition of rugged individualism/Social Darwinism that assumes not only that God created all men equal in spiritual terms, but that everyone has a pretty much equal chance in life, so long as he makes the most of that chance. These twin philosophies serve to isolate us first from the world and then from each other.

The short-sightedness of this politics only became apparent in the late 20s-early 30s, when the Great Depression allowed the Left to take advantage of the resulting atomization and make individuals dependent on the State and then we ended up getting dragged into a war we wanted no part of because the Axis powers proved uncooperative. The happily brief ascendancy of the Second Way--tempered in America in large part because of the continuing strength of the First and the yeomans' work of Paleocons--was, thus, very much a function of the culture the First Way had left behind. It's understandable that in the wake of the Second Way's admission of defeat--the fall of the Iron Curtain followed by Bill Clinton's presidency--those who still adhere to the First Way want to destroy it like Rome destroyed Carthage and salt the earth. But to do so would be unwise politically, unless we're content to swing back and forth between the First and Second Ways every few decades and unless the American people should sudden;ly decide they want such a return to Social Darwinism, which they show no sign of. More importantly, it would be un-Christian and here's where George W. Bush comes in.

Given how open the President has been about what he's trying to do -- under the guises of Compassionate Conservatism; the Ownership Society; Neoconomics; Liberty's Century; etc. -- surprisingly few intelligent analyses have been written about the transformation he's effecting. Two of the better in the mainstream media have come from Bill Keller and Jonathan Rauch. But it's those on the Religious Right, who comprehend the role of his faith in his politics, who've really nailed it. Consider this excellent piece, Bush's Gospel (Terry Eastland, 03/01/2004, Weekly Standard):

f you look closely at the president's speeches and remarks and consider carefully the sweep of his policies, both domestic and foreign, it becomes clear that Bush thinks of his presidency in terms of the commandment invoked in the Oelwein exchange. Indeed, central to George W. Bush's motivation as president is the ethic of "neighbor-love," as it is called in Christian circles.

We're not accustomed to a theological reading of a presidency. Yet it's evident, as Bill Keller of the New York Times wrote last year, that Bush's faith is "the animating force of his presidency." What hasn't been recognized is that neighbor-love in particular is what moves Bush and has helped shape his presidency. His faith teaches him to "love thy neighbor as thyself," and he approaches his job with that imperative in mind.

What this means in practice may surprise supporters and critics of the president alike. Bush's neighbor-love presidency envisions not merely a more compassionate citizenry, but a more compassionate government. It sees a larger role for religion in public life. It does not seek to establish any particular religion but is friendly to all faiths and vigilant about protecting the free exercise of religion. The trademarks of this presidency are religious pluralism and religious freedom. Overseas, the neighbor-love presidency is remarkably ambitious. It seeks to ameliorate human suffering, whatever its cause, and it is not reluctant to wage war on behalf of innocent people oppressed by the likes of Saddam Hussein. It stands for the defense and spread of freedom, because it believes that freedom is the God-given right of men and women everywhere.

The neighbor-love presidency is worth elaborating in detail, especially since we haven't seen its likes before, and because its implication for politics and policy is not a simple matter. It represents a modification, even a diminution, of American conservatism. And while its greatest triumphs have been abroad, Democrats believe it is vulnerable on the home front. The fall campaign could become an argument--like the one Dean initiated in Iowa--about what kind of neighbor Bush has been.

GEORGE W. BUSH grew up in mainline Presbyterian and Episcopal churches, and as an adult became a member of a United Methodist Church in Midland, Texas. But the turning point in his life--actually a turning period, by Bush's account--occurred in the mid-1980s, when, after a conversation with Billy Graham, he renewed his faith. He began weekly Bible studies with a group of men in Midland, and, after an especially wet celebration of his 40th birthday in 1986, he completely quit drinking.

Bush has not embraced the terms "born-again" or "evangelical" to describe his faith, though he has said he wouldn't reject the appellations, either. His faith appears to be what theologically conservative Christians generally believe, and he expresses his beliefs in a straightforward manner. Bush attends services at the chapel at Camp David and occasionally at St. John's Episcopal Church near the White House. He has a large number of Christian friends, including several pastors, many of whom he sees from time to time, and his closest friend, also a Christian from Midland, is in his cabinet, Commerce Secretary Donald Evans. Bush reads the Bible every morning, and he has said that he reads it through every other year.

