Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Had to Happen Someday

Kevin Drum finally says something I wholeheartedly agree with!

I think that both liberals and conservatives have made the mistake of convincing themselves that Bush is a hard right ideologue — conservatives because they were so eager for a conservative president after eight years of Bill Clinton and liberals because it gives them a convenient object of hatred. But if you look a bit more closely you'll see that he's not.

It's true that Bush is temperamentally conservative, and it's also true that he sometimes does things that conservatives like: lowering taxes, for example, or invading Iraq. What's more, he talks the conservative talk pretty well, and all of this has fooled conservatives (and many liberals) into thinking that he does what he does out of deep devotion to conservative principles.

But he doesn't. I suspect that conservative eagerness for a conservative president has caused them to project their own views onto Bush, but Bernstein is right: Bush is just playing electoral politics. Tax cuts reward his rich contributors, invading Iraq was a crowd pleaser, the energy bill helped out his business pals, tariffs helped him with steel workers, the Medicare bill helps him with seniors, and the partial birth abortion bill helps him with the religious right. None of these things were truly driven by any kind of ideological purity.

This is why I'm much less certain than his supporters that Bush is planning to stay in Iraq. I doubt that he was truly motivated by the neocon grand plan or an unusual attraction to Middle East democracy as much as he was by a simple desire to get rid of Saddam Hussein. Now that that's done, he'll get out of Iraq without a second thought if it turns into a losing issue at the polls.

The good news for liberals in all this — a bit of a thin reed, but still — is that it just goes to show that plenty of liberal principles remain very popular, regardless of what the movement conservatives like to pretend, and George Bush and his advisors have tacitly acknowledged this by refusing to hew to the ideological line that the Heritage Foundation folks would like him to. They know it would be suicidal.

The bad news for liberals is that while ideological purity might not motivate Bush, winning does. He strikes me as the most single-minded party politician since at least LBJ, and he is bound and determined to win at all costs — both personally and for the Republican party. He's a fighter with a mean streak, and that means that 2004 is going to be one nasty election. Fasten your seat belts. (emphasis added)

I think the sentence I've highlighted captures the crux of the matter - Bush is pulling a Nixon, talking like a social conservative while acting like the most irresponsible of fiscal liberals. Behind all the big talk, there's simply no evidence that he holds any principle sacred other than getting re-elected. Just in case there's any doubt on the matter, take a look at this NYT article on the dog's dinner of a medicare bill that just passed. When you're done reading, go take a look at this Drezner post on just why this piece of legislation is just the sort of unpricipled panderfest that puts the lie to Krugman's claims that the Bush administration is enacting some sort of "radical rightwing" program - if only it were true!