Jewish World Review Oct. 11, 1999/1 Mar-Cheshvan, 5760
http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- 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
10/06/99: Jesse accidentally opens door for Pat