Three aspects of Bush's faith stand out. One is his belief that God is in providential control over all that happens, including in his own life. Bush, who describes himself as a "lowly sinner," has told friends and associates that but for God's intervention he would now be in some bar in Texas, not the Oval Office. A second is his belief that, whatever happens in God's providence, he is to accept and carry out each task set before him. Not incidentally, the title of Bush's campaign biography, "A Charge to Keep," was drawn from "A Charge to Keep I Have," the Charles Wesley hymn, which speaks of doing "my Master's will" and fulfilling "my calling." After the attacks of September 11, Bush believed that the charge of defending freedom had fallen providentially to him, as commander in chief of the United States, and this remains for Bush his highest priority. Yet even this task he sees in terms of a third aspect of his faith: neighbor-love. For Bush, "love your neighbor"--the second great commandment for Christians--is an injunction to be followed in every human task, however big or small it may be. In this understanding, Bush is hardly exceptional, for loving your neighbor is the calling of every Christian.

IN HIS INAUGURAL ADDRESS, Bush made reference to the parable of the Good Samaritan, which Jesus related in response to a question based on the second great commandment, that question being the obvious one, "Who is my neighbor?" Bush pledged the nation to a goal: "When we see that wounded traveler on the road to Jericho, we will not pass to the other side." In making that pledge, Bush assumed that people can need help for many reasons. Their wounds can be self-inflicted or inflicted by others (as was the case with the traveler helped by the Samaritan). In any case, as he said in the speech, "where there is suffering, there is duty."

In the second week of his presidency, Bush announced the Faith-Based and Community Initiative, which he touted as a new approach to helping Americans who are homeless, fatherless, addicted to drugs or alcohol, or otherwise in desperate need. He has described the initiative as "good public policy based upon the willingness of our citizens to love a neighbor just like you'd like to be loved yourself." Bush sees the initiative as one part of an effort to fight poverty, the other part being welfare reform. And he regards fighting poverty as flowing from an approach to governing that, during the campaign, he dubbed "compassionate conservatism." Bush defines compassionate conservatism this way: "It is compassionate to actively help our fellow citizens in need. It is conservative to insist on responsibility and results." Bush also sees the No Child Left Behind Act, which Congress passed in 2002, as compassionate conservatism. And there are many other policies that he has accorded that label--ones dealing with health care, the environment, home ownership, and Social Security. Nor does compassionate conservatism stop at the water's edge, for it includes government aid to poor countries.

Moreover, not every "compassionate" policy is accompanied by the word "conservative." In 2001, when he signed his first tax-cut bill into law, Bush said that "tax relief is compassionate," explaining that it helps "families struggling to enter the middle class" and "middle-class families squeezed by high energy prices and credit-card debt." Likewise, in December 2003, when he signed the new prescription-drug benefit into law, he said that the reforms in the bill "are the act of a vibrant and compassionate government." He explained: "We show our concern for the dignity of our seniors by giving them quality health care" and "our respect for seniors by giving them more choices and more control over their decision-making." Or consider the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003. In his signing statement, Bush said, the bill "protecting innocent new life from [partial-birth abortion] reflects the compassion and humanity of America." Just recently Bush added to his list of compassionate policies yet another--"defending the sanctity of life," which may entail support for a constitutional amendment declaring that marriage is the union of a man and a woman.

In his 2003 State of the Union Address, Bush said, "The qualities of courage and compassion that we strive for in America also determine our conduct abroad. . . . Our founders dedicated this country to the cause of human dignity, the rights of every person, and the possibilities of every life. This conviction leads us into the world to help the afflicted and defend the peace, and confound the designs of evil men." Bush has sought to help the afflicted by stepping up U.S. involvement in the international battles against famine and AIDS. To fight "desperate hunger," as Bush has put it, the United States is now providing more than $1.4 billion a year in global emergency food aid. To fight AIDS, Bush has begun carrying out a relief program designed to prevent the disease from breaking out on a massive scale and to treat millions who already have what he calls "a plague of nature." Bush surprised almost everyone by the magnitude of the $15 billion request he submitted to Congress last year for this program. Asked to explain his decision to insert the United States so deeply into what he has called "a work of mercy," Bush told the Ladies' Home Journal, "The Bible talks about love and compassion. That's really a lot behind my passion on AIDS policy."

