Was President George W. Bush a conservative? To hear his most virulent critics on the left tell it, he epitomized the conservative Republican chief executive. And according to hear Karl Rove, the campaign architect of Bush's two presidential victories, Bush "was among the most conservative presidents of the modern age."
The reality is that Bush was anything but a conservative, judged by the major decisions of his presidency, according to two stalwarts of the conservative movement establishment. That's the argument made by Craig Shirley, author of two of the best books on Ronald Reagan's rise to the White House, and Donald Devine, one of Reagan's chief political strategiests during that rise, have a superb oped in today's edition of The Washington Post.
"But the results speak otherwise. In total, Bush increased federal spending on domestic programs more than any president since Richard Nixon, easily surpassing Bill Clinton, Carter and his own father, so much so that by 2008, America had two big-government parties. Rove writes that as a teenager he carried around a paperback copy of Goldwater's "Conscience of a Conservative," but he should have heeded the book's first few pages, in which Goldwater warned against hyphenated conservatism.
"The Bush administration's move toward big government was not gradual, either; it was signaled during then-Gov. Bush's campaign. In 1999, the journalist Tucker Carlson interviewed Bush in Austin and asked him if he was a small-government conservative. Mr. Bush replied no; he said he was an "efficient-government conservative." Bush's campaign rarely called for spending cuts of any kind and even opposed eliminating the Department of Energy, whose abolition had been in every GOP platform since 1980.
"Bush was not the first Republican president to claim the conservative mantle yet merrily grow the size of government; Nixon and Gerald Ford did much the same. Rove and Bush are heirs to a brand of Republicanism rooted in a Tory-style, top-down defense of the status quo. It is not modern conservatism, not the brand that today is finding voice in the "tea party" movement, and certainly not the populist conservatism that found electoral success beginning in the late 1970s."
This piece is going to be a main topic of conversation on the Right for some time to come. Go here to read it all.
As mentioned above, Shirley has authored two excellent books on Reagan, including "Rendezvous with Destiny" on the 1980 campaign, and "Reagan's Revolution: The untold story of the campaign that started it all," on the 1976 campaign.
Devine was Reagan's first Director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, where he oversaw fundamental reforms in the civil service compensation system, including expansion of a merit pay program among federal managers, and creation of the Federal Employees Retirement System that converted federal pensions from defined benefits plans to defined contribution plans. Much of the Devine story at OPM is told in "Reagan's Terrible Swift Sword."
Rove's book, arguing for Bush as a conservative, is entitled "Courage and Consequence: My life as a conservative in the fight."