Skip to comments.Fred Barnes: You Can't Always Get What You Want (George W. Bush, politician)
Posted on 05/06/2006 3:26:58 PM PDT by RWR8189
PRESIDENT BUSH IS A CONSERVATIVE politician, not a conservative ideologue. This explains why Bush sometimes does things that aren't conservative. He does so to survive and, if all goes well, to prosper politically. Or he does so because he actually favors some nonconservative policy or position. Conservative politicians are never ideologically pure. "The president works at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, not 214 Massachusetts Avenue N.E.," a Bush administration official says. The Massachusetts Avenue location is the site of the Heritage Foundation, the conservative think tank.
President Reagan, like Bush, was a politician first and an ideologue second. When Social Security was on the verge of insolvency in 1983, he had to act quickly. But he didn't call for benefit cuts or privatization, the conservative positions. That was not politically feasible. He agreed to a tax hike and a modest increase in the age of eligibility. And the issue went away, leaving him politically undamaged and able to pursue his conservative goals, like winning the Cold War.
Calling for a probe of oil companies for possible manipulation of gas prices is Bush's latest nonconservative position. With prices soaring, he was losing ground politically. The public and the politicians, Republican and Democrat alike, were attacking the oil companies--and Bush as well. His job approval rating dipped into the low 30s, the worst of his presidency.
He could have said, no, the free market is working properly. That, while basically true, would no doubt have further injured his political standing. Instead, he moved to take control of the issue and protect himself politically. Two days later, the president conceded he had "no evidence that there's any ripoff taking place." Of course he hadn't. That wasn't the point of his intervention.
His divergence from conservative orthodoxy was probably harmless. "I don't think there's any problem in looking into the possibility of price gouging," the administration official says. "If it doesn't exist--and the odds are quite strong it doesn't--nothing will be lost." In fact, the president gained politically. His approval rating in the Fox News poll rose from 33 percent to 38 percent.
Neither Bush nor White House officials have suggested, publicly at least, that there's a paradox involved in taking nonconservative positions on issues such as gas prices. But it's true that this may shore up the president's popularity and enhance his ability to pursue conservative issues like the war on terror, Iraq, and tax cuts.
Besides political expediency, conservative politicians sometimes stray because they've become enamored of a nonconservative position for policy or political reasons, or both. Reagan wanted to eliminate all nuclear weapons in the world, despite their deterrent value. He insisted on picking a woman, moderate Sandra Day O'Connor, as his first Supreme Court nominee. He met repeatedly with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Conservatives fumed.
Bush's chief apostasy is on the Medicare prescription drug benefit, the first new entitlement in decades. Rather than aiding only needy seniors--perhaps a quarter of the over-65 population--he championed a far more expensive universal benefit. Bush touted it in the 2000 campaign and pushed it aggressively in Congress. It was enacted in December 2003 and implemented this year.
Many conservatives, maybe most of them, opposed the drug benefit. So did Democrats and liberals. And it appeared that the new program might not become the political bonanza that the White House and Republicans had hoped it would be. Month after month, polls found it to be unpopular.
Not anymore. Now that 30 million of the country's 43 million eligible seniors have signed up, the drug benefit has become popular. Ninety percent in a poll by the Tarrance Group say they understand the plan and how to use it. While enrolling may have been difficult and time-consuming, 65 percent say it was worth it. Plus, the monthly fee and the cost of the entire program has turned out to be less expensive than had been projected.
"What ranks among the single best issues Bill Clinton used to club Newt Gingrich and the Republicans in the 1990s?" a Bush adviser says. "Medicare. That issue has essentially been taken off the table since the program was created [in 1965] and over time our proposal may well make Medicare a net plus for Republicans. At a minimum, though, Republicans have been pretty much inoculated against the charges by Democrats."
So in this fall's midterm election, the drug benefit will hardly be an albatross. Republicans will have a positive achievement to brag about. If it helps Republicans stave off a Democratic landslide, its political value will have been confirmed.
There are two points in all this. One, conservative presidents--indeed, conservative elected officials at all levels of government--will always wander from conservative tenets. The test is whether there's a flip side, a strengthening in the fight for conservative aims. And second, even the most sainted conservatives--Reagan, for instance--harbor nonconservative thoughts. If this is an insurmountable problem for conservatives, my advice is, get over it.
Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard.
"even the most sainted conservatives--Reagan, for instance--harbor nonconservative thoughts."
Reagan didn't have a Republican House and a Republican Senate to work with.
"Fred is spinning like a top."
*I have greatly reduced my fox news viewing with the pandering and open border crowd on every show. Fred is a sad case these days.
Great insight. We each should understand this but need to be reminded.
A president has to do all he can to help elections of conservatives, therefore, some issues have to come off the table.
On immigration - Bush holds to the point that family values do not stop at the border. But, he has come around to understanding our borders have to be safe. But, will he get anything at all - I doubt it. The issue is too controversial and neither side will give.
Bush is a poker player and Bush is the most attacked president in many years. He is looking at impeachment efforts if we lose the house, so expect him to consider his own welfare in this mess.
How he can get anything through with all the GOP caving on him, all the dems attacking him, I can't see. So, all of this griping we all do is really the fact that the GOP representatives do not support his goals, do not stand firm, are weaklings caring more about bribing the dems than helping us.
Might help us to cast the blame where it goes - our representatives that are worthless.
Neither does Bush.
After 14 years of triangulation there shouldn't be that much left to argue about.
If Republican "victory" is defined as implementing Democrat policy, why bother voting at all? Was Fred wearing his Goebbels lapel pin when he wrote this?
Absolutely! As both sides have completely abandoned their core principles, our federal government has devolved into a mad wrestling match for the taxpayers largess, with no holds barred pandering and demagoguery having replaced any previous semblance of statesmanship.
If he is in fact a politician, he'd follow the will of the vast majority of Americans and secure the borders and deport the Illegals.
Barnes is a sycophant
Yea , isnt Bush doing great?! 4.7 % unemployment and a booming tock marhet, and not only are his poll number in the toilet, but he has lost support of his base in the congress. Shmuck
My God what an opportunity for a REAL conservative. I see none on the horizon...
- Tax increases.
- Citizenship amnesty for illegal aliens.
- Sandra Day O'Connor.
- Campaign finance.
- High federal spending (22% of GDP!)
The present day senate isn't infested with RINO's?
Fred Barnes is lost in the ozone. This is all about leadership.
When political conservatism is advanced, it triumphs over liberalism. PresReagan didn't have a GOP Congress, yet he changed the direction of American politics and set a conservative governing course for America. In 1994 Newt Gingrich came along and won a huge victory for conservatism and the GOP.
The course that PresBush and the GOP Congress has set for the future of the federal government is not a direction that will advance a conservative agenda. The federal government is headed down a path of increased welfare entitlement spending and a larger federal bureaucracy. Not to mention, a ongoing liberal policy of open borders and amnesty for criminal immigrants.
While the liberals and their media cohorts make a lot of noise, they have no power. The GOP controls the whole show in WashDC, however, they haven't used that power to craft a conservative government. The GOP has basically wasted an historic opportunity to reshape American politics.
I sometimes wonder if anti Bushers find him an easy target away from themselves for their own negligence in doing the hard work of helping to elect responsible candidates to public office. Pres Bush is President of all of this country's citizens so I do not go crazy every time he swerves from my point of view. Who hollered the loudest about the need for Social Security reform and then were not to be heard from when the Pres spent considerable time going around the country trying to get some action on reforms? Then the gripe was about him spending 'political capital' on that instead of ----fill in the blanks. I think the term CONSERVATIVE needs to be defined each time a particular individual uses it to push their position because Lord knows I cannot always make the connection between the word conservative and the context in which it is being used. I think President Bush is doing the best he can with the few good senators and representatives that are putting this country first. He is a hard working man and a good man. Thank God for that.
Well, if the way he's securing our borders is the best he can do, I think we need to get someone else. It's pretty clear to me that he's putting Mexico first.
Finally someone who gets it. I don't know what everyone was expecting. Some people seem to think that every time President Bush has a thought different from theirs, we should hang him. It's about time people get a clue. You can't always get what you want. I don't always agree with President Bush but he is the best person for the job.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.