As for confounding the designs of evil men, Bush has moved Washington into the peace talks in Sudan, where the National Islamic Front government has waged a brutal civil war against a largely Christian and animist population that has claimed the lives of more than two million people. And he has ramped up the government's efforts to curtail human and sex trafficking, which, in his speech last fall to the United Nations General Assembly, he condemned as "a form of slavery." Bush has pledged $50 million to support "the good work of organizations that are rescuing women and children from exploitation and giving them shelter and medical treatment and the hope of a new life."

Of course, the universe of evil men includes terrorists, who have designs upon innocent people beyond the more than 3,000 killed by the attacks of September 11. They have continued to murder innocent people, a point Bush made last year in his speech at Whitehall when he cited the post-9/11 terrorist attacks in Bali, Jakarta, Casablanca, Bombay, Mombassa, Najaf, Jerusalem, Riyadh, Baghdad, and Istanbul. And, by every reckoning, the terrorists intend to kill more innocents. As Bush sees it, both justice, because what the terrorists do is evil, and compassion, because their evil is committed against innocent people, demand a military response.

The universe of evil men also includes oppressive rulers. Discussing the war in Afghanistan, Bush told a Connecticut audience that the United States liberated an innocent people oppressed by a barbaric regime. "We're compassionate," he said. "We care deeply about our fellow citizens in this world." While Bush justified the war in Iraq mainly on grounds involving weapons of mass destruction, he also thought he was saving the Iraqi people from an evil man. Over the decades, Saddam Hussein had killed and maimed millions of Iraqis. During a press conference in December, Bush said, "I believe, firmly believe--and you've heard me say this a lot, and I say it a lot because I truly believe it--that freedom is the almighty God's gift to every person--every man and woman who lives in this world. That's what I believe." He added that "the arrest of Saddam Hussein changed the equation in Iraq. Justice was being delivered to a man who denied that gift from the Almighty to the people of Iraq." Justice was being delivered to Saddam, and, to place Bush's remarks in larger context, compassion was being shown to the Iraqi people. Nor does compassion stop with liberation. For Bush, it includes efforts to establish the kind of institutions in which "the rights of every person" can be protected. It envisions the spread of democracy.

Asked last summer by Christianity Today to describe Bush's foreign policy, Don Evans said, "It's love your neighbor like yourself. The neighbor happens to be everyone on the planet."

In a speech last summer to leaders of faith-based organizations, Bush fairly summed up both halves of his neighbor-love presidency: "The mission at home is to help those who hurt, and make the vast potential of America available to every citizen. The mission abroad is to use our good heart and good conscience and not turn our back away when we see suffering."


Nor is the grasp of the President's theoconservatism restricted only to fellow Evangelicals--David Klinghoffer has written about how essentially Jewish this politico-theology is. At any rate, what George W. Bush represents -- along with Margaret Thatcher, Bill Clinton, Tony Blair/Gordon Brown, John Howard and others -- is a revolutionary fusion of the First and Second Ways into a Third Way that meets our moral obligations to our fellow citizens as individuals but does so to the greatest possible extent through social and personal initiatives. It seeks to balance the freedom demands of the First Way with the security demands of the Second Way in order to provide a social safety net that while mandated by the state is funded, controlled, and provided by the citizens themselves and the social institutions they create. It is a compromise with big government that the First Way folks can not accept and a compromise with the efficacy of capitalism, society, and religion that the Second Way folks can not accept. If successful, it holds the promise of reducing our dependence on the State and increasing our dependence on and charity towards each other. Its ends are to meet the shared, not individualistic or statist, goals outlined in the Constitution--"to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity."

