Don’t Break Out the Champagne Just Yet

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E.J. Dionne has spotted a Bush ideology, described in his Washington Post column of Jan. 27. The column is a warning to liberals who might be lulled by Bush’s moderation in words. Dionne’s thesis: IIBy rejecting pure anti-government rhetoric, Bush has left himself more room to reduce the size of government.”

That’s interesting. But is it true? Dionne argues that Bush is “no Rockefeller Republican,” and, in fact, is “in many ways more conservative than Reagan ever was. Reagan didn’t successfully push a repeal of the inheritance tax. He didn’t propose a partial privatization of Social Security. He praised religion but never contemplated a faith-based initiative.”

In Dionne’s analysis, the essence of Bush is “a new fusionism” between the libertarian and traditionalist impulses on the right. The Reagan fusionism broke down at the end of the Cold War, and Bush is creating a new one in his war on al Qaeda.

IILike libertarians, he has made tax cuts a central article of his creed,” Dionne writes. “His devotion to business is reflected in his efforts to roll back regulations from the Clinton era and to open federal lands to energy development.” Like traditionalists, he says the market is not enough. Bush says things like: “We are a nation of rugged individuals. But we are also the country of a second chance – tied together by bonds of friendship and community and solidarity.”

Dionne’s take: “Note well: Bush’s rhetoric on the limits of markets is not about changing or regulating them more. Instead, it’s about strengthening non-market institutions outside of government – family, church and neighborhood.” Dionne takes up another piece of Bush rhetoric, and translates it: “The root causes of poverty, he’s saying, are personal and moral, not social and economic. He has shifted the focus to individuals, and their shortcomings.”

After examining the Bush rhetoric about”compassionate conservatism,” he sums up: “Whatever this is, it’s not the New Deal or the Great Society. It’s conservatism of an old sort.”

He’s right about that. The thinking is conservative. Still, as in his education bill and his proposal for subsidized medical insurance for the unemployed, Bush is willing to increase citizens’ reliance on government. So far, he has not reduced its size.

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