Bush and the conservative movement in his own words

Posted on September 15, 2009

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Byron York writes an interesting piece in the Washington Examiner regarding the tenuous nature of the link between former President George W. Bush and conservatism. Many analysts, including the vast majority on the left, have made the attempt to make Bush the leading proponent of conservative principles, in part to attribute the failures of his presidency toward the adherence of those values. There’s a slight problem in this analysis – Bush didn’t seem to think there was a conservative movement, much less view himself the leader of it.

York’s insight comes from an upcoming book from former White House speechwriter Matt Latimer, in which the President has a revealing moment on the eve of a CPAC speech in 2008. There are some interesting tidbits concerning Bush’s statements about Sarah Palin and John McCain, but my focus here is on what Bush has to say about conservatism. I couldn’t describe it any better than Mr. York:

Bush was preparing to give a speech to the annual meeting of the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC. The conference is the event of the year for conservative activists; Republican politicians are required to appear and offer their praise of the conservative movement.

Latimer got the assignment to write Bush’s speech. Draft in hand, he and a few other writers met with the president in the Oval Office. Bush was decidedly unenthusiastic.

“What is this movement you keep talking about in the speech?” the president asked Latimer.

Latimer explained that he meant the conservative movement — the movement that gave rise to groups like CPAC.

Bush seemed perplexed. Latimer elaborated a bit more. Then Bush leaned forward, with a point to make.

“Let me tell you something,” the president said. “I whupped Gary Bauer’s ass in 2000. So take out all this movement stuff. There is no movement.”

Bush seemed to equate the conservative movement — the astonishing growth of conservative political strength that took place in the decades after Barry Goldwater’s disastrous defeat in 1964 — with the fortunes of Bauer, the evangelical Christian activist and former head of the Family Research Council whose 2000 presidential campaign went nowhere.

Now it was Latimer who looked perplexed. Bush tried to explain.

“Look, I know this probably sounds arrogant to say,” the president said, “but I redefined the Republican Party.”

Bush’s ignorance at the existence of a conservative movement on the eve of a speech to a premier conservative organization betrays a political miscalculation of the gravest magnitude. To imagine Gary Bauer, who hasn’t been politically relevant for a very long time, as the shining example of conservative principles demonstrates a smallness of thought and an utter lack of understanding on anything regarding conservative values. Let me put it more simply: Mr. President, could you be a bigger moron?

To be fair, it is a second-hand account of the conversation, but it’s one that’s not hard to give credence to given Bush’s complete lack of fiscal discipline and belief in small government. His stance on a strong national defense and some of his social views are about the extent of his conservatism, and yet many of his biggest critics (and some of his staunchest supporters) seek to paint him as the modern face of conservatism. Let’s be absolutely clear about one thing: Bush may hold some conservative views, but he’s no conservative. He’s a Republican politician.

Ed Morrissey makes a compelling argument about the truth in Bush’s statement that he redefined the Republican Party. He sure did – right of a majority in both houses of Congress:

After Bush took office, however, the two branches of government went on a spending spree, and notcoincidentally a lobbyist lovefest, that threw out the GOP’s credibility on fiscal responsibility in six short years.  Bush and his big-spending policies (and K Street strategy) set the stage for the Democrats to seize control of Congress in the 2006 midterms and a Democratic takeover of the White House last year.Many of us admired Bush for his stalwart policies on national security and the war.  But starting in 2002, we began to figure out that Bush was no conservative on domestic policy, but instead at best a centrist, and probably more of a Rockefeller Republican, with one big exception: abortion.  It started with his partnership with Ted Kennedy on No Child Left Behind, especially when he threw away school vouchers to keep Kennedy on board, and again with Medicare Part D, a brand new entitlement on an already sinking program.

Couldn’t have said it any better. Bush didn’t do Republicans or conservatism any favors with his massive spending and “compassionate conservatism.” It serves as one more reason why the GOP will  have success once more if it gets back to its fiscal conservative roots.

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Posted in: Politics