Can "The Right" trust this president? No. Can "The Left"? No. Does it matter what The Right and The Left want? Probably not. As the list above indicates, citizens of the Anglosphere don't much seem to care which party offers them this Third Way; they'll support leaders of "Left" or "Right" so long as they converge on this middle. What this nomination may be is the tipping point at which libertarians, isolationists, nativists and the rest realize that they don't have an ally in George W. Bush and aren't likely to regain control of the Republican Party very soon, if ever--the front-runners for the next couple nominations being John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, Condi Rice, and Jeb Bush. At the very least, they have to realize now that this president neither warrants nor seeks their trust. His politics is of a different order than theirs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 6, 2005 11:40 AM
Comments

Is there any other option for melding the 3rd way other than by destroying the Constitution and our history? What keeps us going?

Posted by: Sandy P at October 6, 2005 1:21 PM

Sandy:

Your starting point has to be that the Second Way destroyed the Constitution, so the Third Way walks back the cat a bit from that perspective. And none of the branches of the Republic nor its people agree with you.

But the Third Way is entirely consistent with the ends of the Constitution.

Posted by: oj at October 6, 2005 1:26 PM

Preach it, Brother Orrin! (That is, I agree.)

Posted by: ghostcat at October 6, 2005 2:30 PM

You honestly believe the government can order me to love my neighbor.

Posted by: joe shropshire at October 6, 2005 2:53 PM

joe:

No. What it can do is make you turn to your neighbor for help instead of the State and create conditions of such interdependence that love is required.

Posted by: oj at October 6, 2005 3:17 PM

love is required

I'll take that for a yes.

Posted by: joe shropshire at October 6, 2005 3:38 PM

Your tactical assessments are so good -- your analysis of NCLB or the Medicaid drug benefit are light-years better than anything I've seen from any paid pundit -- that the extent to which you are wrong on this strategic analysis is just staggering.

There is no third way. The very term was born as an attempt to rescue socialism after socialism failed. There is no grand ideology, or policy thread, that ties Margaret Thatcher to Tony Blair to Bill Clinton to George W. Bush. The very nature of American politics makes any grand ideological crusade impossible. We were barely able to keep the Cold War going and that was a single, simple policy.

I agree that George Bush is a new animal in American politics, but that's because he, or Karl Rove, is a tactically brilliant conservative who has managed to jettison a bunch of conservative sacred cows. There is nothing third way about it.

Posted by: David Cohen at October 6, 2005 4:22 PM

Orrin - I wish for the same system you speak of, unfortunately the Bush administration has nothing to do with it.

Posted by: Sandra at October 6, 2005 4:23 PM

sandra:

That's the beauty of it--Bush is who you guys hoped Clinton would be.

Posted by: oj at October 6, 2005 5:29 PM

David:

Yet Tony Blair, John Howard and George Bush are all governing near identically and just aping Margaret Thatcher, New Zealand and Chile.

Posted by: oj at October 6, 2005 5:31 PM

joe:

Government won't make you--reality will.

Posted by: oj at October 6, 2005 5:36 PM

oj, reality does no such thing. If it did there'd be no need for government in the first place. This is of a piece with your desire to stuff us all into train cars, in the belief that we'll each discover how wonderful the other is, instead of chewing each other's face off as the stress begins to build. Call it the rats-in-a-garbage-can theory of social harmony.

Posted by: joe shropshire at October 6, 2005 6:09 PM

there is no need for government in the first place--that's why God told the Jews they'd regret asking for a King.

Posted by: oj at October 6, 2005 6:14 PM

Where do the English go for their HSAs?

Posted by: David Cohen at October 6, 2005 6:38 PM

We're more advanced down the Third Way on health, they on retirement:

http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=3703

Australia on education vouchers.

But everyone's on the same path.

Posted by: oj at October 6, 2005 6:58 PM

Bold, nay, Churchillian move, distancing yourself from Gingrich in 1999.

Posted by: Rick Perlstein at October 6, 2005 7:12 PM

Yes, it infuriated many of the same folk who are mad at him now (many have never forgiven even the term compassionate conservatism). But he showed it was his party not theirs or the neocons'.

Posted by: oj at October 6, 2005 7:22 PM
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