• Text smaller
  • Text bigger

Intellectual honesty compels me to confess that it is becoming more
and more difficult to defend George W. Bush from a conservative
viewpoint.

A month or so ago, I suggested in a column that Bush assume de facto
leadership of the Republican Party, and use his bully pulpit to urge the
congressional majority to strictly adhere to its self-imposed spending
caps.

Well, last week, Bush did begin advising his Republican colleagues in
Congress. But instead of applauding them for diligently trying to stay
within the spending caps, he excoriated them for “balancing the budget
on the backs of the poor.”

The Republicans proposed to dole out the funds due the working poor
under the Earned Income Tax Credit in 12 monthly payments (most of which
would run into next fiscal year) instead of paying it in a lump sum this
fiscal year. This would have produced $8.7 billion in savings.

House Majority Whip Tom Delay, in a heated response to Bush’s
comments, said that the recipients of the funds “won’t lose a dime.”

Instead of downplaying his remarks when Republicans took exception to
them, Bush escalated his attacks on his party. Tuesday, he castigated
the right for disdaining government; being obsessed with economic
issues; ignoring the poor; and painting “an image of America slouching
toward Gomorrah.” This is hardly the rhetoric of a believing
conservative. It’s almost as if he were inviting social conservatives to
join Pat on his Reform odyssey.

It is inconceivable that Bush is unaware that the right wing of the
Republican Party is already exceedingly skeptical about his
conservatism. Grass-roots conservatives have expressed their distrust of
W. well before his salvos at Congress.

Has Bush become so smug with his seemingly prohibitive lead in
fundraising and in the polls that he feels he not only doesn’t have to
placate the right, but can intentionally alienate them?

But why would he want to alienate the right unless he is not one of
them?

I can think of one reason, and it’s not encouraging. Perhaps he is
employing the Clintonian trick of triangulation — distancing himself
from both Democrats and conservative Republicans for his own political
advantage. That would be quite an act of disloyalty, considering the
widespread congressional support for his candidacy.

It may be that Bush is playing no games at all, but merely beginning
to reveal his true ideological makeup. Recently, he unveiled his
education plan, which, because of its potential for leading to national
testing standards, has conservatives very distressed.

The tenor of Bush’s assaults on the congressional majority and the
right are even more disturbing. Why on earth would a Republican, much
less the foremost Republican leader in the nation, adopt Bill Clinton’s
destructive and polarizing terminology of class warfare?

Why would he give aid and comfort to those who have fraudulently
tried to portray Republicans as heartless and uncaring? Will he talk
about draconian Medicare cuts next?

As the de facto Republican leader, Bush should be rehabilitating
Republicans — defending them against these outrageously defamatory
characterizations.

I was willing to give Bush the benefit of the doubt and assume he was
trying to better market conservatism when he coined his “compassionate
conservative” slogan. But now I can’t help but wonder whether his
critics were correct in insisting, rather, that he was apologizing for
traditional conservatism.

Either Bush is not very conservative or is trying to pander to the
moderate swing vote — either of which is troubling.

Establishment Republicans have long preached that conservatives are
too hard-edged to win elections, that they ought to soften their image
and veer to the center to make themselves more electable. Conservatives
reject that notion with every fiber of their being, and Ronald Reagan
soundly disproved it.

Principled policy positions define conservatives. If you retreat from
those positions — even just rhetorically for electoral expedience –
you forfeit your political soul. Political conservatism isn’t just
standing for the Constitution, limited government and ordered liberty.
It is being truthful about your convictions, even if it is politically
damaging.

Either Bush is taking the conservative base of the GOP for granted or
he is willing to write them off. If he continues to do so with such
apparent arrogance, the complexion of this race could change in a hurry.

  • Text smaller
  • Text bigger
Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.